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During his twelve years as dictator, Bokassa has established a reputation for megalomania and incompetence that rivals that of Uganda's Idi Amin Dada. Incensed at the rising theft rate in Bangui, Bokassa in 1972 joined his troops in the public beating of 45 thieves in the capital's central square. Three died, and the brutally wounded survivors were put on display for six hours in the broiling sun. A year earlier, to celebrate Mother's Day, Bokassa ordered that all mothers in prison be releasedand that all those who had been accused of matricide be executed. Two were. Ever dissatisfied with his Cabinet, Bokassa customarily assumes the portfolios of ministers he has dismissed from office; he has held as many as ten at one time.
Not even Big Daddy can match Bokassa's lust for extravagance. No expense was spared to make sure that his coronation would be splendid in every way. Items:
· The 200-year-old firm of Guiselin, which embroidered Napoleon's uniforms, did up 13 outfits for Bokassa, including the 32-lb. coronation robe with its 785,000 pearls, 1,220,000 crystal beads and train. Total cost: $145,000.
· The house of Lanvin whipped up a gold lame coronation gown, highlighted by 935,000 sequins and gold pieces, for Empress Catherine. Cost: $72,400.
· The royal crown was fashioned by Paris Jeweler Arthus Bertrand, who topped it with a 138-carat C.A.E. diamond. The crown alone cost $2 million; Bokassa's scepter and Catherine's diadem upped the jewelry bill to $5 million.
· The 240 tons of food and drink flown in for the postcoronation feast included cases of Chateau-Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild ('71) wines, which sell in the U.S. for $25 a bottle. The appetizer: a tureen of caviar so large that two chefs carried it in. The dessert: a green, seven-tier cake complete with half a dozen doves that flew out to hover over the imperial plate.
· The guests were hauled about Bangui in 60 spanking-new Mercedes-Benzes. The cars were shipped to the Cameroon, then airfreighted to the C.A.E. Airfreight charges alone were $5,000 per automobile.
All in all, the coronation cost about $20 million, which was a bit much for a country whose annual gross domestic product (mostly from diamonds, cotton and timber) is only $250 million. Kenya's Sunday Nation wrote sarcastically about Bokassa's "clowning glory." Zambia's Daily Mail deplored the new Emperor's "obnoxious excesses." Bokassa was unfazed by such criticism, since he knows full well that others will end up paying for his little ceremony. The Emperor will accept aid money from anyone, and currently receives it from South Africa, China and the Soviet Union. The bulk of the largesse, however, comes from France, which obligingly covers the C.A.E.'s deficits. Like an indulgent parent with a wastrel son, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing quietly passed the word that Paris would arrange compensation for all unpaid expenses. As the Emperor once put it, "Everything here was financed by the French government. We ask the French for money, get it and waste it." How true.