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More Change Out of Africa : The land of the infamous Bokassa turns in the direction of democracy

July 07, 1991

The winds of democracy that are shaping the political landscapes of Eastern Europe are now wafting throughout Africa. Demands for full political debate and human rights reforms are growing more urgent in every region of the huge continent. Democracy movements are flourishing in at least a dozen nations.

The Central African Republic is among the latest to progress from an intolerant one-party state to one with multiple political parties. Its Parliament has revised the constitution to repeal a ban on opposition parties in place since French colonial rule.

The current ruler, President Andre Kolingba, has only reluctantly embraced the reforms. But the instrument of persuasion--the sudden plethora of protests--has shaken this landlocked nation of 3 million.

Kolingba also has been motivated by international pressures. The French have maintained economic ties with the former colony but have indicated they are no longer willing to back repression.

Kolingba was the chief of the army when he came to power 10 years ago in a bloodless coup--the fourth in Central African history. He studded the government with a military Cabinet and tolerated no dissent. His rule, however, was an improvement over the nation's most infamous ruler, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa.

Bokassa also came to power via a coup. Notorious for gross human rights violations, he was finally overthrown in 1979 and ultimately convicted for conspiracy to murder and embezzlement and other serious crimes. He is serving that sentence at hard labor--an option he denied to his political opponents.

The judge who presided over Bokassa's trial is the new prime minister, another indication of progress.

Authoritarian rule has been common since African nations began gaining independence from colonial powers. Within the last two years changes have swept Eastern Europe that no one could have expected. In Africa many political barriers must fall before a revolution of that magnitude can reasonably be described as continentwide. But here and there, Africa is indeed changing.

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