History Files

African Kingdoms

Central Africa


Central Africa

Central Africa was poorly defined as a region until the creation of the colonial-era territories.

The sultans ruled large conquered populations in the north and east of present day Central African Republic (CAR). The title of sultan was given by the Congo Free State agents to local rulers in Bangassou, Zémio and Rafaď in the early 1890s. They included the famous slave-trader al-Sanusi, (of Dar al-Kuti), and the sultans Labasso (of Bangassou), Zémio, and Hetman (of Rafaď), the heads of conquering dynasties.

The conquered populations of mostly Adamawa-Ubangi-speaking peoples such as the Banda and the Zande-Nzakara in eastern CAR had previously lived in stateless societies without hereditary or paramount chiefs. The Gbaya (including the Mandjia) in the centre and west and the riverine peoples along the Oubangui and Mbomou in the south had no hereditary chiefs either. They had leaders of different kinds, such as clan leaders, hamlet headmen, and temporary war chiefs to lead warriors in battle, but no titled rulers with hereditary authority. The sultanates were therefore the first states to be established among the Adamawa-Ubangi-speaking peoples of central Africa.

(All information on central Africa by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius.)

Sultanate of Dar al-Kuti / Dar el-Kouti

FeatureA short-lived Islamic kingdom in the Central African Republic, in the early 1800s Dar al-Kuti was the name given to a stretch of the Islamic frontier south-west of Wadai which faced a perilous and unsettled existence until it accepted a French protectorate in 1897.

(All information on central Africa by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius.)

c.1830 - ?

Djougoultoum / Omar / Ousman

Brother of Abd el-Kader, Sultan of Banguirmi.

1870 - 1890


Governor of Dar al-Kuti. Former faqij trader. Died 1892.

1890 - 1911

Muhammad al-Sanusi

Nephew. Died in battle against the French on 12 Jan.


The sultanate accepts the creation of a French Protectorate while maintaining direct rule.

Map of Dar al-Kuti
The sultanate of Dar al-Kuti was located to the north of the later Central African Republic, forming a small pocket of territory within one of the many modern CAR provinces (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1911 - 1912






Sister. b c.1873. m Fadl el-Allah, eldest son of Rabih, c.1890.


Kangaya, along with sixty loyalists, two hundred bazinguer warriors, and chiefs; Bakoungia, Dembao, Paoura, Asraga, Iatogo, and Bara, attack the Paoura factory on 27 December. Two agents of the Compagnie des Sultanats of Upper Oubangui, Bellard and Mallac, are murdered and the factory is damaged.

1911 - 1912

The sultanate comes under direct French administration as part of their Protectorate. The Circonscription de Dar el-Kouti is created.

? - 1974

Mohamed Tchaďdele es-Senoussi

Grandson of al-Sanusi. Sultan-mayor and head of the royal family.

1926 - 1974

Born on 25 November 1926 in N'Délé, es-Senoussi is a member of the Territorial Assembly, which becomes first the Legislative and then the National Assembly, from 1957 to 1966. He dies in 1974.



Son of Kamoun.


Ibrahim returns to the capital, N'Délé, after the death of his cousin, Mohamed. He assumes the traditional office of sultan in August 1974. However, the CAR Government choose this occasion to reassert its direct authority in the N'Délé Subprefecture by declaring the office of mayor of N'Délé to be a civil post, as it had been during the colonial period. Despite discontent, the Government appoints a functionary to the position. In this manner the sultan is stripped of most legal and administrative powers.

Sultanate of Rafaď

Rafai was a Bandia-Zande kingdom located in present day Central African Republic. Kassanga (perhaps a warlord or an exile with a following) conquered the east of Zandé Country, around the Chinko river basin, and by circa 1800 he was the ruler of the Chinko river valley and founder of the later Rafai kingdom.

(All information on central Africa by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius.)

by c.1800


Founder of the Bandia Kingdom of the Chinko.


c.1810 - ?


? - c.1875

Baingui / Bayangui

c.1875 - 1900


Died 15 June.


Rafai leaves his domains between the Chinko and the Moď rivers because of the Mahdist advance and makes his way south. He conquers most of the Djabir kingdom, establishing his court not far from that of the former Djabir rulers.


War flares up between Rafai and the Djabir kingdoms, causing Rafai to move by the autumn of 1889 from south of the River Mbomou to the north bank of the river, establishing his court in what would later be known as Rafai city.

1900 - 1939


Last sultan.


On 31 March, Governor Merwart signs a new French protectorate treaty with Sultan Hetman.


Upon the death of the last sultan, the sultanate is suppressed by the French.

1939? - ?

Auguste Fatrane

Mayor of Rafaď. b c.1907 in Rafaď. Natl Assembly member 1964-66.

Sultanate of Bangassou

Bangassou was a Bandia-Nzakara kingdom in the Central African Republic. It was founded by Ndounga at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when he created the kingdom of Nzakara after the defeat of the Voukpata, the clan which ruled over the Nzakara people.

(All information on central Africa by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius.)

c.1780 - 1800


Founder of the Bandia Kingdom of Nzakara.

c.1800 - 1830


c.1830 -1860

Gbandi / Boendi

Killed by the Bougbou.

c.1860 - 1878/90


Died in a war against the Bougbou.

c.1878/90 - 1907


Died 8 June.

1902 - 1904

Mbali / Mbari / Bali

Son and heir. Died 1904.


On 14 June, Sultan Bangassou appears at Yakoma, a post belonging to Belgian king Leopold II's empire, and signs a treaty with Captain Alphonse Vangčle which places his kingdom under the protection of the Congo Free State. Bangassou facilitates the expansion of Leopold's empire and delivers enormous quantities of ivory to his company agents. He is therefore able to acquire 1500 guns and reinforce his army. After 1894 Bangassou becomes subject to French control.

1900 - 1907

With the arrival of concessionary societies in 1900, Bangassou rapidly loses power. Injured during an elephant hunt, he passes away in the presence of the French Captain Jules Jacquier, the real ruler of the region. With his designated heir, Mbali, already dead, the Council of “Chiefs” designate Labasso, a half-blind leper, as Bangassou's successor.

1907 - 1917


Reigned until 18 February.


On 23 February, Governor Merwart signs a new protectorate treaty with Sultan Labasso. In the summer of 1909 Governor Merwart fixes a definitive frontier between the Bangassou and Rafai sultanates


Upon the death of its last ruler, the sultanate is suppressed by the French. The title is still claimed by the royal family and it retains a very limited, informal degree of authority.

1917 - 1932


Died with no heir.

1932 - 1936

Antoine Gounga

Jailed and deposed by the French.



Elected sultan in a restoration project which was abandoned.

1936 - 1966

Amiel Sayo

Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. Territorial Councillor 1952-1957.


The various sections of the Central African Republic fall under the control of a military ruler.

Sultanate of Zémio

This was a Voungara-Zande kingdom in the Central African Republic. It was founded by Nounga, a member of a Zande clan belonging to the Angoura branch of the Anounga. His domains stretched north (into the modern Mbomou Prefecture), and south of the River Mbomou (in the modern Congo Democratic Republic. Nounga was a Zande member of the Voungara clan.

Originally the Royal Court was established on the north bank of the Mbomou. On 11 December 1894 Zémio and the Congo Independent State's resident to Zémio's court signed a 'contract' stating that Zemio was to move his court to the south bank of the Mbomou (Article 6) and that Zémio was to give up to his rights to the territories on the north bank of the Mbomou (Article 1).

(All information on central Africa by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius.)

? - c.1835


Zangabirou / Zangabérou

Died 1858. Had 51 children.

bef 1855 - c.1872



c.1872 - 1912

Zémio / Zémio-Ikpiro

Son. Died on 12 October.


Zemio agrees to move his royal court to the south bank of the Mbomou on 11 December.


On 12 April 1909, Governor Merwart signs a new protectorate treaty with Sultan Zemio. In December of the same year Zémio realises that his rule south of the Mbomou is in fact no rule, due to Congo Free State rule in the region. Zémio moves to the north bank of the Mbomou, which had formerly been the northern part of his domain, but which is now under French control. He establishes his court in what is now the city of Zémio.

1912 - 1921


1921 - 1923



The sultanate is suppressed by the French.

Federation & Republic of Central Africa
AD 1910 - 1976

Central Africa was poorly defined as a region until the creation of the colonial-era territories. What today is known as the Central African Republic is entirely a manufactured territory. In 1910 the French formed the federation out of various colonial possessions in central Africa which comprised Gabon (previously occupied by several Bantu groups), Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo), and Chad, although the latter was not organised as a separate entity until 1920. Also added were Oubangui-Chari (or Ubangi-Shari, a manufactured territory that was controlled by France from 1894, and which gained the sultanates of Rafaď and Zémio in 1909), and the sultanate of Dar al-Kuti (now within the Central African Republic).

During the inter-war years and immediately prior to the First World War the region was exploited ruthlessly for its resources, akin to a modern company being asset-stripped. The natives fared badly, suffering from European diseases against which they had little inbuilt resistance, along with malnutrition and an unforgivable number of deaths due to poor conditions in the forced labour teams that were building the railways and other European infrastructure. Following the Second World War, however, things changed greatly. Colonial empires could no longer be maintained and were viewed more as unwanted hindrances as Europe attempted to rebuild.

In 1958 the federation was dissolved as it became autonomous instead of being subject to direct French administration. Full independence was achieved in 1960. The resultant republic was short-lived, though. Control of the Central African Republic was effectively seized by Jean Bedel Bokassa in 1966. Just a decade later he had himself declared emperor and the republic became his empire.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius, from Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic, Jacqueline Woodfrok (Greenwood Press, 2006), from Historical Dictionary of the Central African Republic, Pierre Kalck (Third Ed, Scarecrow Press 2005), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Bokassa's ruined palace in CAR (BBC), and Bokassa Successor Says Dictator Killed Children in April Massacre (The New York Times).)

1911 - 1919

The Treaty of Fez sees France cede a vast area of the Lobaye and Sangha basins to the German empire in exchange for a smaller area of territory (which today falls within the borders of Chad). Following the conclusion of the First World War, France seizes back the territory it had ceded. The entire federation is offered for quick and profitable exploitation by any private company that is willing to take a risk in exchange for a percentage of profits being placed in the French treasury. The native population is hit hard by imported disease, as well as famine.

French colonial central Africa
By 1919, with the conclusion of the First World War, the African colonies found themselves being exploited for their resources more intensely than ever before


The territory of Ubangi-Shari is reorganised within French Equatorial Africa, which also includes territory that today forms parts of Chad, Gabon, and Republic of Congo, as well as Central African Republic.

1921 - 1996

Jean Bedel Bokassa is born on 22 February 1921 in Bobangui (now within CAR), Middle-Congo. He dies on 3 November 1996 in Bangui, having replaced a newly independent republic with his own empire (in 1976) and then having seen it fall apart (in 1979).


The Kongo-Wara rebellion - otherwise known as the 'war of the hoe handle' or the Baya War - breaks out in western Ubangi-Shari. The prime cause is the forced labour to which the natives have been subject, and the high cost in lives that results. It continues for several years, mostly within territory that today forms the CAR. France suppresses news of the rebellion at home, even though it is the smallest of the anti-colonial uprisings of the inter-war period, being dwarfed by the larger Kongo rebellion.

1958 - 1960

The Federation of Central Africa is dissolved as the republics become autonomous. Full independence from France is achieved in 1960. Ubangi-Shari, which had been a colonial creation and which consists of territory between the Ubangi and Chari rivers, forms the core of the new state.

1960 - 1962

David Dacko, first president of the independent Central African Republic, has been busy forcing out his political rivals. By 1962 he has also suppressed all rival political parties, so that he is able to declare MESAN, the political movement that had universally secured the country's independence, as the sole party.

David Dacko, first president of Central African Republic
After becoming newly-independent Central African Republic's first elected president, David Dacko (here seated, left, alongside President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi of Israel) took the country towards a dictatorship before being deposed, only to return to head a democratic government again in 1979

1962 - 1965

David Dacko

First elected president, evolving into a dictator.


On the very last day of 1965 David Dacko is overthrown during the Saint-Sylvestre coup by Colonel Jean Bedel Bokassa. Not even bothering with Dacko's pretence of political democracy, he becomes the country's first military dictator. The constitution is suppressed and, in 1972, Bokassa declares himself president for life.

1966 - 1976

Jean Bedel Bokassa

Military ruler. Declared empire in 1976.


The CAR government chooses to reassert its direct authority in the N'Délé Subprefecture in the former sultanate of Dar al-Kuti by declaring the office of mayor to be a civil post, as it had been during the colonial period.


Jean Bedel Bokassa, having already controlled the territory since 1966, now declares the Central African Republic to be his 'Empire of Central Africa' (with tacit French approval). He is proclaimed Emperor Bokassa I by an Extraordinary Congress of the only political party, MESAN, in Bangui on 4 December 1976.

Empire of Central Africa
AD 1976 - 1979

The Central African empire was founded by Jean Bedel Bokassa (1921-1996) who had the Central African Republic declared an empire after already having controlled the territory since 1966. Now its absolute ruler, he was himself proclaimed Emperor Bokassa I by an Extraordinary Congress of the only political party, MESAN, in Bangui on 4 December 1976. About a year later, on 4 December 1977, he crowned himself emperor and his favourite wife, Catherine (born 1949), empress in a lavish ceremony that cost around a third of the entire country's annual income. On that same day he had his young son, Jean Bedel Bokassa (born 1973), appointed as crown prince and heir.

Thanks to French military intervention the Central African empire fell within the space of three years. Bokassa was ousted, fleeing to the Ivory Coast, although he was later given asylum by France thanks to his former service with the French armed forces. The Central African Republic was restored on 20 September 1979.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius, from Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic, Jacqueline Woodfrok (Greenwood Press, 2006), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Bokassa's ruined palace in CAR (BBC), and Bokassa Successor Says Dictator Killed Children in April Massacre (The New York Times).)

1976 - 1979

Bokassa I

Former CAR military ruler. Crowned 4 Dec 1977. Died 1996.


About a year after first proclaiming himself emperor - via the MESAN Extraordinary Congress - on 4 December 1977 Jean Bedel Bokassa handles an official coronation in which he crowns himself emperor and Catherine, his favourite wife, empress in a lavish ceremony that costs around a third of the entire country's annual income. The emperor's son, also Jean Bedel Bokassa (born 1973), is simultaneously appointed crown prince and heir.

Emperor Bokassa I of Central African Empire
Jean Bedel Bokassa, military ruler of the Central African republic between 1966-1976, emperor in 1976-1979, and exile for the rest of his life, dying in 1996

1977 - 1979

Jean Bedel Bokassa

Heir from 4 Dec 1977. Born on 2 November 1973 in Bangui.


French military intervention following a request by David Dacko causes the empire to fall. About nine hundred French troops are flown in overnight from military bases in neighbouring Chad and Gabon. Bokassa is ousted and the Central African Republic is restored on 20 September. Bokassa flees to the Ivory Coast where he remains for four years before being granted asylum by France due to his previous service in the French armed forces.

Modern Central African Republic
AD 1979 - Present

The modern Central African Republic is rich in diamonds, gold, oil, and uranium but has one of the world's poorest populations thanks to continued instability since it achieved independence. With its capital now at Bangui (since 1940), the state is neighboured to the north by Chad, to the east by Sudan, to the south-east by Zaire, to the south-west by Congo, and to the west by Cameroon.

Tribal for millennia with no established state of its own, much of modern Central African Republic was formed out of various minor modern-era sultanates, such as those of Bangassou, Dar al-Kuti, Rafaď, and Zémio. Central Africa was poorly defined as a cohesive region until the creation of the colonial-era territories. That era came when the sultanates were suppressed by the French, one by one, mostly in the early years of the twentieth century. A centralised republic was formed by the name of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa.

In 1946 the territory gained its own assembly and had a native representative elected into the French parliament. It gained self-governance in 1958 and full independence in 1960, but quickly descended into little more than a dictatorship under David Dacko. He was soon removed by Bokassa who declared himself emperor and the republic was now the Empire of Central Africa. When Bokassa was similarly removed, the republic was reborn (its name often abbreviated to CAR in news and official correspondence). Its troubles though, would continue. Such is the country's continued instability that its former French colonial masters have never truly been able to leave, with a military presence seemingly permanent.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Richard A Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius, from Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic, Jacqueline Woodfrok (Greenwood Press, 2006), and from External Link: BBC Country Profiles.)

1979 - 1981

David Dacko

Returned to power, democratically this time. Deposed again.


Fresh from removing one dictator - Jean-Bedel Bokassa - and now with a degree of French backing thanks to Bokassa's atrocities, Dacko is ousted again. This time the coup is lead by the army commander, Andre Kolingba.

1981 - 1993

Andre Kolingba

Military dictator. Lost elections.

1992 - 1993

October 1992 sees multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections held in which Kolingba comes last - clearly not having learned how to rig an election as dictator. The results are soon annulled by the supreme court on the grounds of widespread irregularities. A re-run of the elections in 1993 sees Ange-Felix Patasse beat both Kolingba and Dacko to become president, ending twelve years of military rule. Kolingba releases several thousand political prisoners, including Bokassa, before standing down as president. French forces remain in the country until 1997 to ensure that democracy sticks this time.

David Dacko, Central African Republic
The newly-independent Central African Republic's first democratically-elected president was David Dacko, here shown on the cover of a French-language special edition seven inch vinyl record


In May at least fifty-nine are killed in an abortive coup attempt by former president Andre Kolingba. President Patasse suppresses the attempt with help of Libyan and Chadian troops and Congolese rebels. November witnesses clashes as troops try to arrest sacked army chief-of-staff General Francois Bozize, who has been accused of involvement in May's coup attempt. Thousands flee fighting between government troops and Bozize's forces.

2002 - 2003

October 2002 sees Libyan-backed forces helping to subdue an attempt by forces loyal to General Bozize to overthrow President Patasse. Still unsafe, Patasse is ousted in March 2003. Bozize seizes Bangui, declares himself president, and dissolves parliament. Patasse is out of the country at the time. Within weeks a transitional government is set up.

2003 - 2005

Francois Bozize

Military general. Led a coup, but soon set up transitional rule.

2005 - 2007

With a new constitution having been agree in the previous December, May 2005 witnesses Bozize narrowly winning elections after a run-off vote. In October 2006 rebels seize Birao, a town in the north-east of the country, and French fighter jets are forced to take part in attacks on rebel positions as France attempts to support the democratically-elected government during the Central African Republic Bush War. The rebels sign a peace accord which ends the fighting in 2007.

2012 - 2013

A new Seleka rebel coalition rapidly overruns the north and centre of the country by November 2012, sparking a fresh round of civil war. In March 2013 the rebels overrun the capital and seize power. President Bozize flees while rebel leader Michel Djotodia suspends the constitution and dissolves parliament in a coup that is internationally condemned.

2013 - 2014

Michel Djotodia

Rebel who seized power. Interim president. Resigned.

2012 - 2013

Djotodia is sworn in as interim president while the outside world is warning that CAR poses a risk to regional stability. UN chief Ban Ki-moon says CAR has suffered a 'total breakdown of law and order'. Djotodia dissolves the Seleka coalition in November 2013 after being criticised for failing to control his fighters. Also from late in 2013, neighbouring Chad begins to play host to tens of thousands of refugees who have been fleeing the fighting in CAR.

Soldiers in Central African Republic
Warfare in Central African Republic has become endemic, with millions fleeing the violence and UN troops seemingly a permanent fixture as they attempt to keep the various factions apart


Catherine Samba-Panza

Interim president.

2014 - 2016

Mahamat Kamoun

Leader of a transitional government.

2016 - 2017

After a false start in 2015 with an election that had been cancelled due to perceived irregularities, Faustin-Archange Touadera, a well-respected peacemaker and former mathematics professor, now wins a fresh election in the run-offs. However, kidnappings by Lords Resistance Army reportedly increase across 2016. By 2017 CAR's continuing violence results in the highest level of displacement since the start of the crisis in 2013. More than one million people have left their homes.