Yesterday’s New York Times featured a piece on the lavish lifestyles of South African president Jacob Zuma and his fellow African National Congress bigwigs. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Zuma sitting on a gilded banquet chair, which bears a striking resemblance to a throne. (Note to Zuma’s handlers: If your boss is weathering corruption charges back home, best not to let him be photographed on anything throne-like while abroad.)
The photo couldn’t help but remind us of one of the most sensational episodes of megalomania in modern history: the December 1977 coronation of Jean-Bédel Bokassa as emperor of the Central African Republic. Bokassa actually crowned himself, and spent $22 million on the ceremony at a time when the CAR’s average per-capita income was just $122 per year. Blessedly free of any shred of self-awareness, Bokassa let Werner Herzog film the whole sad affair; if you only have a few moments to spare, we highly recommend you just check out the actual crowning, which took place atop a two-ton golden throne shaped like an eagle.
It probably goes without saying that Bokassa was wholly undeserving of his exalted title, though we think he is a strong candidate for “Worst Person of the 20th Century.” A Montreal Gazette reporter broke it all down on the eve of the coronation:
Tomorrow, Bokassa will be crowned at the Bokassa Sports Palace beside Bokassa University on Bokassa Avenue, hailed by thousands, many in clothing imprinted with the Bokassa portrait, waving Bokassa flags and gathered around the Bokassa statue in Bokassa square.
What we wouldn’t have given to see Bokassa duke it out in the Thunderdome with Turkmenbashi.