The CAR is a former French colony known as Oubangi-Chari that was part of a larger federation of French colonies grouped under the name Afrique Equatorial Francaise (French Equatorial Africa). It gained independence from France in 1960, as did most of the French colonies in Africa. However, the CAR maintains close cultural, economic, and political ties to France, based on both the continued importance of the French language and the reliance on French foreign assistance. The country's first modern political leader was Barthélémy Boganda. Boganda is seen as the "father" of the CAR, though he died in a plane crash prior to formal independence. His successor and the nation's first president was David Dacko, who served until 1965 when he was overthrown by Jean-Bedel Bokassa in a military-led coup d'état. Bokassa was president until 1976, then a self-proclaimed emperor until 1979 when he in turn was removed by a French-supported coup that briefly returned Dacko to the presidency. Bokassa's regime was internationally known for its personal excesses and a brutal record of human rights violations.
Dacko's return to power was followed by a hastily drafted new Constitution and a presidential election he managed to win by the narrowest of margins, 50.2% of the total vote. One of Dacko's opponents in the 1980 presidential election was Ange-Felix Patassé, who won the second largest portion of the vote, 38.1%. Dacko's narrow victory and his own inability to broaden his support base ultimately led to his decision to step down from the presidency in September 1981 in favor of André Kolingba, the army's top general. Kolingba ruled the CAR until the summer of 1993 as both a military authority and a civilian head of a one-party government, Rassemblement Démocratique Centrafricaine (RDC—Central African Democratic Party). In September 1993, Kolingba lost the presidency to Ange-Felix Patassé of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centrafricaine (MLPC—Movement for the Democratic Evolution of Central Africa) in the first real multiparty election in 12 years in the face of economic collapse and growing international pressure for reform.