Throughout the annals of history, humanity has always tried to free itself. Africa has an eternal dance of people whose revolutionary acts freed their people, those that became the modern-day messiah’s only to enslave the very people that they were bound to save. Here is a list of 10 dictators of Africa formerly saviors of their countries.
16. Colonel Gaddafi
Libyan Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi became interested in politics while still at school before attending a military academy and then joining the military itself – and once there he formed a revolutionary cell and, in September 1969, took over the country from then-king Idris in a bloodless coup at just 27 years of age! He immediately dissolved the monarchy, declared a republic and began ruling by decree, with the intent of making his country an Islamic socialist one. Both in 1973’s ‘Popular Revolution’, which included the start of the General People’s Committees (GPCs) and in 1977, when he dissolved the Republic in favor of Jamahiriya (a ‘state of the masses’, part-governed by the GPCs), he retained personal control of the major decisions.
He claimed to rule by his ‘Third International Theory’, as detailed in his publication ‘The Green Book’. His hostile attitude to other countries (and alleged blame for the Lockerbie bombing) got Libya labeled an ‘international pariah’, and his relations with the UK and US eventually caused economic sanctions to be imposed. Then, when civil war broke out, NATO gave military support to Gaddafi’s opponents, finally bringing down Gaddafi’s rule in August 2011. He retreated to Sirte where he was captured and killed by some of the anti-Gaddafi rebels that had just defeated him. He ruled Libya, mostly as “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya”, for 42 years.
15. Laurent Kabila
Having studied political philosophy in France and Yugoslavia, Laurent Kabila no doubt seemed a much more likely prospect to lead Zaire, now newly renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, out of the dark days of Mobutu’s reign of terror and into the light of the modern world in, but unfortunately things didn’t work out quite that way. When the Congo gained independence in June 1960,Kabila was an officer in the youth wing of the Balubakat (the General Association of the Baluba People of Katanga), aligned with the first democratically elected President, Patrice Lumumba, and continued to support that side of the political forum even after Lumumba was assassinated in Mobutu’s coup mere months later. He helped to organize a revolutionary army in eastern Congo, but despite some support from Che Guevara the rebellion failed.
Kabila then turned to run a bar in Tanzania, with the occasional bit of smuggling on the side. In 1967 he and his supporters founded the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP) and formed a secessionist Marxist state west of Lake Tanganyika in South Kivu province. Over the next twenty years, he amassed considerable wealth through extortion and robbery, then suddenly disappeared in 1988, believed to be dead – and reappeared in 1996, no longer a Marxist, to begin the First Congo War. This culminated a year later in his taking over the country, but unfortunately, he behaved just as badly as Mobutu had, and within months he was being denounced as “another Mobutu”. Not surprisingly, therefore, he was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards just four years later and succeeded by his son, Joseph, who is still president of the DRC at the time of writing (2013).
14. Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga was born as Joseph-Desiré Mobutu in the Republic of the Congo, which he renamed Zaire in 1971. He was installed and supported by the West, mostly Belgium and the US, because of his strong stance against communism, but once in, the power apparently went to his head and his regime became notorious for the usual corruption, human rights abuse and nepotism – and also, in his case, amassing an enormous personal fortune, partly through embezzlement of US funds, that led some to nickname his rule a ‘kleptocracy’. Eventually in 1997, after six years of promising to help stop economic deterioration and unrest by sharing power with opposition leaders while at the same time using the army to prevent anything changing, Laurent Kabila and a rebel army forced him out of the country and took power, leaving him in exile in Morocco, where he died three months later from prostate cancer.
13. Ahmed Sekou Touré
Touré, born in the French colony of French Guinea, started in politics where he was working when in 1945 he joined the Postal Workers Union (PTT), and he worked his way up to become the leader of the Guinean Democratic Party in 1952. He was instrumental in Guinea becoming the first of the African colonies to gain its independence from France in 1958 (the rest joined it in 1960), but the French were quite nasty about it when they left Guinea. In 1961 Touré was elected president for a seven-year term; having declared his party the only legal one and as its leader, he was, of course, unopposed; he then repeated this at the next three elections. His policy was based on Marxism and maintained by arresting and jailing or exiling any opposition – somehow this won him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961! His tyranny developed slowly; by the end of the 1960s people in opposition were taken by the secret police to detention camps.
His relations with France were sour from the start, but gradually those with the Soviet Union, United States, and most other countries began to follow; he even blamed Washington and the CIA when a Guinean delegation was imprisoned in Ghana. Eventually, his paranoia made life so unbearable for the Guineans (around 50,000 are believed to have been executed) that they began leaving the country in tens of thousands. Despite this, he was re-elected unopposed for a fourth term in 1982 and then things began to improve, probably because Guinea needed Western investment to develop its resources! Touré collapsed in Saudi Arabia in 1984 and was rushed to America for cardiac treatment, but died there anyway, on 26 March.
12. Jean-Bedel Bokassa
Bokassa was born in French Equatorial Africa and served in the French colonial army for 21 years, but when David Dacko, a distant cousin, became president of the country as the newly independent Central African Republic (CAR) in 1960 he was invited to head their armed forces – and six years later ousted his cousin and declared himself president, then President for Life in 1972, and finally emperor (of the “Central African Empire”) from 1976 to 1979. His ceremony investing himself as emperor cost $20 million and nearly bankrupted the country! His rule was a reign of terror, with him taking all important government posts for himself and instituting judicial beatings and punishments such as the loss of body parts for minor convictions.
He had hundreds of school children arrested for refusing to wear uniforms he had made and is reported to have had 100 of them massacred – while he watched. He was deposed by French paratroopers in 1979, reinstating his cousin as president and the country named as the CAR again, and he went into exile in France with a fortune he had embezzled. He was tried for treason and murder, convicted and sentenced to death in absentia and when he returned in 1986 this was put into effect, although the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment – then in 1993 he was freed, to live as a private citizen in the CAR until he died.
11. Hastings Kamuzu Banda
Banda became prime minister of then Nyasaland, a British colony, in 1963 and took it to independence as Malawi a year later. Two years after that he declared himself president of the new Republic of Malawi and then made it a one-party state under the Malawi Congress Party. He was made President for Life of the MCP in 1970 and President for Life of Malawi itself in 1971. He was something of a split personality, however – some hailed him as a hero for improving his state’s education system and infrastructure dramatically and supporting women’s rights, while others called him a corrupt tyrant for the 6,000 (at least) people that were jailed without trial, tortured and even killed during his regime (some put the figure nearer 18,000) and for supporting apartheid in South Africa. In 1993 his one-party state was ended when international protest prompted a referendum, and he was stripped of all positions and most powers by a special assembly immediately afterward. To give him his due, he did run for president in the following democratic elections – aged ~96 years! – but did not win. He died in South Africa three years later, in 1997.
10. Charles Taylor
The first of many is Charles Taylor. Charles’s full name is Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor and he was the 22nd president of Liberia. Charles ruled for eight years from 1997-2003. Taylor was born on January 28, 1948, in a small town near Monrovia Liberia. Before he became the president of Liberia, Charles was a leader of a rebel group known as The National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Charles Taylor was accused of being a war-time criminal who committed several atrocities and crimes against humanity, this is due to his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War that occurred between 1991 and 2002, Charles Taylor was eventually found guilty at the International criminal court of justice, The Hague in 2012 for all eleven charges ranging from terror, Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular, cruel treatment and in May of that year, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He is regarded as one of the worst dictators of Africa of the 21st century
9. Paul Biya
Paul hails from Cameroon and was born on February 13, 1933. Politics was always in Biya’s blood, and he has managed to be president for several terms, he has been the President of Cameroon since 6 November 1982. Biya has many critics for his lack of public appearances, but Biya wields his sweeping powers like a tyrant. He rules with his authoritarian fist that lets him essentially push any policies that he deems necessary. Though not the worst of the worst, Biya is one of the best-known examples of authoritarianism. “Tyrants, the World’s 20 Worst Living Dictators”, by David Wallechinsky, ranked Biya together with three others mainly in sub-Saharan Africa: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, and King Mswati of Swaziland. He was also ranked 19th in Parade Magazine’s Top 20 list of “The World’s Worst Dictators”.
8. Robert Mugabe
Uncle Roo is the quintessential hero to a tyrant, the modern-day messiah that helped bring freedom to Zimbabweans only to get himself power-drunk, he has been in power since 1980. Robert Gabriel Mugabe is a man who needs no introduction. Mugabe is an odd man when it comes to dictators. He has the illusion of democracy on one hand while he oppresses the white Zimbabwe people with the other, Robert Mugabe has been viewed as being racist towards white people, targeting white citizens in various ways. To make him even more confusing, a number of Africans consider Mugabe a hero in their eyes. Mugabe has committed many crimes against human rights according to news sources. In Mugabe’s words, he has referred to lesbians and gays as being “worse than dogs and pigs”. Though his worst crimes are wielding his authoritarian power to strip white people of their wealth and property. In the international scene, he is regarded by many, especially the white folks as one of the worst dictators of Africa ever.
7. General Sani Abacha
Abacha hails from Nigeria and though he only retained power for a scant five years, he managed to commit a lifetime of crimes in this period. He declared his government to be above the law and he essentially did whatever he wanted. Sanni Abacha has been described by political pundits as “the most brutal dictator of the West African powerhouse”. He ruled his nation with impunity. Though unconfirmed, rumors emanating from official circles has it that the senior military officer died in sexual bouts with Indian prostitutes. He will always be remembered for the 1995 killing of the political and environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa. He was also responsible for 5 billion dollars in stolen funds. It is believed that his family still holds a significant amount of these ill-gotten gains. General Sani Abacha was one of the worst dictators in Africa.
6. Sekou Toure
Sekou Toure was only to be president of Guinea for four years. He managed to rule it for three decades from 1958-1984. He declared Guinea a one-party state. Toure was another typical case of someone that was initially seen as the ‘Guinean Messiah’, but later became a pain to his people. Toure who was a one-time leader of the Pan-Africanist movement consistently spoke out against colonial powers, he befriended African-American activists that includes the like of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, to whom he offered asylum. He is survived through the Guineans who fled the country to avoid the death camps that were enacted under his watch. Many of his political opponents were executed in these camps.
5. Macias Nguema
Macias Nguema was the son of a witch doctor. Nguema was the first president of Guinea. Though not as brutal as some other dictators, he managed to do some of the weirdest crimes out there. Some of his crimes include stalking his mistresses’ former lovers. Other crimes he committed were intellectual murder by killing the intellectuals of his country. According to reports, more than a third of Equatorial Guinea’s population had to flee to other countries to escape his brutal reign. It was also reported that he ordered the execution of entire families and villages, during the time of his reign, the country had neither a development plan nor proper accounting system for government funds. Macias Nguema trusted no one, he spent most of his time in his ancestral village of Mongomo, where he kept the national treasury right under his bed or in suitcases in his hut, but on the 18th of August in 1979, he met his end by his own nephew who sentenced him to death. His nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema is still in power to this day.
4. Siad Barre
Siad Barre was a man who seized power and stayed in power from October 21, 1969, to January 26, 1991. He adopted socialism to the so-called needs of Somalia. His influences came from countries such as China and Russia. Though he attempted a lot of good, Barre committed a significant amount of human rights violations such as jailing dissidents. Barre was also very well-known for using his power to remove all opposition or people who he just didn’t like. Barre died in political exile in 1995 but was returned to Somalia for burial in his home region.
3. Omar Al-bashir
Omar Al-bashir is one of the more recent dictators. His biggest call to fame was in March 4 2009 when he was issued an arrest warrant. Omar has been charged with seven crimes against humanity. Omar planned to commit genocide against several ethnic groups such as the Massalit and Zaghawa groups, Omar is regarded by many today as one of the worst dictators in Africa.
2. Hissene Habre
Hissene Habre is one of the dictators that didn’t do too much but still is a bad dictator. His rise to power was from Libya invading Chad. Habre and his troops defeated Libyan troops and sent them packing in November 1981. However, many human rights groups hold Habre responsible for killing thousands of people. These killings include massacres against Hadjerai, and Zaghawa. The Human Rights watch charged him with authorizing the murders of tens of thousands of humans and torturing them while under his rule.
1. General Idi Amin Dada of Uganda
Ever seen that 1981 movie titled “Rise and Fall of Idi Amin” or 1976 “Raid on Entebee”? – Kind of brings back some old memories, what about “The Last King of Scotland” (2006) that earned Forest Whitaker Academy awards for best actor, these movies are based on the events of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Idi Amin is someone that doesn’t need too much introduction, he is one of the worst dictators of the last 20th century, also known as the “Butcher of Uganda”. This 6 feet 4 inches tall Ugandan boxing champion made the highest rank possible for a Black African serving in the British Army. This man committed some unbelievable brutality that only modern-day Mexican drug cartels would touch, It is believed that at least 300,000 people were killed during his regime. He was born sometime in the mid 1920s in Koboko Uganda and died on August 18, 2003. This butcher left his mark on the world by using his infamous killer squads to murder his opponents and their families. He showed no mercy to anyone. The scariest thing about Amin was his ability to change from a gentleman to an incredibly angry person with no provocation. Amin is someone that has been described as erratic, unpredictable and outspoken. After the United Kingdom broke off all diplomatic relations with his regime in 1977, Amin declared he had defeated the British and conferred on himself this full title:
“His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”
Dishonorable Mentions of Worst Dictators in Africa
General Gnassingbé Eyadéma – Togo
Mengistu Haile Mariam – Ethiopia
Siad Barre – Somalia
Hissene Habre – Chad
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
José Eduardo dos Santos