Africa like some parts of the world has had its fair share of dictators over the past decades. Some appear on the scene as liberators, revolutionists while others come in as freedom fighters, but eventually they metamorphose into tyrants having looted with their families and want to indemnify themselves from accountability.
AfricaNews.com zooms in on the top 10 dictators the ‘dark continent’ has come across ever since Africans weaned themselves off colonial rule. The criteria was based on poor human rights record, disregard for press freedom and the desire to remain in power for life at the expense of innocent lives.
His full name is Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor. The 22nd president of Liberia ruled for eight years [1997-2003]. He was democratically elected. Prior to becoming the no. 1 man of his west African country, he was a warlord as the leader of the rebel group – The National Patriotic Front of Liberia. He lorded over the execution of his predecessor Sergeant Doe. Under his reign, he allegedly committed war crimes against humanity culminating in his current trial at the International Criminal Court of Justice in The Hague. The 63-year-old was accused by Amnesty International to have looted state coffers and used his troops to rape women and children as terror instruments. He is also standing trial for fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone through the illegal sale of ‘blood diamonds’ to support the rebels.
Toure was the first president of Guinea. He fell short of four years to have ruled for three decades non-stop [1958-1984]. At one point in time he declared a one-party state. Toure was initially seen as the ‘Guinean Messiah’, but later became the sting of his people. A lot of Guineans fled the country into exile to avoid his ferocious wrath. Death camps were instituted under his watch, where his political opponents were tortured and some executed. He died in America while undergoing cardiac treatment.
Sani Abacha came to the scene in a bloodless coup d’etat in November 1993. He was in power for only five years, but his nefarious feats fit someone who remained in power for life. Political pundits have christened him as the most brutal dictator of the west African powerhouse. Abacha is reported to have stolen millions of dollars from the country’s purse into western banks including Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. It is unconfirmed though, but rumours from official circles have it that the senior military officer died in sexual bouts with Indian prostitutes. The highlight of his brutal reign was the 1995 killing of the political and environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa.
He was full of promises, but none came to nothing. He seized power in 1997 after toppling Joseph Mobutu. Having headed rebellion for decades before reaching the light to turn the misfortunes of his people, he rather aggravated their social condition in his four-year rule. An estimated 3.3 million people died during his reign. He failed to unite the people and succeeded in dividing them on tribal lines. He banned opposition parties and never held an election contrary to his promise. ”My long years of struggle were like spreading fertiliser on a field. But now it is time to harvest,” he told Reuters when he overthrew Mobutu and indeed he reaped from what he sown. Enough! was the clarion call. Kabila met his waterloo in 2001 when one of his bodyguards shot him in a dramatic style.
Call him a friend or a foe. He fits into any of them. However, the Malawian’s demeanour since he assumed post clearly classified him a despot. Banda was highly intoxicated with power and was never ready to let go. He fired ministers who had the sense to counsel him that ‘sir, you are biting more than you can chew.’ He was constantly on the hunt to haunt his opponents and many of them fled to exile. The tyrant declared a one-party state in 1966. His regime was a classic case of ‘grace to grass’. The National Assembly stripped him of his powers in 1993 and died four years after in South Africa.
05. Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe
Uncle Roo is a classic case of hero to tyrant. He played an integral role in bringing freedom to Zimbabweans, but got himself drunk with power and went overboard. The veteran has clung on to power from 1980 till date. Zimbabweans are fed up with his repressive regime. He hates press freedom. The economy is in a bad state. If you are an opposition member be prepared to make the prisons your second home and the courts will be frequent places of visits. He succumbed to power-sharing in 2009, but the Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, now a key government figure touted to bring hopes to the former British colony of Rhodesia, is not having it easy with his opponent in the corridors of power.
He was born Joseph-Desire Mobutu, but popularly known as Mobuto Sese Seko [Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga] – a title he added to his name to wit, “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. He was Zaire’s long-serving dictator, who stayed in power for 31 solid years. He felt bigger than his country and thought the nation cannot do without him. It took one Laurent Kabila (No. 7) to force him into exile. Mobutu was cunning, violent and always had his hands in state coffers. He lived in grandeur state while the country was stumbling in poverty. Mobutu died while in exile in Morocco after a protracted battle with cancer.
He was a former colonel who seized power in the Central African Republic in 1966 and declared himself president for life. Bokassa I was accused of cannibalism of imprisoned school children. His stock in trade in most parts of his 14-year rule was torture and execution of his opponents. It is widely reported that his coronation alone cost US$30 million and he amassed about US$125 m in his personal accounts. His regime ended in 1979 when French paratroopers overthrew his government while he was on an official trip to Libya. Bokassa had 17 wives with close to 50 children. He died at 75 from a heart attack in 1996.
The beleaguered Libyan ruler is the longest-ruling Africa and the Arab world’s “most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader – presiding for 42 years over this desert republic with vast oil reserves and just six million people,” Aljazeera described him. The revolutionist came to power through a 1969 bloodless coup against King Idris at the age of 27. He has ruled with eagle eyes over his oil-rich country and has dealt with dissidents [“rats”] severely in the past decades through public hanging and long term imprisonments. His regime is near collapse as rebels close in on him to drag him out of power from the beginning of the year.
He is the most notorious of all African dictators ever. He has been described as the “Butcher of Uganda” for his brutalities in the 70s. He was in the limelight in 1971 after a military coup and ruled for eight years. He conferred on him the title, Field Marshal. He is known for the famous quote on the day of the coup: “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He used his ‘killer squads’ to eliminate hundreds of his opponents. Amin was ousted in 1979 by Ugandan nationalists, after which he fled into exile.
Francisco Macías Nguema – Equatorial Guinea
General Gnassingbé Eyadéma – Togo
Paul Biya – Cameroon
Mengistu Haile Mariam – Ethiopia
Omar Al-bashir – Sudan
Omar Al-bashir – Eritrea
Siad Barre – Somalia
Hissene Habre – Chad
AFRICA news: Africa’s top 10 dictators of all time