The African continent has come quite a long way with regard to espousing democracy, yet it still has to overcome numerous hurdles as it endeavors to rewrite its history.
Among the many setbacks the continent has suffered over the years is the host of dictators who continue to hold their citizenry ransom while ruthlessly clamping down on any opposing voices.
These autocratic rulers have and continue to commit some of the worst atrocities against their citizens and appear to have no one to answer to. Here are the top five most ruthless African dictators that ever lived.
- Idi Amin Dada, Uganda (1971-1979)
Born in 1928 in Koboko, a Uganda Protectorate, the late-Idi Amin Dada was a Ugandan politician who ruled between 1971 and 1979. He joined the British Colonial Army in 1946 and took part in British actions against Shifta Warriors in Somalia and Mau Maurebels in Kenya.
Amin’s eight-year regime was characterized by serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, ethnic persecution, political repression, and corruption.
It is estimated that close to 500,000 people were killed by Amin’s regime.
Bodies were often dumped in to River Nile to be washed away, and most of these victims were supporters of exiled President Obote and members of the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups.
Amin was deposed by Obote forces with the help of Tanzanian forces in 1978, after he attempted to annex the Kagera Region in Tanzania.
He fled to Libya in 1979 and later relocated to Saudi Arabia, where he settled until his death in July 2003.
Idi Amin was a polygamist with at least five wives and 43 children.
2. Charles Taylor, Liberia (1997-2003)
Charles Taylor was born in 1948 in Arthington, Montserrado County, Liberia, and ruled as the 22nd President of Liberia from August 1997 until his resignation in August 2003.
He spent several years of his life in Libya training as a guerrilla fighter and returned to his home country in 1989 to lead the first Liberian Civil War that lasted for seven years.
After the execution of President Samuel Doe in 1996, Taylor gained control of a large portion of Liberia, which enabled him to successfully run for the presidency in the 1997 general election.
His six-year regime was marred by human rights abuses, including political executions, torture, rape, and ethnic cleansing, especially during the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003).
He also actively participated in the Sierra Leone War (1991-2002) and was formerly indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003.
In 2006, the newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested for his extradition from Nigeria, where he had sought refuge.
In 2012, Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
He is married to two wives, Enid Tupee Taylor and Jewel Howard, and together they have 14 children.
3. Hissene Habre, Chad (1982-1990)
Former Chadian President Hissene Habre was born in 1942 in Faya-Largeau, French Equatorial Africa, and rose to power after he successfully toppled Gen. Felix Malloum in 1982 with the help of France and the United States who provided him with training, arms, and finances.
His eight-year reign was characterized by some of the worst atrocities, including political assassinations, torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings. He was deposed by the current President of Chad, Idriss Deby, in 1990.
In 2012, the United Nation’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Senegal, where he had sought refuge, to prosecute him or extradite him to face justice overseas.
In May 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers at Special Court in Senegal found Habre guilty of rape, sexual slavery, and ordering the killing of 40,000 people during his reign and sentenced him to life in prison.
4. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya (1969-2011)
Commonly referred to as “Colonel Gaddafi,” Muammar Gaddafi was a Libyan revolutionary politician and president who ruled the North African country from 1969 to 2011, when he was assassinated.
Initially, he was ideologically committed to Arab nationalism and socialism, but later came to rule according to his own Third International Theory.
Gaddafi was born in 1942 in Sirte to a poor Bedouin family and became an Arab nationalist while at school in Sabha.
In 1963, he joined the Royal Military Academy in Benghazi, where he founded a revolutionary cell that helped him carry out a successful coup against the Western-backed Senussi monarchy of Idris in 1969.
Although he was widely celebrated for his anti-imperialist stance and firm support for Arab and African unity, Gaddafi was also accused of authoritarianism, corruption, and abuse of human rights. He was also regarded as one of the biggest financiers of global terrorism.
He was assassinated by Islamic militants during the 2011 Arab Spring.
5. Mobutu Sese Seko, DR Congo (1965-1997)
Born Joseph-Desire Mobutu in 1930 in Lisala, Belgian Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko was a military dictator and president of the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1965 and 1997, when he was overthrown by late-President Laurent Kabila.
During his reign, Mobutu employed authoritarian tactics to strangle dissenting voices, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to take the country back to a colonial culture, while he enjoyed considerable support from the United States, which was opposed to communism.
His regime was notorious for corruption, nepotism, rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, and political repression.
Many refer to him as the “archetypal African dictator.”
In 1996, he ordered all members of the Tutsi ethnic group to leave DR Congo (previously known as Zaire) or be killed. This group later became the center of rebellion against Mobutu.
In 1997, Laurent-Desire Kabila, with the help of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, managed to overrun DRC, forcing Mobutu in to exile in Togo.
He later moved to Morocco, where he died in September 1997. He was married to the late-Marie-Antoinette Mobutu and Bobi Ladawa Mobutu, with whom he had 14 children.