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Ari Nave

Self-titled “His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. 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,” Idi Amin also made a name for himself as one of modern Africa's most tyrannical and brutal rulers. A member of the Kakwa ethnic group, Idi Amin was born to Muslim parents near Koboko in northern Uganda when that part of Africa was under British control. After receiving a missionary school education, Amin joined the King's African Rifles (KAR), the African unit of the British Armed Forces, in 1946. He served in Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya while British authorities there suppressed an African uprising called the Mau Mau rebellion earning a reputation as a skilled and eager soldier But early in his career ...


Judith Morrison

Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar was the controversial Cuban leader who dominated much of the country's politics for three decades. Born in 1901 to a rural farming family in the Oriente Province, Batista was orphaned at age thirteen and left school to become a tailor's apprentice. He joined the military at the age of twenty.

On September 4, 1933, Batista led the Sergeants' Rebellion, which culminated in the appointment of President Ramón Grau San Martín and the ousting of President Manuel de Céspedes. Grau's revolutionary policies incurred the disfavor of the United States, which refused to recognize the government. In 1934, with U.S. support, Batista forced Grau's resignation. Batista ruled through a series of puppet presidents and was himself elected in 1940, defeating his rival Grau. As president from 1940to1944 Batista passed a number of reforms governing the areas of health welfare and labor ...


Alan West

Born into a landowning family from the Oriente province of Cuba, Fidel Castro showed an early talent for sports and politics. Obviously, politics won out. Castro studied law at the University of Havana, finishing his degree in 1950. As a student representative, he witnessed the bogotazo, a massive uprising in the Colombian capital, in 1948. Back home, he was involved with Eduardo Chibas' Ortodoxo Party, an offshoot of the ruling Auténtico Party created by politicians disillusioned by official corruption. When Chibas, a favorite to be elected president, fatally shot himself during one of his radio speeches, Cuba's political destiny changed. This event, coupled with Fulgencio Batista's coup in March 1952, convinced young Castro that Cuba would not change through peaceful means. He organized a group of young revolutionaries to attack the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953 ...


Richard Watts

Born into a lower-middle class Haitian family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, François Duvalier attended local primary schools and, later, the Lycée Pétion, where he was taught by his political mentor, Dumarsais Estimé. Duvalier subsequently attended medical school at the national university, earning a degree in 1934. He then turned to civil service, working for the Haitian government for the next ten years. During this time Duvalier became part of a collective known as the Griots, a group of intellectuals, inspired by the Négritude movement, who sought to glorify Haiti's African heritage.

In Le problème des classes à travers l'histoire d'Haïti (1946), Duvalier and Lorimer Denis rejected a Marxist analysis of class and claimed that the historical supremacy of the mulatto (of African and European descent) elite in Haiti was an ethnic rather than an economic phenomenon Many historians deem this work a vulgarization of the ...


Mark O'Malley

General Gnassingbé Eyadéma remained in power for decades as president of the West African nation of Togo. He owes his long tenure as president to two factors—a system of patronage that brought the support of important segments of Togolese society, and personal control over the country’s military, which has consistently and often violently repressed political opposition.

According to official sources, Eyadéma was born on December 27 1936, as Étienne Gnassingbé, to Kabiyé peasants in Pya, Togo. He completed six years of school before, like other poor young Kabiyé, enlisting in the French army. He enlisted in 1953 and served in French Dahomey (now Benin), Southeast Asia, Algeria, and Niger. Upon his discharge in 1962, he returned to Togo, as did more than 600 mostly Kabiyé French veterans.

Togo s president Sylvanus Olympio refused to enlarge Togo s 150 man army to include these experienced ...


Togolese political leader and head of state, was born on 26 December 1935 in the small northern Togolese town of Pya. His family belonged to the Kabye ethnic community, whose members lacked the numbers and the access to mission education of more prominent ethnic communities in the French colony, such as the Ewe. After attending primary school he joined the French army in 1953 at the age of eighteen. Like many other northern Togolese with limited access to the advanced schooling that could lead to lucrative jobs, Gnassingbé chose a military career. He served with distinction during the waning moments of the French war in Vietnam, and then fought against the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the anticolonial rebels who fought the French colonial administration in the Algerian war for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although Togo was granted independence in 1960 Gnassingbé remained in the ...


Born, raised, and educated in the Mongomo region of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema as president relied on family connections and repression to maintain his dictatorship. As a youth, his Catholic teachers noted his paranoia, megalomania, and feelings of inferiority. In 1944 Macías Nguema began working for the Spanish colonial administration, which in 1960 appointed him mayor of Mongomo. In the 1960s Macías Nguema joined a series of nationalist parties, although he never directly opposed Spain, and was elected to parliament and appointed minister of public works. With support from conservative Spanish interests, Macías Nguema won the presidency shortly before Equatorial Guinea became independent in October 1968.

Soon afterward Macías Nguema used an allegedly faked coup d état attempt as a pretext for executing his opponents Macías Nguema s paranoia and cruelty defined his rule for the next eleven years Arbitrary arrests executions tortures and atrocities were conducted by ...


Marian Aguiar

Muammar al-Qaddafi (also spelled Moammar Gadhafi, or Mu’ammar al-Qadhdafi) was born to a Bedouin family near the town of Surt in Libya. The strict Islamic Bedouin way of life profoundly influenced Qaddafi’s later asceticism, as well as his political philosophy. As he once noted in an interview, growing up Bedouin helped him discover “the natural laws, natural relationships, life in its true nature, before life knew oppression, coercion and exploitation.”

When Qaddafi was a young man, both Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalist struggle in neighboring Egypt and the Arab struggle for Palestine drew him to Arab populist politics. In 1961 he entered the Libyan military academy in Benghazi, where he helped found a student military group called the Free Officers Movement and met the men who would eventually plot to overthrow the Libyan monarchy.

In September 1969 at a time when anti Western Arab nationalist sentiments were running ...


Diana Murtaugh Coleman

Libyan leader and Arab statesman, was born into a Bedouin family in the Sirtic Desert in 1942. An alternative form of his surname is al-Gaddafi. His parents, Abu Minyar and ʿAʾisha Qaddafi, were nomadic herders of Berber origin, and Muʿammar was their youngest child and only son.

Qaddafi spent his early years in the desert with his parents and three older sisters, tending to the goats and sheep the family kept, and living a traditional Bedouin lifestyle. His first instruction was from a local religious teacher, but at age ten he was sent to an Islamic day school in the coastal town of Sirte, about 20 miles from where he was born. He slept in a local mosque at night and journeyed home each Thursday to be with the family for the traditional Islamic weekend. From 1956 to 1961 Qaddafi attended the Sebha Preparatory Academy in the Fezzan ...


Marian Aguiar

Mohamed Siad Barre was born in the city of Ganane into a family of nomadic herders in what was then Italian Somaliland. He belonged to the Marehan, a subgroup of the large Somali Daarood clan. In 1941, after part of Somalia fell under British control, Siad Barre joined the police force. In 1950 he attended a military academy in Italy, returning home when Somalia achieved independence in 1960.

Siad Barre rose quickly through the ranks of the Somali National Army, reaching the position of major general and commander in chief by 1966. After the assassination of President Abdel-Rashid Ali Shermarke and a military coup d’état in October 1969, Siad Barre took power as head of the Supreme Revolutionary Council.

Barre s promise to end tribalism and forge a modern socialist state won him early support from urban intellectuals and professionals as well as the military Although ...


James Davis

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was born in the town of San Cristóbal, located some eighteen miles from the capital, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on October 24, 1891. The period from 1930 to 1961 has been called the Era of Trujillo. During this time, Trujillo exercised power as an absolute dictator, though he occupied the presidency only from 1930 to 1938 and from 1942 to 1952. In the intervening years, he ruled through puppet presidents and maintained his position as commander of the armed forces. From 1953 until his death in 1961, he occupied the position of foreign minister.

In 1918, during the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), Trujillo joined the National Guard established by the United States and quickly rose in its ranks. In 1927 after the Guard was renamed the National Army he became commander in chief and ...