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Article

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 ...

Article

Nelson Kasfir

military officer and President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, was probably born in Koboko district near the Sudanese border in northwestern Uganda. Few facts about his parents, his birth date, or his upbringing can be confirmed. His mother, who was Lugbara and originally Christian, separated from his father—who was Kakwa, Muslim, and possibly a convert from Christianity—shortly after his birth and raised Amin in southern Uganda.

As a Muslim belonging to both the Kakwa and the Nubian ethnic communities, Amin received little formal education and had halting command of several languages, including Swahili and English. He practiced polygamy and married at least six women: Malyamu Kibedi and Kay Adroa (both Christians prior to marriage) in late 1966 and Nora (her full name cannot be confirmed), a Langi, in 1967. He divorced all three, according to a Radio Uganda announcement on 26 March 1974 He married Nalongo ...

Article

Walter Clarke

Somali Issa Abgal Mamassan, president of the Republic of Djibouti (1977–1999), was born on 15 October 1919 in the village of Garissa in present-day Somaliland. His parents were nomads from the Loyada area, which is located at the frontier with the former British Somaliland. According to his official biography, he left the nomadic life as a young man, and “on his own,” he was admitted to a Roman Catholic mission school in Djibouti, where he graduated from the primary school. As a young man, he earned his living doing odd jobs in the port and later taught in a primary school.

However, Hassan Gouled’s true love was politics. In 1946 he joined the Club de la Jeunesse Somali et Dankali a political group founded by Mahamoud Harbi His philosophical differences with Harbi quickly became evident He was elected representative in the Territorial Council in which he served ...

Article

was born on 15 July 1953 in Port Salut, a small town in the Southern Department of Haiti, to Joseph Aristide and Marie Aristide (née Pierre-Louis), both smallholder farmers. Joseph Aristide passed away three months after Jean-Bertrand’s birth, leaving him to the care of his mother and extended family. Soon thereafter, Marie Aristide moved with the then 3-year-old Jean-Bertrand to Port-au-Prince.

He initially studied at a primary school run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a French Catholic order. Aristide’s devotion to the poor and victimized crystallized in these urban settings, where the widespread conditions of poverty and frequent public acts of violence committed by the Tonton Macoutes, the paramilitary enforcers of the dictators Francois Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1957–1986), marked him deeply.

Having completed his primary studies, Aristide elected to join the Catholic priesthood. He entered the Salesian seminary in Cap-Haïtien, rising to novitiate in 1974 ...

Article

Gloria Chuku

journalist and president of Nigeria, was born into the family of Obededan Chukwuemeka Azikiwe, a clerk with the Nigerian Regiment of the West African Frontier Force in the northern Nigerian Hausa town of Zungeru. Later known affectionately as Zik, as a child, Nnamdi learned Hausa before his parents sent him to Onitsha, their Igbo hometown, for his primary education in 1912. In 1918, he graduated from Christ Church School, Onitsha, and he briefly taught there as a pupil teacher (1918–1920).

His education also took him to the Efik town of Calabar where he enrolled in the prestigious Hope Waddell Training Institute Following his father s transfer to Lagos Nnamdi moved with the family and enrolled at the Wesleyan Boys High School Lagos a predominant Yoruba town By the time he graduated from high school Nnamdi had acquired three major Nigerian languages Hausa Igbo and Yoruba and ...

Article

Alexandre Hatungimana

president of Burundi (1976–1987), was born in Rutovu (province of Bururi), to a Tutsi-Hima family of the Bashingo clan. After primary and secondary studies in the Catholic schools of the capital, Bujumbura, he undertook a military career that led him to the École Royale des Cadets in Belgium from 1966 to 1971. Returning to his country the same year, he was named adjunct chief of staff for the Burundian army in 1972. On 1 November 1976, he overthrew General Michel Micombero, a Tutsi officer also from the commune of Rutovu, who had abolished the monarchy and installed the First Republic ten years earlier.

As head of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Bagaza relied on the army dominated by officers originating from the south of the country He restructured the only political party Union pour le Progrès national UPRONA Union for National Progress for which he organized ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Algerian anticolonial leader and politician, was born on 25 December 1916 in the town of Maghnia in western Algeria. His family was relatively affluent, and he was the youngest child of five boys and several girls.

Although Ben Bella’s father was a practicing Muslim, Ben Bella himself never managed to master Arabic. He attended primary schools in Maghnia and graduated in 1930. Ben Bella was a phenomenal football (soccer) player at school, and he seriously considered becoming a professional athlete. However, he ended up joining the French army and served in numerous campaigns during World War II. His bravery and skill made him a legend in his own unit, and he eventually reached the rank of Sergeant Major. At the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, he carried his wounded company commander 1500 yards to safety and then took charge of the company Charles De Gaulle his future ...

Article

Ndeh Martin Sango

president of Cameroon, was born Paul Barthélemy Biya’a bi Mvondo on 13 February 1933, in the village of Mvomekaʾa (Meyomessala), in French Cameroon. Biya was from a peasant background; his parents, Etienne Mvondo Assam and Anastasie Eyenya Elle Mvondo, had little money. However, through hard work, determination, perseverance, and dedication to education, the younger Biya was able to forge his way to the top. His rise from a humble background indicates the importance of education in promoting upward mobility in post-World War II Cameroon.

Biya a Christian began his education at the age of seven at a Catholic mission school in Ndem some thirty miles from his home village At school his hardworking and devoted nature won the admiration of his tutor a French national who recommended him for admission into the prestigious Akono Junior Seminary There is no record of his life at the seminary but he eventually left for the ...

Article

Richard A. Bradshaw

military officer, president, and emperor of the Central African Republic/Empire, was born on 22 February 1921 at Bobangui, Lobaye region, then in the French Equatorial African territory of the Middle Congo (now part of the Central African Republic) He was the son of headman Mindogon Mgboundoulou, who was murdered at the regional colonial headquarters in the Lobaye, and Marie Yokowo, who died a week after her husband. Bokassa belonged to the same Mbaka (Ngbaka) ethnic group as Central African Republic (CAR) leaders Barthélemy Boganda and David Dacko. His grandfather MʿBalanga took care of Bokassa until 1921, when he entered the Catholic missionary école Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc at MʿBaiki. Bokassa then attended Bangui’s École de St. Louis (1928–1929), which was run by Father Charles Grüner, and an école missionnaire at Brazzaville (1929–1939). Enlisting in the French army on 19 May 1939, Bokassa became a corporal (1940 ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

president of Gabon, was born on 30 December 1935 in the village of Lewai (now Bongoville) in the southeastern Haut-Ogooué region (in present-day Gabon) to the Tèkè family. His father was Basile Ondimba and his mother Jeanne Ebori. He was the youngest of twelve children. His father died before Bongo reached puberty. As the Haut-Ogooué province belonged to the French Congo colony rather than Gabon from 1926 until 1947, Bongo studied in schools in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville rather than Libreville. Once he finished his studies in 1953, he became a postal clerk. After several years, he joined the French air force. By 1959 Bongo reached the rank of first lieutenant after serving in Chad and the Central African Republic.

With the coming of independence in 1960, Bongo chose to become a civil servant rather than run for political officer. In 1961 he supported candidates ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Algerian politician and anticolonial military leader, was born Mohammed Ben Brahim Boukharouba in the Algerian town of Aïn Hesseinia, near Guelma, on 23 August 1932. Although Boumedienne was fluent in French through his primary school studies at a public school, he also chose to attend Islamic schools where the language of instruction was Arabic. Unlike some other future Algerian leaders who lacked a firm command of classical Arabic, Boumedienne thus could express himself in both French and Arabic as a result of his education.

The brutal crackdown of Algerian nationalists by European settlers and the French military on 8 May 1945 dramatically shaped Boumedienne s life Rather than accept eventually being forced to join the French military as a conscript he moved to Tunisia where he attended classes at the Zitouna University known for its advanced courses in Islamic law and theology After some time Boumedienne attended the ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Tunisian politician and anticolonial activist, was born on 3 August 1903 in the Tunisian town of Monastir, located roughly 100 kilometers south of the capital of Tunis. His family was relatively poor, but several of his seven siblings raised enough money to send Bourguiba to French-run schools in Tunis.

Bourguiba attended the College Sadiki middle school and the Lycée Carnot secondary school. After Bourguiba passed his baccalaureate examinations in 1924, he moved to Paris to study law and political science. Bourguiba spent three years studying before he received his law degree. During that time, he met a Frenchwoman named Mathilde Lorain, and they married in 1927. On 9 April 1927 Mathilde gave birth to their first child and only son Habib Bourguiba Jr He then returned with his new family to Tunis Since the decade before World War I Western educated Tunisians had protested discriminatory policies on ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

anticolonial activist, president of Mozambique, and United Nations envoy, was born on 22 October 1939 to a Shangaan family in the rural Gaza province of southern Mozambique. One of his earliest political accomplishments occurred when he registered as the first and at that time only black student at the Liceu Salazar in Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo). Chissano became a member and leader of the Núcleo dos Estudantes Africanos Secundários de Moçambique (NESAM; Nucleus of Mozambican Secondary Students), where he first met Eduardo Mondlane, later the leader of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO; Liberation Front of Mozambique). In 1960 Chissano went to study medicine in Lisbon, Portugal, where he was involved in anticolonial activism and in 1961 was forced to flee Portugal for France and then Tanzania. During his time in Europe he worked with western nations to gain support for the nascent anticolonial struggle in Mozambique.

Chissano was ...

Article

Jean-Philippe Dedieu

Mauritanian head of state, was born on 25 December 1924 in Boutilimit a town in the Trarza state of southern Mauritania He was descended from a family of Muslim religious scholars and political leaders belonging to the prestigious Tashumsha group of five clans of which Ould Daddah s the Awlad Aybiri was the most prominent It was also this clan that enjoyed a close relationship with the French colonial administration from the nineteenth century onward Ould Daddah was the son of a Muslim leader or marabout Muhammadun Ould Daddah and of Khadijattou Mahmoul Brahim After attending qurʾanic school and being taught by his father Moktar Ould Daddah attended the Medersa of Boutilimit a bilingual Arabic and French colonial school set up by the French Later he went to Saint Louis in neighboring Senegal to attend the l École des Fils de Chefs the Sons of the Chiefs School which ...

Article

Cyril Daddieh

university professor, political dissident, and former president of Ivory Coast from 2000–2011 was born in Mama, near Gagnoa (center-west region) on 31 May 1945 to Zepe Paul Koudou and Gado Marguerite. He attended primary and middle schools in Agboville and Gagnoa, completing his studies in June 1962. He went on to high school at the very competitive Lycée Classique d’Abidjan. After graduating in June 1965, Gbagbo enrolled at the University of Abidjan for a year before he transferred to the University of Lyon, in France, to study Latin, Greek, and French. His love of Latin earned him the nickname “Cicero.” However, Gbagbo did not complete his degree in Lyon; rather, he returned to the University of Abidjan, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1969.

Gbagbo became a trade unionist and an unflinching opponent of the regime of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. In 1969 Gbagbo s ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

Mozambican politician and president, was born in Murrupula, Nampula Province, to a father who was a teacher and later a nurse. He attended local schools and, as a secondary school student, became involved with Núcleo dos Estudantes Secundários Africanos de Moçambique (NESAM; Nucleus of Mozambican Secondary Students). In 1963 he was elected president of NESAM after Joaquim Chissano left for Portugal. The following year he left Mozambique to join the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO; Mozambique Liberation Front) but was arrested and jailed in Rhodesia. Throughout 1964 he tried to leave Mozambique, continued to engage in anticolonial activities, and was repeatedly questioned by the Portuguese secret police. In May 1965 he finally managed to get to Lusaka, Zambia, where he made contact with FRELIMO members in exile.

In Tanzania Guebuza did some military training at the FRELIMO camp at Nachingwea, and in 1966 he worked as Eduardo Mondlane ...

Article

Walter Clarke

president of the Republic of Djibouti, was born 27 November 1947 in Aïsha (near Dire Dawa, Ethiopia) into a Somali Issa Mamassan family. Guelleh grew up in Dire Dawa, located on the Djibouti–Addis Ababa railway, a town with a large Somali population. He completed the first six years of his education at the Alliance Française in Dire Dawa. In the mid-1960s he came to Djibouti, where he did additional secondary school studies. He speaks five languages: Somali, Amharic, French, English, and Arabic. Accepted into the French National Security service (the Sûreté Nationale) in 1968 as an investigator (enquêteur), Guelleh was promoted to inspecteur in 1970. In 1976 he was suspended from his police position on the order of Ali Aref Bourhan then president of the Governing Council on suspicion that Guelleh was passing intelligence information to his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon then leader of the Ligue ...

Article

Frédéric Grah Mel

first president of the Ivory Coast, was born in Yamoussoukro, the country’s current political capital. His father was an unknown gold washer whose name, Houphouët, means “filth.” In the Baoulé tribe, this type of name is given to the widower of a woman who has lost several children in the hope that death will not be interested in a piece of rubbish. Through his mother he was descended from a family of traditional chiefs. The name Boigny comes from his mother’s family and means “ram.” In December 1945, when he was going to Paris for the first time as a member of the French Parliament, he announced that he would be henceforth Houphouët-Boigny, which meant that he would be a fighting deputy.

Houphouët’s official date of birth is 18 October 1905 but it is a date that has been entirely constructed Soothsayers consulted before his birth predicted that ...

Article

Gaim Kibreab

Eritrean head of state, was born on 2 January 1946 in the village of Tselot, outside the capital, Asmara. Isaias studied at Prince Mekonnen Secondary School, where he was inducted into the nationalist Eritrean student movement in the first half of the 1960s. He joined the Faculty of Engineering at Haile Selassie University, Addis Ababa, in 1965.

In September 1966, he left the university and traveled to Kassala, Sudan, via Asmara to join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). In 1967, the Chinese government donated to the ELF some light weapons and a small amount of cash to cover the cost of transportation and provided training first to five and later to 28 combatants. Isaias was among the first group that went to China in 1967 There he received intensive military and ideological training at the height of the Cultural Revolution Upon his return he was appointed ...

Article

Mary H. Moran

Liberian president and the first woman elected president of an African country, was born Ellen Johnson on 29 October 1938 in Monrovia the capital of Liberia the daughter of Carney Karnley Johnson and Martha Dunbar Johnson Her paternal grandfather Jahmale sometimes known as Jahmale the Peacemaker was a well known chief of the Gola ethnic group As an important rural leader in the northwestern hinterland Jahmale had close ties with the coastal Liberian elite and placed his son as a ward in the home of a Monrovia family where he received his education His indigenous name Karnley was Anglicized to Carney and he took the surname Johnson from Hilary Wright Johnson the eleventh president of Liberia who had encouraged his father to send him to school He studied law as an apprentice to a practicing lawyer and was elected to the national legislature one of the first representatives of ...