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Article

Eric Bennett

Sani Abacha attended primary and secondary school in his home state of Kano and then joined the army in 1962. As a soldier he attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna State (1962–1963) and then went to England for further military schooling. Abacha achieved steady promotions as a soldier and by the mid-1980s had entered Nigeria's military elite. In 1983 he was among those who overthrew Shehu Shagari, leader of the Second Republic, in a coup that led to the military rule of Muhammadu Buhari. In 1985 Abacha participated in a second coup, which replaced Buhari with General Ibrahim Babangida, who appointed Abacha minister of defense in 1990. As head of state, Babangida announced that free elections would be held in the early 1990s. In 1993 however after Babangida nullified the results of these belated free elections Abacha staged a third coup and ...

Article

Allen J. Fromherz

builder of the Almohad Empire and great Moroccan military leader and able administrator, led the Almohad movement for tawhid, absolute monotheistic unity, after the death of the Mahdi Ibn Tumart, the Almohad founder, in c. 1130. His full name was ʿAbd al-Muʾmin ibn ʿAli ibn ʿAlwi bin Yaʿla al-Kumi Abu Muhammad.

After defeating the Almoravid Empire at Marrakech, he established the administrative and military foundations of the Almohad state while securing a caliphal succession for his descendants, the Muʾminid dynasty. In a matter of decades ʿAbd al-Muʾmin and his followers transformed the Almohads from a vigorous but vulnerable ideological movement in the small Atlas Mountain town of Tinmal to one of the largest and most successful Islamic empires in North African and Andalusian history.

Effectively an outsider ʿAbd al Muʾmin s ancestry was different from the noble Masmuda ethnic groups that made up the core of the Almohad ...

Article

Jasper Ayelazuno

army officer and military head of state of Ghana, was born in Trabuom in the present-day Ashanti Region of southern Ghana and then part of Britain’s Gold Coast colony. He was the son of James Kwadwo Kutu Acheampong and Akua Manu. Raised as a Roman Catholic, he attended Trabuom Elementary School and St. Peter’s Catholic School in Kumasi, before receiving his secondary education at the Central College of Commerce at Swedru in the Central Region of Ghana. Having obtained his West Africa Secondary School General Certificate of Education at the ordinary level (popularly known as GCE O level) and a diploma in commerce, he worked in various places and positions. From 1945 to 1951, he was a stenographer/secretary at the Timber Sawmill in Kumasi, a teacher at Kumasi Commercial College, and the vice principal at Agona-Swedru College of Commerce.

Acheampong subsequently enlisted as a private soldier in the British ...

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

Richard A. Bradshaw and Juan Fandos-Rius

military officer and government minister in the Central African Republic (CAR), born on 10 October 1923 at Carnot in what was then the Middle Congo but became part of Ubangi-Shari and eventually the CAR. His parents were Gbaya, the ethnic identity of most inhabitants of the Upper Sangha region where he was raised. After primary school in Upper Sangha, he studied at École préparatoire militaire Général Leclerc (Leclerc military academy) in 1946 at Brazzaville, Middle Congo, then trained to become a tank mechanic. He also qualified as a howitzer operator and, in 1950, as an assistant physical education and sports instructor. From 1951 to 1956, Banza served in the 1st Battalion of Gabon-Congo Riflemen, then as a noncommissioned officer in Morocco and Tunisia before attending the École de formation des officiers ressortisants des territoires d’outre-mer (school for training officers for service overseas) in Fréjus and Fontainebleau, France.

By ...

Article

Pedro L V Welch

was born to the Reverend Reginald Grant Barrow and his wife, Ruth Alberta Barrow (née O’Neal), in St. Lucy Parish, Barbados, on 21 January 1920. His family lineage provided some of the strong influences that would eventually lead him to local and Caribbean prominence. His father was certainly not averse to using the pulpit to challenge the prevailing racist social and economic order. Indeed, in 1922 he was deported from St. Croix for his radical comments in a local newspaper. He eventually migrated to the United States, leaving his children behind. There can be little doubt that Reverend Barrow’s radical stance played an important role in the later development of Errol Barrow’s political philosophy.

Errol Barrow s uncle Charles Duncan O Neal was another pivotal influence in the young Barrow s life O Neal a medical doctor who was trained at Edinburgh University in Scotland returned to the Caribbean ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

political, military, and religious leader and first Caliph of the Sokoto Caliphate, was born in the town of Morona, now located in Niger, in 1780 or 1781. His father was the revolutionary Islamic cleric and leader Uthman Dan Fodio (1754–1817), and his mother was Hawwa bint Adam ibn Muhammad Agh. Bello received an advanced education in Islamic theology and law thanks to his father, and supported his father’s call for a strict adherence to orthodox Sunni interpretations of Islamic practices. Bello praised his father as a loving parent: “His face was relaxed and his manner gentle. He never tired of explaining and never became impatient if anyone failed to understand” (Boyd, 1989).

When Uthman Dan Fodio launched a series of holy wars against the nominally Islamic sultans of Hausa cities such as Kano in northern Nigeria and southern Niger Bello became an active lieutenant of his father ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Muhammad Bello was born in Gobir, in what is now Niger. He helped his father, Usuman dan Fodio, overthrow the Hausa states and build the powerful Sokoto Caliphate, which ruled over the northern half of present-day Nigeria. In the early nineteenth century Bello’s father, a Fulani Muslim religious leader, called on the rulers of the Hausa states to abandon their corrupt ways. He organized a popular movement among the Fulani and among Hausa peasants and merchants, advocating a purer form of Islam and the application of the Shari’a, or Islamic law. Usuman first tried peaceful means, but his peaceful movement only provoked repression from the Hausa rulers. In 1804 Usuman and his followers called for a jihad, or holy war, to overthrow resistant rulers. Among those who led the military campaign was Usuman’s 23-year-old son, Muhammad Bello A capable military leader and administrator Bello was crucial ...

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

Eric Young

A career soldier who had endured a tragic childhood, Jean-Bédel Bokassa ruled the impoverished Central African Republic with brutal repression, used its revenues for his personal enrichment, and crowned himself emperor. He committed barbarities that caused an international outcry and led to his removal from power.

When Bokassa was six years old, his father, a village chief of the Mbaka people, was murdered. Bokassa became an orphan a week later, when his mother committed suicide. Missionaries raised him until age eighteen when, at the outbreak of World War II, Bokassa joined the French Colonial Army. He participated in the 1944 landings in Provence and later served in Indochina and Algeria, attaining the rank of captain and earning the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre. In 1960, after Oubangui-Chari became the independent Central African Republic, Bokassa helped create its army and, in 1964 was given the rank of ...

Article

Dario A. Euraque

was born in the Department of Olancho, in eastern Honduras, in the municipality of Juticalpa. His parents were Jorge Bonilla and Dominga Chirinos. He received a rudimentary primary education in the 1850s, and enjoyed no formal high school, much less a university education. We know almost nothing of his infancy and youth, and his black and mulatto ethno-racial background are only discreetly mentioned by his major biographers. However, there is no doubt that General Bonilla was phenotypically black or mulatto, in addition to having been born in a town whose ethno-racial background was the same.

According to Jose Sarmiento, the most important historian of Olancho and Juticalpa, Bonilla’s city of birth, in 1810 in the parish registries we find that nearly all the population is registered as mulatto One of General Bonilla s lesser known biographers also affirms as much Moreover his most important biographer characterizes him as dark ...

Article

Bill Nasson

farmer, general, and first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, was born on 27 September 1862 near Greytown in the British colony of Natal. His paternal grandfather, Philip Rudolph Boot (or Both), was of German settler descent and had participated in the 1830s Boer Great Trek into the interior. The son of migrant trekkers Louis Botha and Salomina van Rooyen, Louis was the ninth of thirteen children. In 1869, the Botha family left Natal and settled on a farm near Vrede in the Orange Free State, where Louis lived until the age of twenty-two. Earlier, he had been schooled at a local German mission where he received only a very basic education.

Botha’s minimal formal learning proved to be no handicap to the development of his exceptional aptitude for fieldcraft and understanding of the working of the highveld terrain. In 1886 he settled on his ...

Article

Deborah Jenson

president of Haiti from 1818 to 1843, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, though no definitive date exists for his birth. It may have been in 1776 (notably on any of several possible dates within the month of February that year), or 1780, or some point in between; the frequently cited date of 1775 appears to derive from an early faulty transcription of the 1776 date. Boyer’s white father was a prosperous storekeeper and tailor in Port-au-Prince. Boyer’s mother was consistently identified as African—often as Congolese—which suggests that she came to Saint-Domingue late enough in life to retain a “foreign” cultural status. Boyer himself was described as relatively dark-skinned for the “mulatto” class. His father’s trade and his mother’s African identity signal the large variety of socioeconomic and socioethnic backgrounds encompassed by the term “mulatto” in his time. Boyer may have been educated in France as a boy.

Boyer ...

Article

Richard A. Bradshaw

military officer and President of the Central African Republic (CAR), was born François Bozizé Yangouvonda in Mouila, Gabon, on 14 October 1946. His father, Yangouvonda, a Baya (Gbeya) from Ouham region, served in the French colonial army and the colonial gendarmerie (police forces) in Gabon and then Bossangoa, near his hometown. Bozizé attended primary school at Tchibanga (Gabon) and continued his studies at Bossangoa and the Lycée Technique in Bangui. Joining the Central African army some time around 1966, he entered the École Speciale de Formation des Officiers d’Active (ESFOA) at Bouar in 1967, graduating as a second lieutenant in September 1969. After attending the Centre National des Commandos at Mont-Louis, France (1970–1971), Bozizé was promoted to first lieutenant (1 September 1970), and after officer training at the École d’Application de l’Artillerie at Chalons (1973–1974 and the Centre Interarmées des Sports at Fontainebleau ...

Article

Émile Mworoha

president of Burundi, was born on 24 November 1949 in Rutovu, in the province of Bururi. He was the son of Rurikumunwa, a Tutsi-Hima from the Batyaba clan, and his second wife, Nzikobanyanka. After primary school (1958–1963), Buyoya attended the École Moyenne Pédagogique in Rutovu until 1967. He then left for Belgium to follow a program of military studies, first at the École Royale des Cadets, then at the École Royale Militaire in Brussels. He simultaneously did university studies in the social sciences and defended a thesis on the organization of the Algerian National Liberation Front. Having specialized in the armored cavalry in Belgium, he completed his military studies in France at the École d’État-Major (General Staff College; August 1976–January 1977) and in the Federal Republic of Germany at the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces Command and Staff College, 1980–1982). Beginning in 1982 he ...

Article

Eric Young

Never content to be merely a soldier, Pierre Buyoya has twice seized political power, pledging both times to bring peace and democracy to Burundi. Born into a modest Hima Tutsi family in the southern Buriri province, Buyoya received his primary education locally. He then went to Belgium for secondary school, university, and, later, military training. After returning briefly to Burundi in 1975 to command an armored squadron, he received further military training in France, and then joined Burundi’s ruling UPRONA party. He was elected to its central committee in 1979. In the mid-1980s Buyoya began openly criticizing President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, a former soldier and fellow Tutsi from Buriri, for his hostility toward the Catholic Church. In September 1987, Buyoya led a coup against Bagaza, charging him with corruption, failed economic policy, and constitutional violations.

Upon assuming the presidency Buyoya suspended the constitution released political prisoners and ...

Article

Mohamed Saliou Camara

Guinean military officer and statesman, president of Guinea, was born in Dubréka, French Guinea, to Alsény Conté and Mabory “M’Mah” Camara. He received his formal schooling at the French military cadet school of Bingerville (Ivory Coast) and the École Militaire Préparatoire Africaine (EMPA; African Military Cadet School) of Saint Louis (Senegal). As a private in the French colonial army since 1955, Conté was deployed to Algeria in 1957 to fight against the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front), which had launched a war against the French occupation beginning in 1954.

At his own request, Sergeant Lansana Conté was discharged and left Algeria in December 1958, having decided to return to Guinea, which had won independence in October. In March 1959 Conté joined Republic of Guinea s newly created armed forces and in the next ten years proved to be a valuable pillar thereof ...

Article

Angie Colón Mendinueta

was born in San Francisco de Cara, in the state of Aragua on 22 August 1841. The son of Leandro Crespo and María Aquilina Torres, he was also known as “The Tiger of Santa Inés” and “El Taita” (Daddy). Although the evidence is not conclusive, several sources have suggested that Crespo was of partial African descent. Writing in 1892, the US ambassador to Venezuela described Crespo as a “mulatto,” while the modern historians Winthrop R. Wright (1993) and George Reid Andrews (2000) have claimed that Crespo, like many nineteenth-century Venezuelans, and several South American politicians of that era, was of partial African descent (see Wright, 1993, pp. 66–67). During his youth he lived in Parapara, a plains town in the state of Guárico, where he learned to read and write.

In 1858 at the age of 17 Joaquín began his military career ...

Article

Julia Gaffield

general in the Haitian Revolution, first leader of independent Haiti, and a lwa in the Haitian Vodou pantheon. The specifics of Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s early life are not well documented and historians have not come to a consensus regarding his date and place of birth. He was born around the year 1758 in either west central Africa or in the Grande Rivière region in the north of the French colony of Saint Domingue in the Caribbean where he spent much of his life as a slave on two plantations In the late eighteenth century Saint Domingue was the most wealth producing colony in the Americas Much of this wealth was generated through the cultivation and export of sugar and coffee crops Enslaved people often purchased by the plantation owners through the transatlantic slave trade were forced to work on plantations to produce wealth for their masters Some enslaved people were ...

Article

Richard Pankhurst

Ethiopian provincial ruler and military leader (also spelled Imru Hayla Sellase and Himru Hayla Sellase), was a cousin of Emperor Haile Selassie and one of the four commanders on Ethiopia’s northern front during the Italian Fascist invasion of 1935–1936. A modernizer interested in social justice, he was also an author of writings in Amharic and a figure much venerated in progressive Ethiopian circles.

Emru, the great-great-grandson of Sahle Selassie, founder of the modern Shewan state, was the son of Dejazmach Haile Selassie, a nobleman at Emperor Menilek’s court. Young Emru was entrusted at an early age to Menilek’s cousin, Ras Mekonnen Welde Mikael, the father of Dejazmach Teferi Mekonnen, the future emperor Haile Selassie. The two boys were reportedly brought up together like twins. They witnessed Ethiopian government activity at Ras Mekonnen’s court and, after the ras’s death in 1906 were enrolled in the Menilek II Secondary School founded ...