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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

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

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

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

Fabre-Nicolas Geffrard was a general in the Haitian army during the reign of Faustin Elie Soulouque. He participated in Soulouque's unsuccessful effort to invade the Dominican Republic in 1849. In 1859 Geffrard led the insurrection which deposed Soulouque, and subsequently assumed the presidency. In 1867 he was ...

Article

Robert Fay

Former Nigerian president Yakubu Gowon was born in Plateau State, Nigeria. As the country’s military ruler from 1966 to 1975, he advocated unity for Nigeria and national reconciliation after the conclusion of the Biafran War. After his ouster in a bloodless coup, Gowon took the role of a senior statesman and continued to work toward regional cooperation in West Africa.

A Christian missionary’s son, Gowon was born into the Anga ethnic group in the Northern Region of Nigeria. He completed secondary school in Zaria, Nigeria, in 1953. Gowon joined the Nigerian army and began his military training in Teshie, Ghana in 1954. In 1955 he moved to Great Britain, where he completed his studies at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst the following year.

Gowon served in Ibadan, at the Nigeria-Cameroon border and in The Democratic Republic of Congo He attained the rank of lieutenant ...

Article

Roy Doron

Nigerian general, chief of staff, and head of the Federal Military Government, was born on 19 October 1934 in Lur, a village near the town of Kwali in present-day Plateau State, Nigeria. His parents were Nde Yohanna and Matwok Kurnyang, both missionaries with the Church Missionary Society. As part of their work, they moved with Yakubu and his ten siblings to Zaria. Gowon’s family, of the Ngas ethnic group, were devout Christians from the Northern Region, and not Hausa or Fulani Muslims. Both his religion and ethnicity would play a crucial role in Gowon’s military and political career.

Gowon joined the Nigerian army in 1954, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant a year later, after which he attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. In 1960 Gowon was sent to the Congo as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force before returning to Nigeria the following year ...

Article

Guerrero was born in Tixtla, now a part of Guerrero, the state in Mexico named for him after his death. He was of mixed race, probably descended from Africans, Spaniards, and Native Americans. His dark complexion earned him the nickname El Negro. For most of his early life he lived in the region where he was born and worked as a wage laborer and a teamster.

In 1810 Mexico's war of independence erupted. Guerrero sympathized with rebel demands, including an end to the restrictive caste system. In December 1810, when José María Morelos y Pavón called for troops in south central New Spain (present-day Mexico) to join him in the revolt, Guerrero enlisted in the rebel forces. He soon was leading troops in the field and by 1812 had become a lieutenant colonel. During 1812 he attacked port towns on the Pacific coast and helped capture ...

Article

Habyarimana was born in Gisenyi in northern Rwanda into a prominent family of the Hutu ethnic group. He completed one year at Lovanium University (now the University of Kinshasa) Medical School in the former Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before joining the army and enrolling in officers' training school in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Rising quickly through the ranks, he served in a number of military roles between 1963 and 1973, including national guard chief of staff, commander of the national guard, and minister for the armed forces and police.

Backed by northern military officers, Habyarimana overthrew the civilian government of Grégoire Kayibanda in July 1973 and declared himself president. After creating the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD) as Rwanda's only legal party in July 1975 he shifted control of many sectors of the government to civilians while retaining northern Hutu military ...

Article

Phillip A Cantrell

last president of pregenocide Rwanda, was born on 8 March 1937 in Gisenyi to a prosperous Hutu family. Following primary school, he graduated from the College of Saint Paul in Bukavu, Zaire, with a degree in mathematics and the humanities. Habyarimana had completed a year of medical school at Lovanium University in Zaire when Grégorie Kayibanda assumed power in 1959, at which time he left Lovanium to enter the officer training school in Kigali. Upon graduating with distinction in 1961, he became an aid to the Belgian commander of the colonial forces in Rwanda; two years later, owing to his education and charisma, he was named head of the Rwanda National Guard. In 1965 he was promoted to head the Ministry of the National Guard and Police, a cabinet-level position which made him the most powerful figure in the Rwandan military.

Initially Habyarimana was a steadfast supporter of ...

Article

Mayda Grano de Oro

Born in poverty in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, to a Haitian father and a mother from the Antilles, Ulíses Heureaux was a principal political and military leader in the Restoration War along with Gregorio Luperón. This conflict, which significantly involved Afro-Dominicans in a fight for their sovereignty and against the reinstitution of slavery for the first time, resulted in Spain's final withdrawal from the Dominican Republic.

Heureaux, who was also known as Lilís, became one of the most important political figures of the nineteenth-century Dominican Republic. He began his political career as the military leader of Gregorio Luperón's Partido Azul (Blue Party), opposing Buenaventura Baez's Partido Rojo (Red Party) during Baez's six-year regime from 1868 to 1874. After this regime the presidency was limited to a two-year term, and between 1876 and 1882 the Blue and Red Parties alternated control of the government ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

political leader and president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC; former Zaire), was born in the town of Likasi, located in the northern section of the southern Katanga region of the then Belgian Congo, on 27 November 1939. His father, Désiré Kabila Taratibu Obashikilwe, born in 1900, was a post office clerk from the town of Ankoro in northern Katanga and a member of a Luba-speaking clan. His mother, Jeannine Mafik Mwad Kanambui a Mubol, belonged to a Lunda community from southern Katanga. Taritibu was a remarkable figure in his own right, as he demanded his children speak French at his house and strongly supported his children’s education along Western lines. The family’s trading enterprises allowed the young Kabila to grow up in prosperous surroundings. Kabila’s father became a state-appointed chief in 1952 As Kabila attended primary and secondary school he followed his father s passion ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

In 1997 Laurent-Désiré Kabila received international attention when he led a seven-month rebellion in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that toppled longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila’s rapid rise to power followed nearly three decades of opposition to the regime of Mobutu. Laurent Kabila was born into the Luba ethnic group in the mineral-rich province of Katanga in 1939. Little is known about his childhood. He attended university in France, where he studied political philosophy and became a Marxist, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he befriended Yoweri Museveni, the future president of Uganda. He returned to the Belgian Congo shortly before it achieved independence (as the Congo) in 1960. Upon his return, Kabila became a member of the North Katanga Assembly and a staunch supporter of Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. After Lumumba’s murder in 1961 ...