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Article

David P. Johnson

As a leader of the largest rebel force in Eritrea's independence struggle, Isaias Afwerki strove to unify peoples of diverse cultures and religious beliefs. Since assuming office, he has been widely praised for his pragmatism and modesty and for maintaining a regime free of corruption. Like Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi, Afwerki belongs to what has been called Africa's “new generation” of leaders, all of whom are known for their military backgrounds and for their tactical rather than ideological approach to leadership.

Isaias Afwerki was born in Asmara, Eritrea, at a time when the fate of the former Italian colony was in limbo. By the time he graduated from the elite Prince Makonnen Secondary School in Asmara in 1965, Ethiopia had annexed Eritrea, and Eritrean opponents to the despotic rule of Emperor Haile Selassie were preparing for all out warfare ...

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Marian Aguiar

Ahmed Ben Bella was born in Maghnia, Algeria. After fighting for the French during World War II, Ben Bella returned home to witness the colonial administration’s crackdown on the Algerian population. During the crackdown, the French bombed Islamic villages and killed thousands of Muslims in response to the 1945 anticolonial riots in the Sétif region. Inspired to join the growing Algerian independence movement, Ben Bella worked with several illegal revolutionary groups until he was arrested and imprisoned by the French in 1950.

After escaping from prison in 1952, Ben Bella joined other exiled anticolonial leaders, including Mohamed Boudiaf and Hocine Aït Ahmed, in Cairo, Egypt. Together they helped found the main revolutionary party, the Algerian National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN). Ben Bella was an arms procurer for the FLN in 1956 when he was captured aboard a plane ...

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

Jeremy Rich

Algerian political leader, was born on 14 April 1929 in the town of Bouteldja located near the port city of Annaba. His father was a small landowner who was able to provide his son with a primary school education in Annaba. However, the family had relatives in Tunisia, and it appears Bendjedid grew up in a relatively cosmopolitan household.

Bendjedid joined the French military after World War II and served in Vietnam. He reached the rank of noncommissioned officer and was back in Algeria when the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front) anticolonial armed movement launched its armed struggle against French rule on 1 November 1954. By early 1955, Benjdedid joined the armed wing of the FLN, where he rose in the ranks. He was promoted to regional commander in 1956 and assistant commander in 1957. He suffered serious wounds in combat in 1957 ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Chadli Benjedid grew up in the Annaba region of colonial Algeria, then joined the military wing of the national liberation group, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). Moving quickly through the ranks, he became a rebel commander in 1960. After Algeria’s independence he helped oversee the withdrawal of French troops.

While in the rebel army, Benjedid earned the trust of chief of staff Houari Boumedienne, whom he later supported in the 1965 coup d’état against President Ahmed Ben Bella. Under President Boumedienne, Benjedid held high positions in the military and served on the ruling Revolutionary Council.

Within the FLN Benjedid gained a reputation as an evenhanded leader, and for this reason he was sought as the presidential candidate to heal divisions within the party after Boumedienne’s death. In 1979 Benjedid was elected and began a tenure that lasted through two reelections During his thirteen years ...

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

Marian Aguiar

Houari Boumedienne was born in Clauzel, Algeria. In 1955 he joined the National Liberation Front, known as Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), to fight for Algerian independence from French Colonial rule. He rose rapidly as guerrilla commander, becoming the youngest colonel in the FLN two years after he enlisted. In exile by 1960, Boumedienne led the external Algerian armies in Tunisia and Morocco.

After Algeria became independent in 1962, Boumedienne backed exiled leader Ahmed Ben Bella during the conflict between internal and exiled leaders of the FLN over leadership of the new nation. He accompanied Ben Bella to Algeria, fighting battles with former allies to secure Ben Bella’s position as Algeria’s first prime minister and president, as well as his own position as vice president and defense minister. In June 1965 Boumedienne engineered a bloodless coup that deposed Ben Bella and secured his own power ...

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

Frances B. Henderson

political leader and former first lady of Mozambique and South Africa, was born Graça Simbine in Gaza Province in rural Mozambique, the youngest of six children. She was born two weeks after the death of her father, and she and her siblings were raised by her mother. Machel attended a Methodist mission school starting at the age of 6, and upon completion of primary and secondary school in the early 1970s, she received a mission scholarship to study romance languages at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. In Lisbon she met other African students from the Portuguese colonies and began to develop her liberation politics. In 1973, upon her return to Mozambique, she joined the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in its struggle for independence from Portuguese rule. Later in 1973 Machel fled to Tanzania to join FRELIMO in exile where she met her future husband ...

Article

Eric Young

Samora Machel was one of Africa’s most famous revolutionary figures, known for his charisma and disciplined character. As a revolutionary leader and as president of Mozambique, Machel created a cult of personality wrapped in Marxist ideology and populism. Like many of the Mozambican nationalist leaders, Machel, who was born in Chilembene, was a southerner who attended Catholic schools in his youth. He trained as a nurse and worked in Maputo’s central hospital before joining the nationalist group Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), led by Eduardo Mondlane, in 1962. After receiving military training in Algeria the following year, Machel returned to lead many military operations during the war for independence. As the war progressed, Machel became commander of Nachingwea, FRELIMO’s military training camp in Tanzania, and became FRELIMO’s secretary of defense in 1966 and commander in chief in 1968 Shortly after the assassination of Eduardo ...

Article

Eric Young

A teacher by training and a politician by practice, Robert Mugabe has been the preeminent political leader in Zimbabwe for more than two decades. Born, raised, and trained as a teacher at Kutama Mission in Zvimba in what is now northwestern Zimbabwe, Mugabe taught at the mission school between 1941 and 1943. After several other brief teaching jobs around Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), Mugabe won a scholarship to the University of Fort Hare College in South Africa. There he was introduced to literature on communism, Marxism, and Gandhian passive resistance. After completing his bachelor’s degree, he returned to Zimbabwe to teach. He later taught in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Ghana.

In 1960 Mugabe returned home to enter politics. He first joined the nationalist group the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), but in 1964 after several arrests and a falling out with its leadership Mugabe went to Tanzania ...

Article

Clapperton Mavhunga

prime minister and then president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, was born on 21 February 1924 to Bona Shonhiwa and a carpenter named Gabriel Matibiri. The couple, who lived near the Catholic-run Kutama Mission, had their first child, Michael, in 1919 and a second, Raphael, in 1922. Their third son, Robert Gabriel, was born two years later at Matibiri village near Murombedzi. After him came another brother, Donato, and a sister, Sabina.

In his boyhood, Mugabe accompanied his devoutly Catholic mother to mass, a filial attachment that grew even more after 1934 when his father left the family to seek work in the western Southern Rhodesian city of Bulawayo a decision prompted by Michael s death Schoolmates say Mugabe kept to himself avoided distractive things like sports and made books his only friends The cattle pastures were an extension of the library to him and he herded with ...

Article

Ari Nave

Many modern African leaders have come to power through military force. Few, however, have gone on to win as much international praise for their diplomacy and good governing as Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda since 1986.

Museveni’s political career began when he was a student helping country people from Rwanda who were living in Uganda to organize against forced relocation. In 1967 Museveni entered Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania. He became president of the University Students’ African Revolutionary Front (USARF) and befriended many future African leaders. Later Museveni traveled to recently liberated areas in northern Mozambique, gaining firsthand experience in guerrilla warfare with the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). Later he returned to Uganda and worked in the administration of Milton Obote. When Idi Amin overthrew the Obote government Museveni fled to Tanzania and formed a guerrilla group called the Front for ...

Article

Nelson Kasfir

guerrilla leader and president of Uganda for more than twenty- five years from 1986, was the firstborn child of Amos Kaguta, a nomadic cattle keeper, and Esteeri Kokundeka in what was then Ankole Kingdom in the British Protectorate of Uganda. Named for the Ugandan troops who served in the Seventh Battalion of the King’s African Rifles during World War II, Museveni is a member of the Basiita clan of the Bahororo, an ethnic group closely related to the Bahima and often considered part of the Banyankole people.

He was educated at Mbarara High School 1959 1960 and Ntare Senior Secondary School 1960 1966 where he became a born again Christian He chose to attend the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania 1967 1970 instead of the more prestigious Makerere University because he wanted exposure to more leftist political ideas in that university and to Eduardo Mondlane the leader ...

Article

Kurt J. Werthmuller

general of the Egyptian military, senior leader of that country’s revolution in 1952, and first president of the new Egyptian republic, was born on 7 July 1902 in Khartoum, Sudan, and spent much of his early childhood in the Sudanese borderlands not far from Egypt. His name is also spelled as Muhammad Najib. His father, Yusuf Naguib, was an administrator for the joint British-Egyptian military occupation of the Sudan, and his mother, Zahra Muhammad Osman, was the daughter of an Egyptian officer who had died in the British-Egyptian siege of Khartoum in 1885 Although his family heritage might suggest that he was destined and consistently groomed for a military career Naguib s father and other authority figures at Gordon College the exclusive British school in Sudan where he received his childhood education exerted a great deal of effort to steer him into civil service Undeterred inspired by Egypt ...

Article

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, and educated at the Royal Military Academy in Cairo, Egypt, Muhammad Naguib became a general in the Egyptian army and was hailed as a national hero of Egypt’s 1948 war with Israel. In July 1952 he and a group of fellow officers seized control of the government and forced King Faruk I to abdicate. Although the real leader of the coup was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the popular Naguib at first emerged as commander in chief of the army and spokesman for the military junta; he was made premier in September. Supreme authority was vested in a thirteen-member revolutionary council, which in June 1953 proclaimed Egypt a republic and Naguib its first president When he endorsed a return to parliamentary rule which the council opposed he was forced out of office Naguib was put under house arrest and held until freed by Anwar ...

Article

Paul Bjerk

the first president of Tanzania, was born in Butiama, in what was then Tanganyika, in 1922. His oft-cited birth date of 13 April coincides with the rainy season that inspired his given name, “Kambarage,” referring to a rain-giving ancestral spirit. He was one of twenty-six children in the polygamous family of Nyerere Burito, the colonial chief of the Zanaki people, who resided between the eastern shore of Lake Victoria and the Serengeti plains. He spent the first twelve years of his life in his father’s hilltop compound in the village of Butiama. British colonial policy offered free education to sons of chiefs, and a family friend recommended him for admission to school. He attended Mwisenge Primary School from 1934 to 1936 and excelled. He then transferred to Tabora Government School, an elite school that offered the best education in the territory. In 1943 he was sponsored by the ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Called both father of the nation and Mwalimu (teacher), Julius Kambarage Nyerere is considered by many to be the founder of modern-day Tanzania. The leader of one of the most unified nationalist movements in all of Africa, Nyerere guided Tanzania through a peaceful transition to independence and then pursued an ambitious plan to build a self-reliant socialist economy. Although lauded for his role in building a nation free of ethnic and civil conflict, his experimental socialist policies severely damaged Tanzania’s economy. He stepped down from the presidency when it became clear that his policies had failed, but continued to be one of the most influential people in Tanzania and East Africa.

Nyerere was born in Butiama Tanganyika present day Tanzania the son of a minor chief of the Zanaki one of the smallest ethnic groups in Tanzania Nyerere excelled in primary school and studied at colonial Tanganyika s only secondary ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Aristides Pereira grew up on the island of Boa Vista in Cape Verde. After completing school, he trained to become a radio-telegraph technician. By the late 1950s he had moved up to the position of chief of telecommunications in Guinea-Bissau, another Portuguese colony. He was also increasingly involved in the labor movement, and was one of the key organizers of the 1959 Pijiguiti strike. The strike, during which Portuguese forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least fifty and wounding more than a hundred others, was a turning point in the growing nationalist movement led by Amílcar Cabral and the Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC). Pereira joined the struggle, and became a member of the PAIGC’s Central Committee.

For the next fourteen years Pereira dedicated himself to the fight for Cape Verdean independence and gradually rose through the ranks of the PAIGC leadership When ...

Article

Terza Silva Lima-Neves

president of Cape Verde, was born on 17 November 1923, on Boa Vista Island, in the nation of Cape Verde. Pereira was the son of Porfirio Pereira Tavares and Maria das Neves Cruz Silva. After graduating from the secondary school Liceu de Cabo Verde, Pereira became a radio telegraph technician.

Constant famines during the 1940s caused Cape Verdeans to be concerned about the conditions on the islands. Like many of his time, Pereira sought change to ensure a better future for his country. In 1952, Pereira met with Amílcar Cabral, future leader of the struggle against Portuguese colonialism. In 1956, Pereira joined Cabral and others in founding the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). He served as a member of the party’s central committee from 1956 to 1970 Pereira and Cabral had the vision that one day Cape Verde and ...