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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

Mohamed Farah Aidid was born in Italian Somaliland and trained in the military in Rome and Moscow. After returning to independent Somalia, Aidid served in the army under General Mohamed Siad Barre. When Siad Barre assumed the presidency in 1969, he appointed Aidid chief of staff of the army. Later that year, however, he began to suspect Aidid's loyalties and imprisoned him without trial for seven years on charges of treasonous conspiracy.

In 1977 Siad Barre released Aidid and welcomed him back to the administration, no doubt seeking his help for the ongoing border war against Ethiopia. The loyalties of Aidid to his former jailer are unclear, but he served Siad Barre's military administration until the late 1980s. In 1989 Aidid broke with Siad Barre and joined the United Somali Congress USC an organization dominated by the Hawiye clan The USC was one of several groups ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

Somali politicomilitary leader who played a central role in the collapse of the state and the large-scale violence against civilians that accompanied it, was born in the Mudug region of Somalia, into the Habr Gidir clan. His name is also spelled Maxamed Faarax Caydiid. Little is known about his early life, other than that he served with the Italian colonial police force and in the 1950s received some training in Italy and in the Soviet Union. He served under Somalian president Mohamed Siyad Barre, rising to the rank of general. He was involved in the Ogaden War of 1977–1978, in which Somalia tried and failed to take over what is now Ethiopia’s Region Five and is largely populated by Somalis.

In the 1980s Aidid began to turn against Siyad Barre and when the president suspected him of plotting against him he imprisoned Aidid for six years As ...

Article

Michael J. Bustamante

was born on 27 February 1927 in Havana into a working-class family with twelve children. After completing the eighth grade and working as a bricklayer, Almeida was introduced to political activity in 1952 upon meeting Fidel Castro while employed at the beach club for students of the University of Havana. A veteran of the failed 1953 assault on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada Barracks, and prisoner of the Fulgencio Batista government until May 1955, Almeida returned to Cuba in late November 1956 from exile in Mexico, along with other insurgents of the 26th of July Movement, aboard the yacht Granma. Together with Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl, as well as Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, Almeida was among the few rebels who survived initial clashes with Batista’s forces and arrived at the Sierra Maestra in eastern Cuba. In early 1958 he was promoted to Comandante Commander the ...

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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

Matthew LeRiche

southern Sudanese rebel leader, was born in 1948 near Gorgrial in what was then the Bahr el Ghazal Province of Sudan. He was from the Dinka ethnic group. Just before Sudan was grantedn independence in 1955, Kerubino decided to cease his formal education to join with the growing armed resistance groups that were developing in a southern rebellion against the Khartoum government, eventually called Anyanya, under the command of Joseph Lagu. After the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement brought a conclusion to the Anyanya rebellion Kerubino was integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces SAF He became a major in the SAF and was made the commander of the SAF detachment in Bor Southern Sudan While in Bor the home of John Garang the eventual leader of the Sudanese People s Liberation Army Movement SPLA M Kerubino became involved in a conspiracy of Southern SAF officers and soldiers in ...

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

George Reid Andrews

The son of former slaves, João Cândido was born in the cattle-ranching country of southern Brazil. In 1895, at the age of fifteen, he joined the Brazilian navy, which at that time had a very clear racial hierarchy. While the officer corps was exclusively white, an estimated 80–90 percent of the enlisted seamen were Afro-Brazilian, many of them forcibly recruited against their will. Slavery had been abolished in Brazil only a few years earlier, in 1888, and many officers continued to treat crews as though they were in fact slaves. Conditions of service were extremely harsh; and even though whipping had been outlawed in the navy in 1890, it was still widely used as a means of discipline.

Brazil joined the naval arms race of the 1890s and early 1900s expanding its fleet to become the largest naval power in Latin America Cândido himself was sent ...

Article

Elwood Dunn

military leader and twenty-first president of Liberia, was born 6 May 1950 to Krahn-Liberian parents in Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County. He was the first Liberian of ethnic heritage, as opposed to descendants of New World immigrants, to become president though his route to power was through a bloody military coup d’état staged in the early morning of 12 April 1980 resulting in the overthrow of the government of President William R. Tolbert Jr. (1971–1980). The coup ended more than a century of immigrant rule and opened Liberia to the prospect of inclusive governance.

Doe began his formal education in his hometown, moving on to Zwedru, the county’s capital where he enrolled in a Baptist junior high school, which he completed in 1967 Perhaps following in the footsteps of his father Private Matthew K Doe he enlisted into the Armed Forces of Liberia AFL two years later Assigned to duties ...

Article

Mohammed Hassen Ali

Oromo nationalist leader in Ethiopia, was born in Hararghe, eastern Ethiopia, to a humble Oromo peasant family. His real name was Hassan Ibrahim. He was popularly known among the Oromo by the name Elemo Qilxuu, which he adopted in the 1960s in Aden, South Yemen. He was a bright student who excelled in Islamic education but gave it up to settle in the city of Dire Dawa, where he worked for a wealthy Arab merchant who took him to Aden in 1956. After some years Elemo Qilxuu started his own business in Aden and married Ammune Omar. The couple had a son and a daughter.

By 1966 Elemo Qilxuu was a successful businessman who did not show any interest in politics and political affairs Although he was apolitical his house became an occasional meeting place for Oromo nationals who were opposed to the Ethiopian government policy toward ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

rebel leader, was born in 1958 in the Kidal region in northern Mali. He belonged to the influential Ifougha family of the Tuareg ethnic community found in the Saharan regions of Mauritania, northern Mali, and Algeria. At the beginning of the 1980s, Ag Ghaly moved to Libya. There he joined Muhmar Qaddafi's Islamic Legion, a special military unit. Qaddafi sent members of the Islamic Legion to fight against Maronite Christian militias allied with Israel in Lebanon. He may also have fought with pro-Libyan rebels in Chad in the Chadian civil war of the 1980s. By 1989 Ag Ghaly left Libya once Qaddafi closed down the Islamic Legion The next year Ag Ghaly joined the new Mouvement Populaire pour la Libération d Azawad MPLA a rebel movement that called for northern Mali to become an independent state dominated by the Tuareg people MPLA forces seized control of the northern ...

Article

Mustafa Kabha

was a member of the Free Officers, a group that succeeded in engineering a coup against the monarchist regime of Egypt in July 1952. Kamal al-Din Husayn was born in Kaylubiyya, Egypt, in 1921, and graduated from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1939. At the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the Egyptian army and served in an artillery unit in the Western Desert. He took part in the War of 1948 in Palestine and upon his return to Egypt was appointed a teacher at the school of artillery and at the military staff college. In January 1949 he joined the Free Officers who were operating clandestinely within the Egyptian army together with ʿAbd al Latif al Baghdadi However he also maintained a strong relationship with the Muslim Brothers long serving as their liaison with the Free Officers His association with the Muslim Brothers ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Mau Mau anticolonial rebel leader, was born on 31 October 1920 in Nyeri district Kenya His mother was Nyambura though she was later commonly known as Waithuthi It is unclear who his father was as his mother was an unmarried widow at the time of Kimathi s birth He had two brothers Gichuhi and Wagura as well as three sisters Nyankinyua Wangeci and Wanjagu His family sent Kimathi to a Catholic school at the town of Wamagana not far from the Catholic mission of Tetu However Kimathi was baptized at an Anglican church and finished his primary schooling in Ihururu Although Kimathi was baptized he also had interest in the spiritual traditions of his Kikuyu ethnic community His grandmother Nyakinyua told him stories about Ngai the most powerful deity in Kikuyu cosmology He later would turn to these traditions during his days as a Mau Mau fighter battling ...

Article

Emmanuel Asiedu-Acquah

Ghanaian army officer and coup-maker, was born on 26 October 1926 at Alakple, a village in the south of the British mandated territory of Trans-Volta Togoland (present-day Volta Region of Ghana). His father, Kwasi Kotoka, was a fisherman and his mother, Tordeafiadewo Kpodo, was a trader. Kotoka had his elementary and secondary education at the local Catholic primary school and the Anloga Senior School, which he completed by 1941. He then went on to train as a Catholic catechist-teacher. After a stint as a teacher, he trained as a goldsmith. In July 1947, he started a career in the military by enlisting with the Gold Coast Regiment of the Royal West African Frontier Force. On graduating from his basic military training, he was appointed to teach English to newly enlisted soldiers at the Infantry School based in Accra, the capital of colonial Ghana.

Kotoka rose through the ranks ...

Article

Wunyabari Maloba

legendary and enigmatic Mau Mau rebel leader in Kenya, was born around 1919 in Mahiga Nyeri District He enlisted in the British army during World War II and like so many other African enlisted men he fought in Burma After the war he joined many radical political and social movements in the country especially in Nairobi He was one of the founding members of the Anake 40 the Forty Group that was based in Nairobi but had representation in all the districts in Central Province This group overwhelmingly Kikuyu in composition included war veterans petty traders thieves and criminals It was however associated with defiance of colonial rules and regulations Loosely organized it carried out armed robberies as both a source of income and a means of raising funds for the purchase of weapons needed by the Mau Mau Many members of the Forty Group were also informally linked ...

Article

Edmond J. Keller

Ethiopian military officer and leader of an attempted coup against Emperor Haile Selassie, participated in the armed resistance against the Italian Fascist occupation of his country during World War II. When the war ended, he continued to serve in his country’s military and was a member of an Ethiopian unit deployed by the United Nations during the Korean War.

It is significant that the end of the war coincided with the intensification of the African nationalist struggle for independence from European colonial rule. Although Ethiopia had never experienced European colonial rule—its history books refer to the five-year Italian Fascist interlude as nothing more than an occupation—some say that the modern Ethiopian Empire was based on a form of internal colonialism and worse. The modern state was established in 1855, and between then and 1974 successive emperors had attempted to modernize a form of bureaucratic authoritarianism Until the overthrow ...

Article

Nelson Santana

was born, probably in 1927, into a family of African descent in the southeastern Dominican Republic province of Barahona. As a young man Mesón left the Dominican Republic and traveled to New York, where he met his eventual wife with whom he fathered two children, Juan Miguel Mesón and Darlene Mesón Holmes. Prior to his arrival in New York, Mesón served as a sergeant in the Dominican navy.

In the Dominican Republic, Mesón served the Dominican government in various capacities, including during the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, and in the process he gained the trust of the Trujillo family. In addition to his military service, he worked as a bodyguard for Ramfis Trujillo, son of the dictator, and also as a machinist for some of Trujillo’s boats, including his personal yacht, the Angelita named after the dictator s daughter Working for the government Mesón witnessed many ...

Article

Curt Johnson

Mozambican nationalist and anticolonial leader, was born in June 1920 in Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Mozambique. His father was a local chief, and Mondlane remembered herding cattle as a child. His mother, early on, emphasized his education, and he attended a primary school run by the Swiss Mission, which had a strong influence on his political development. He taught himself English and managed to obtain a place in a secondary school in North Transvaal, South Africa. He next attended Witwatersrand University. In 1948– 1949, he was among the founders of NESAM (Núcleo dos Estudantes Africanos Secundários de Moçambique), an anticolonial cultural-political organization for Mozambican youth. His activities in NESAM led to his expulsion from South Africa and first encounters with the police on his return to Mozambique.

Through the intercession of American church groups Mondlane traveled to Portugal where he again ran afoul of the Portuguese secret police as a ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Marxist revolutionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was born on 11 July 1929 in the small village of Lukamba in the Belgian Congo. His father Benoît Mulele was a trained nurse and one of the first Western-educated Congolese in his village, which lay in the Gungu district of the Kwilu region. Agnès Luam, Mulele’s mother, was born a slave. Mulele later bought her freedom as an adult. They all belonged to the Olel-Nswal clan of the Mbumda ethnic community. He attended primary school at a Catholic mission. From 1943 to 1946, Mulele attended the minor Catholic seminary of Kinzambi. There, Mulele soon earned a reputation as a rebel. He criticized priests and bishops for their special treatment and the lack of equality between Africans and Europeans in the church. After becoming more and more of a skeptic, he was dismissed from this school in 1946.

Mulele then ...

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 ...