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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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


Joy Elizondo

José María Morales was the son of a military man who fought in the Battle of the Patricios in 1807 against the British forces. His father's continued participation in Argentina's independence and civil wars forced Morales to leave school early and work as a tinsmith. In 1838 Morales followed his father's example, setting out for Montevideo to fight with the Unitarians (who envisioned a centralized political system based in Buenos Aires) in exile against the Argentine leader Juan Manuel Rosas. Rosas enjoyed widespread support in the black community—including Domingo Sosa, another rising Afro-Argentine military figure and contemporary of Morales—in part because his opposition to Buenos Aires's white Creole elite allowed for a more socially diverse society. Rosas's highly authoritarian government sparked opposition, however, especially among some middle-class blacks, including Morales. Argentina's civil war lasted until 1852 when the Unitarians finally marched triumphantly into Buenos Aires and ...


Peter Fraser

Best known for his attempt in the 1930s to develop a fascist mass movement in Britain, Mosley ended his political career in the late 1950s and 1960s by attacking West Indian and other non‐white immigrants to Britain. He served on the Western Front in the First World War. This experience shaped his outlook: he tried to avoid war, to build a society fit for heroes, and used the military as his template for solving social problems. He was elected to Parliament as a Unionist candidate in December 1918 but rebelled against the violence of the pro‐Unionist irregulars (the Black and Tans). He left his party in 1920 and eventually joined the Labour Party in 1924, attempting to outline new economic policies. In the 1929 election which brought Labour to power again he became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but felt that only a new political movement ...


Trevor Hall

was a ship owner and discoverer, colonizer, and governor of the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands off the Guinea coast (now known as Senegal). Born into a prominent family of cartographers in Genoa, de Noli played an important role in the fifteenth-century slave trade when he sailed to West Africa and transported Africans to Portugal as slaves. There is no information about his marriage; however, he had a daughter, the Portuguese noblewoman Branca de Aguiar. She inherited his Cape Verde governorship in 1497, when she married the Portuguese nobleman Jorge Correa de Sousa. Other relatives were his younger brother Bartholomeu and nephew Raphael de Noli, who like Antonio were ship captains.

Just before 1460 the three de Noli captains sailed their ships from the Mediterranean to Portugal where Prince Henry the Navigator hired Antonio to deliver horses to West Africa The Christian Prince Henry had formed a military alliance ...


Marian Aguiar

Muammar al-Qaddafi (also spelled Moammar Gadhafi, or Mu’ammar al-Qadhdafi) was born to a Bedouin family near the town of Surt in Libya. The strict Islamic Bedouin way of life profoundly influenced Qaddafi’s later asceticism, as well as his political philosophy. As he once noted in an interview, growing up Bedouin helped him discover “the natural laws, natural relationships, life in its true nature, before life knew oppression, coercion and exploitation.”

When Qaddafi was a young man, both Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalist struggle in neighboring Egypt and the Arab struggle for Palestine drew him to Arab populist politics. In 1961 he entered the Libyan military academy in Benghazi, where he helped found a student military group called the Free Officers Movement and met the men who would eventually plot to overthrow the Libyan monarchy.

In September 1969 at a time when anti Western Arab nationalist sentiments were running ...


Diana Murtaugh Coleman

Libyan leader and Arab statesman, was born into a Bedouin family in the Sirtic Desert in 1942. An alternative form of his surname is al-Gaddafi. His parents, Abu Minyar and ʿAʾisha Qaddafi, were nomadic herders of Berber origin, and Muʿammar was their youngest child and only son.

Qaddafi spent his early years in the desert with his parents and three older sisters, tending to the goats and sheep the family kept, and living a traditional Bedouin lifestyle. His first instruction was from a local religious teacher, but at age ten he was sent to an Islamic day school in the coastal town of Sirte, about 20 miles from where he was born. He slept in a local mosque at night and journeyed home each Thursday to be with the family for the traditional Islamic weekend. From 1956 to 1961 Qaddafi attended the Sebha Preparatory Academy in the Fezzan ...


Phillip A Cantrell

founder and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), was born on 10 April 1957 in Gitarama, Rwanda. His name is also rendered as Rwigema. In 1960, Rwigyema’s Tutsi parents fled persecution in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1959 Hutu revolution and settled in refugee camps in southern Uganda. They were among tens of thousands of Tutsis who were no longer welcome in the country. Rwigyema was among a generation of Tutsi refugees, known as “59ers,” who came of age in the camps with no clear citizenship of their own. By the 1970s, the Tutsi refugees were no longer welcome in Uganda either.

Seeing a chance to gain citizenship under a new Ugandan government, many of the second-generation refugees, Rwigyema included, joined Ugandan rebels in fighting against the regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote. By 1980 when Obote came to power a second time Rwigyema Paul ...


Robert Skinner

South African nationalist, was born near Riebeeck West, in the Cape Colony. After beginning his schooling late at twelve years old, he soon showed a remarkable capacity for learning and gained entry to Victoria College, Stellenbosch. Here he encountered the political ideas of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, began to formulate ideas about a unified South Africa, and discovered an interest in botany. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Isie Krige. His academic success was awarded with a scholarship for overseas study, and in 1891 he traveled to the United Kingdom, where he studied law at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Having passed his law examinations in London, Smuts returned to South Africa in 1895, where he began to be involved in political activities, supporting the partnership between Hofmeyr and Cecil Rhodes. However, following the Jameson Raid of 1896 Smuts became disillusioned with Rhodes and became an ...


Mary H. Moran

nineteenth president of Liberia, was born William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman on 29 November 1895 in Maryland County, Liberia. His paternal grandparents, Sylvia and William Shadrach Tubman, were among a group of slaves freed by the Tubman family of Augusta, Georgia, and sent to Liberia in 1844. Tubman’s mother, Elizabeth Barnes, also came from Atlanta, Georgia. Maryland County, in southeastern Liberia, was of all Liberian territories the farthest removed from the capital, Monrovia, and until 1857 was itself a tiny independent state called Maryland in Africa Until Tubman s rise to power most Liberian leaders had come from a small number of Monrovia or Grand Bassa based families Maryland was considered a backwater Tubman received his education in local Methodist schools and at one time planned to become a minister like his father Alexander who also represented Maryland County in the Liberian House of Representatives He read law with ...