Born on Jan. 15, 1918: A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, Gamal Abdel Nasser first rose to prominence as an officer in the first Arab-Israeli war, where he gained recognition for holding out for three weeks in 1948 while his battalion was surrounded in what came to be known as the “Faluja Pocket”. While serving in the army, Nasser become the leader of a covert organization called the Free Officers whose goal was to overthrow the hereditary Egyptian royalty and free Egypt from British influence. These goals were accomplished in a 1952 coup d’etat which ended with King Farouk’s exile after Nasser vetoed his execution. Though he was the real leader of the new government, Nasser remained unknown to the public media until 1954 when he assumed the role of Prime Minister and published his book “Philosophy of the Revolution”, a call for pan-Arab resistance to imperialism. In 1956, Nasser proclaimed the adoption of “Arab Socialism” in Egypt and was elected almost unanimously to the office of Egyptian President. Later that year, Egypt nationalized the British-run Suez Canal to pay for a massive public works project, the Aswan High Dam. This invited an invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israel and the decimation of Egypt’s air force by British and French bombers, but also won Nasser the respect of many leaders of the “nonaligned” nations – countries which were allied with neither the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact nor the United States-headed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Further, the prevention of a full-scale British invasion by both a Soviet threat of nuclear war and a United States warning of further reprisals set the tone for “Third World” affairs for years to come, as Nasser had established that weaker states could keep their independence by playing NATO and the Warsaw Pact against each other. Nasser would continue as a major leader of the nonaligned states until his death in 1970; among his efforts at “small power” independence were his support of Kenya’s Mau Mau movement in the late 1950s and the periodic rallying of Arab states against foreign domination. As president, his record of success was decidedly mixed: he finally finished the Aswan High Dam with Soviet assistance in 1968, but was constantly frustrated in his struggle against Israel, including an embarrassing defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967. Though he is almost unanimously regarded as a hero in the Arab world (he was the recipient of one of the largest state funerals in the region’s history).
Archive for February 6, 2011
Also known simply as Colonel Gaddafi; born 7 June 1942) has been the de facto leader of Libya since a coup in 1969. From 1972, when Gaddafi relinquished the title of prime minister, he has been accorded the honorifics “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” or “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” in government statements and the official press. With the death of Omar Bongo of Gabon on 8 June 2009, he became the longest serving of all current non-royal national leaders. He is also the longest-serving ruler of Libya since Libya, then Tripoli, became an Ottoman province in 1551.
President of Gambia. Gained power in coup d’état. Right to the press and free speech suppressed. Stood for three elections (1996, 2001, and 2006); last election deemed unfair by opposition.
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in coup. No elections held during ongoing, interstate First and Second Congo Wars.
President of Liberia 1997-2003. Elected, but widely described as a dictator. Linked to “blood diamonds” and illegal arms trading. Believed to have interfered frequently in the internal affairs of neighboring states while a warlord, before his election to the presidency.
President of the Central African Republic 2003 to date. Gained power in a coup and suspended the constitution, though he has restored some democracy.
Chairman of the Military Council for Justice and Democracy. Gained power via a military coup. Though he has said to relinquish power to an elected government in 2007.
Hissène Habré – Chad – 1982–1990
Chairman of the Council of State 1982; President of Chad 1982-1990. Gained power in a coup; abolished post of Prime Minister; executed opposition leaders.
President of Upper Volta 1983-1984; President of Burkina Faso 1984-1987. Gained power in coup. Led military regime. Overthrown and killed in coup.
Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya – Mauritania – 1984–2005
Deposed the military head of state, Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, on December 1984 and declared himself Chairman of the Military Committee for National Salvation. Deposed by Ely Ould Mohamed Vall in a bloodless coup d’état.
Ibrahim Babangida – Nigeria – 1985–1993
Annulled the most free and fair presidential election in the history of Nigeria, leading to the death of the presidential candidate Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
President of Tunisia. Although he announced political pluralism in 1992, his Democratic Constitutional Rally (formerly Neo-Destour party) continues to dominate the national politics and there is no genuine open political debate. In 1999, although two unknown alternative candidates were permitted for the first time to stand in the presidential elections, Ben Ali was re-elected with 99.66% of the vote. A controversial constitutional referendum in 2002 allowed him to seek re-election and contemplate the possibility of remaining in office until 2014. On October 24, 2004, he was again re-elected, officially taking 94.48% of the vote. Certain books, periodicals and internet sites are banned or blocked. The National Television frequently show his actions during a week, but often the President only appears in passing on television. Removed from office by a popular uprising in January 2011.
President of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation 1989-1993; President of Sudan 1993–present. Took power in a military coup and increasingly centralized power into him. Widely believed to be implicated in the Darfur Janjaweed pogroms.
Head of State 1990-1991; President of Chad 1991 to date. Gained power in a coup; continues to suppress opposition and press.
Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council 1993-1998. Seized power in a coup; persecuted opposition; never stood for election. Jailed Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election; presided over execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
President of Kenya. Changed constitution to establish a de jure one-party state; resorted to repressive rule, including torture and imprisonment without trial.
Chairman of the Supreme Military Council 1979-1982; President of Equatorial Guinea 1982–present. Deposed his uncle in a violent coup; opposition is banned in all but name.
President of Angola. One-party state; did not stand for election until 1992.
Become president by a coup. Killing and exiled opposition. Famous for the Guinea-Bissau Civil War.
Chairman of the People’s Redemption Council 1980-1984; President of Liberia 1984-1990. Gained power in a military coup that killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr., a reformer. Promoted Krahn chauvinism and “died a multi-millionaire and proud owner of mansions and estates”.
Gained power through election, and repeatedly re-elected, but criticized for steps used to maintain power. From 1999 on, used police and militant groups like the War Veterans Association and Border Gezi Youth to enforce ZANU-PF policies and to prevent opponents from voting; called “king” by his aides. Arrested and tortured opponents and human rights activists; gave amnesty to murderers of his political opponents in 2000; ignores court rulings. Criticized as dictator by Desmond Tutu and Vladimir Putin.
Gained power in a military coup during 1979 but handed it over. Re-took power in another coup of 1981. Elected President in 1992 and again in 1996 before standing aside as per the constitution.
Chairman of the Military Committee of National Recovery 1981-1985; President of the Central African Republic 1985-1993. Gained power in a coup; persecuted opposition; allowed (and lost) free elections in 1993. Attempted second coup in 2001.
President of Egypt. Did not stand in a contested election until 2005, when a highly-restricted democratic process was allowed.
Paul Biya – Cameroon – 1982–present
He served under President Ahmadou Ahidjo and became Prime Minister in 1975. Ahidjo resigned on November 6, 1982 and Biya became president. After years of totalitarian rule, he allowed the creation of opposition parties in 1990 but his re-elections have been marked by widespread fraud and intimidation.
Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council 1969-1976; President of Somalia 1976-1991. In 1969, during the power vacuum following the assassination of President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, the military staged a coup and took over. Barre was to rule for the next twenty-two years. He attempted to develop a personality cult; large posters of him were common in the capital Mogadishu during his reign, many of which can still be seen today. He dreamed of a “Greater Somalia” and tried unsuccessfully to annex the Ogaden—legally Ethiopian territory—in 1977 to realize this end (see Ogaden War).
President of Egypt 1970-1981. Unelected, suppressed opposition in what was termed “The Corrective Revolution”, Assassinated.
President of Uganda, later (1976) declared as for Life. Deposed in 1979 after declaring war on Tanzania.
Chairman of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (Derg) in 1974 and 1977–1987; President of Ethiopia 1987-1991. One-party state; repression of opposition; tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria between 1976 and 1979. Elected President of Nigeria in 1999. Chairman of the African Union 2004-2006.
President of Burundi. Widely described as a military dictator.
Albert René – Seychelles – 1977–2004
President of Seychelles. Deposed the elected president Sir James Mancham and promulgated a one-party constitution after a period of rule by decree. Created the National Youth Service (NYS), a compulsory educational institution that included traditional curricula interlaced with political indoctrination and paramilitary training.
Gnassingbé Eyadéma – Togo – 1967–2005
President of Togo. Gained power in a coup; never fought a contested election until 1998; banned tortured and killed opposition. Fostered a cult of personality that was reinforced after he was the sole survivor of an airplane crash in 1974. In late 1991, troops loyal to Eyadéma closed a constitutional conference that had shifted most executive power to a new transitional government and banned Eyadéma’s RPT party. January 1993 saw a mass exodus of residents to neighboring states after security forces fired on pro-democracy demonstrators. Further repression followed a purported 1994 coup attempt.
Chairman of the Military National Liberation Committee 1968-1969; Head of State 1969-1979; President of Mali 1979-1991. Seized power in a coup; banned all opposition; installed a police state; established one-party state in 1979.
Moussa Traoré – Mali – 1968–1991
As vice president, he acceded to the presidency following the death of President Léon M’ba. In 1968, Bongo decreed a one-party state under his Gabonese Democratic Party and was thrice elected unopposed in the 1970s and 1980s. He became very wealthy during the country’s oil boom. Open elections were held in 1990 and Bongo was re-elected in 1993, 1998 and 2005. Observers have criticized the elections as unfair and corruption watchdogs have accused the president of nepotism. Riots resulting from the mysterious death in 1990 of prominent dissident Joseph Rendjambe in a government hotel room were put down by French troops.
Francisco Macías Nguema – Equatorial Guinea – 1968–1979
President of Equatorial Guinea 1968-1979. Elected in 1968 but declared himself President for Life in 1972; “extreme personality cult”; over a third of population fled his regime. Banned fishing and sanctioned the deaths of most of his pre-independence political rivals, including ex-prime minister Bonifacio Ondó Edu and foreign minister Atanasio Ndongo Miyone. Declared an atheist state by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. As many as 50,000 civilians were killed, in particular those of the Bubi ethnic minority on Bioko associated with relative wealth and intellectualism.
Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council 1969-1971; President of Sudan 1971-1985. Gained power in a military coup, banned opposition, dissolved southern Sudanese government, imposed sharia law. Executed several leading communists (the most prominent being Abdel Khaliq Mahjub and Joseph Garang) after a botched 1971 coup attempt.
President of Côte d’Ivoire. Ruled until 1990 with all opposition banned, but not considered particularly repressive. Relocated the official capital to his home village of Yamoussoukro and constructed the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, the largest religious structure in Africa.
Prime Minister of Uganda 1962-1966; President of Uganda 1966-1971 and 1980-1985. Suspended the constitution and declared himself President and Prime Minister in 1966.
Prime Minister of Malawi 1963-1966; President of Malawi 1966-1994. Banned all opposition in 1966; declared himself President for Life in 1971; exiled and killed opposition leaders. Ordered that a letter bomb be sent to exiled opposition leader Attati Mpakati; suspected of being involved in the car crash deaths of senior Congress Party leaders; violently crushed an attempted rebellion. Aged 98, he allowed and lost a free election in 1994.
President of the Republic of Zambia 1964-1991.Elected 1964, banned all political parties in Zambia, viewed himself as “WAMUYAYA” (eternal President).Accused of torturing political opponents. Defeated by Frederick Chiluba in 1991.
Houari Boumediene – Algeria – 1965–1978
President of Algeria from June 19, 1965 to his death, (December 27, 1978); Chairman of the Revolutionary Council until December 12, 1976).
In June 1965, Boumédienne seized power in a bloodless coup. Initially lacking a personal power base, he was seen as a weak ruler. But after a botched coup attempt against him by military officers in 1967 he tightened his rule, and then remained Algeria’s undisputed ruler until his death in 1978.
President of the Central African Republic 1966-1976; Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Empire 1976-1979. Bokassa overthrew the autocratic Dacko in a swift coup d’état and assumed power as president of the Republic and head of the sole political party, the Mouvement pour l’évolution sociale de l’Afrique Noire (MESAN). Bokassa abolished the constitution of 1959 on January 4 and began to rule by decree. He proclaimed himself emperor in 1976.