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Death of former Chad dictator Hissene Habre brings back memories

By Amos Kareithi | August 26th 2021
A picture taken on August 16, 1983 shows Chad's president Hissen Habre [AFP, Joel Robine]

They never learn. These African despots and dictators believe they are immortal.

The continent is littered with many unmarked graves of disgraced autocrats whose names will forever feature in the list of shame, for butchering the very people they were supposed to lead and protect.

The death of exiled former Chad President Hissene Habre, in a lonely cell in Sierra Leone on Tuesday at 79, brings back memories of all those tin gods who died by the very gun they had used to terrorise people, far away from their homes living like fugitives.

It took the silent cries from the unmarked graves of 40,000 people and the dogged fight and fervent prayers of 200,000 more torture survivors to make Habre to account for the atrocities. But one victim, Souleymane Guengueng stood out as he lived up to his vow in prison to avenge for all those who had been killed.

Ironically, the president cannoned his way to power in 1982 only to be ousted in 1990. He resisted going to court and had to be forcibly carried to court, screaming and thrashing, to face women he had personally raped in a desert. He was felled by an invisible enemy, Covid-19.

His death brings back memories of other strongmen who had been propped by Western powers like Zaire’s Mobutu Seseko, Liberia’s Charles Tailor and Central African Republic’s Jeán Bedel Bokassa who died in ignominy and powerless after they were abandoned by their foreign masters.

There are also other unpopular dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubrak who died in a cage awaiting trial, Iddi Amin who died in exile while Nigeria’s Sani Abacha died seeking treatment abroad.

Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi and Samuel Doe died dishonourable deaths in their countries, and will be forever remembered for the oppression they visited on the masses.

He goes down in history as the only president who was tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, including rape and sexual slavery, and sentenced him to life imprisonment by a court in another African country. He was also ordered to pay reparations to his victims after the trial which lasted 56 days and saw 93 witnesses testify.

This is a grim reminder of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir who must be very worried in his cage as he awaits his day at the International Criminal Court. His billions, his lawyers and past political networks may buy him some time in this world but a lonely death awaits him. He faces a death penalty or life imprisonment for his role in the coup that brought him to power three decades ago.

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