How despots in Africa end up on chopping board

Former Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at a past event. He was ousted on April 11 by the military following public rebellion against his rule.
Inside Sudan’s century-old Kober Prison, Omar al Bashir, the recently deposed despot, is mulling his future.

If reports that he is now a guest in the colonial era prison are true, right now he is carving his name in the walls of his cell inside Kober maximum security prison, just like the man he ousted 30 years ago, Sadiq al Madhi.

The former commander-in-chief, who for three decades shaped the politics of his country, is also likely to encounter names of some of the critics he dispatched to the hot-hellhole after they questioned his tyranny.  

And as he contemplates the comfort of his two wives and the Sh13 billion he had hidden in his house, the disgraced president will pray and hope some of his enemies outside the country do not lay a finger on him.

Sudan under Bashir earned international notoriety when Venezuelan born terrorist, Illich Sanhez Ramirez, popularly known as Carlos the Jackal was captured by French Intelligence in August 1994.

Earlier Bashir had hosted Osama bin Laden, between 1992 and 1996 in Sudan and would later arm and train another wacky killer, Joseph Kony the leader of Lord’s Resistance Army which has made Northern Uganda ungovernable for 30 years.

Offer him asylum

His past may have been forgiven by some of Sudan’s erstwhile enemies like neighbouring Uganda, which is now ready to offer him asylum but the International Criminal Court has warrants for his arrest and wants to try him for the death of an estimated 400,000 people in Darfur.

Over the years, Africa has weaned itself of violent military coups but once in a while despots do ascend to power and are times removed in bloodless coups.

Before Bashir rode to power and infamy, his neighbour, Uganda’s Prime minister Milton Obote picked a former boxing champion, Iddi Amin, to deal with a political problem which had been building up in Buganda. This had been triggered by Obote’s disagreement with his president King Freddy in 1966, but he had no idea that he had literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Amin was easily dismissed as a tremendous chap to have around as he was ‘slow-witted’ and ‘could not grasp the complexities of politics.’

He accomplished his first major assignment with ease when he mounted a rifle on his personal jeep and stormed the king’s palace where he shot wildly, forcing the president to flee to exile.

Obote’s reign was ended in January 1971 when he flew to Singapore to attend the Commonwealth Conference only to learn that his trusted confidant had toppled his government and declared himself the supreme ruler.

Amin wasted no time in establishing his authority by getting rid of senior military personnel. His first act of mercy as president was to allow the return of King Fredy’s body into Uganda so that it could be accorded a decent burial.

He fooled senior army officers that he had restructured the military and ordered 36 of them mostly from Lango and Acholi to go to Makindye prison for training in internal security.

They were locked up in cells and bayonetted to death. Former army chief of staff Brigadier Suleiman Hussein was taken to prison and was beaten to death with his rifle butt. His head was allegedly severed and taken to Amin.

In Mbarara and Jinja barracks, elite military officers were lined up on the parade ground ostensibly to salute from an armoured column. The tanks then drove over the columns, crashing most to death. These exploits are captured in an epic book, The World’s Most Evil Men, which recounts how in just five months, Amin killed most of the trained professional soldiers even as cooks, drivers, wireless operators and mess orderlies became majors.

When an American journalist, Nicholas Stroh and a Makerere Sociologist, Robert Siedle started asking questions, they were lured into Mbarara barracks by Major Juma Aiga, a former taxi driver who gunned them down. He was spotted a few days later cruising around Kampala in Stroh’s Volkswagen car.   

He reigned terror in Uganda for years where his dreaded State Research Bureau roamed the streets abducting and murdering civilians. The thugs then preyed relatives with missing victims to pay ransom so that they could be shown the bodies.

Crushing his enemies

Amin was ultimately overthrown in April 1979, when he invaded Tanzania, giving President Julius Nyerere a reason to send troops deep into Uganda who assisted Obote to retake the government. Amin fled in his jet to Libya, where another strongman, Muammur Gaddafi offered him temporary refuge.

Gaddafi’s life to some extent mirrored those of his contemporaries. He stormed to power when he deposed King Idris in September 1969 and immediately cultivated an image of a powerful rich benevolent dictator. He was famous for his fabulous gifts and was equally dreaded for crushing his enemies and critics.

At one time he offered to fund Irish Republican Army (IRA) to bomb Prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

But after 42 years of domination, the Libyans rebelled. When the Arab Spring swept across Libya, Gaddafi could not withstand them. Consequently on October 20, 2011, the man who so distrusted technology that he rarely used mobile telephones and even took his own sleeping tent to European capitals for fear of being assassinated. His fears were not far fetched for US, President Ronald Reagan who referred him as “the mad dog of the Middle East” at one time dispatched bomber planes to kill Gaddafi but instead killed his adopted daughter, Hanna. He was dragged from a drainpipe where he had been hiding and tortured to death.

Another unforgettable tyrant is Liberia’s Samuel Doe, who assumed power at the age of only 28, when he was just a master sergeant in 1980. Doe and his comrades brutally murdered President William Tolbert and effectively ended 133 years rule by Black Americans in the country of freed slaves.

Doe’s new government at first allied itself with Libya, but shifted allegiance to US and was handsomely rewarded by Regan. Liberia was the largest per capita recipient of US aid in sub-Saharan Africa in 1985.

He, however, went afoul with America as rebellion started to brew at home owing to misrule leading to discontent which was exploited by rebel leaders Charles Tailor and Prince Johnson.

On September 9, 1990, Doe was invited for a meeting at Ecomog headquarters. He was ushered inside while his men remained outside where 80 of them were eliminated.

His hosts disappeared and Doe was shot in the leg by Tailor’s men. He was later killed and his naked body paraded in the streets where it was filmed as men severed parts of the body to prove that he was not protected by witchcraft.

However one of the luckiest African dictator was Central Africa’s Jean Bedel Bokasa who terrorised his country for 14 years and is famous for a number of atrocities among them cannibalism.

Although Bokasa, who had seized power in 1965, was tolerated by CAR’s colonial master France crossed the line after he issued a decree that all school children in the country had to wear very expensive uniform which was being made by his factory.

According to the World’s most evil men, “Bokasa ordered the barefoot school children of Bangui’s only high school to buy expensively tailored school uniform to be worn at all lessons. Their parents could not afford.” 

When he learnt that the children were still going to school without his prescribed uniform, he directed that the 200 youngsters be arrested and locked up at Bangui Prison.

The children were mercilessly beaten to death and when the shocking details filtered out, France hatched a plot to oust the man, sent 700 French paratroopers and ultimately handed power back to David Backo who was flown from his asylum in Paris to Bangui in 1979.

In 1986, Bokassa, who had been exiled in Ivory Coast, returned home to face charges that included murder and treason.

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Omar al BashirSudanMuammur GaddafiAfrican LeadersDespots