8 – Francisco Macias Nguema (Equatorial Guinea 1968 – 1979)
Nguema is arguably one of the worst dictators any African nation has ever been forced to endure, a hell of a statement when you consider Idi Amin’s existence. Nguema became the leader of Equatorial Guinea in 1968 when he won the only free election the country has ever had. It is difficult to imagine the people choosing a worse president. His defeated opponent, Prime Minister, Ondo Edu, apparently committed suicide the following year although it is more likely that Nguema had him murdered after hearing rumors of a coup.
May 7, 1971, was arguably the start of his draconian leadership when he issued Decree 415 which ensured he had all direct powers that were once held by the nation’s legislative and judiciary branches. On October 18 of the same year, he introduced Law 1. It stated that threatening Nguema or his cabinet would result in the death penalty. Offending or insulting them meant a piffling 30-year prison sentence. A plebiscite on July 29, 1973, resulted in the announcement that Nguema held absolute power and officially made the country a one-party state.
It was now that the dictator really showed his bloodlust. As he had failed the colonial civil service exam three times, Nguema started punishing educated people and soon decided to murder everyone who wore spectacles. He also introduced a system of forced labor that was akin to slavery, but this brutal measure did nothing for the economy. During his reign, production of the nation’s main export, cocoa, declined by over 80%. He acted as judge, jury, and executioner and killed people by the thousands. By the time of his overthrow in 1979, Nguema had murdered or driven into exile, around two-thirds of the country’s population.
The dictator was also supremely paranoid and spent most of his time in Mongomo, his ancestral village. He apparently kept the national treasury under his bed because he trusted no one with the money. Nguema seldom visited his nation’s capital which was very bad news for the residents. By presidential decree, the power in any city was only turned on when the president came to visit. As you can guess, he eliminated any vestige of free speech in the country and routinely ordered the brutal deaths of journalists. It was normal for them to be hacked to pieces with machetes.
The end finally came in 1979 when he was overthrown by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in what was a case of self-preservation. Teodoro sent six members of the National Guard, which he commanded, to the president’s village to ask for money to pay the guards. Nguema executed all six men, so Teodoro decided to act before he was next. After the coup, Teodoro executed his mad uncle and became the new president for life. At the time of writing, he is still the dictator of Equatorial Guinea and is only marginally better than his predecessor.