10 Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

10 Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

Stephanie Schoppert - October 8, 2016

10 Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

Idriss Deby of Chad

(1990- Present)

Idriss Deby started his rise to fame in Chad when he entered the Officers’ School in N’Djamena. He remained a strong and loyal member of the army until the central authority fell apart in 1979. Idriss Deby chose to throw his support behind warlord Hissene Habre who would become president in 1982. Shortly after Idriss Deby was made Commander-in-Chief of the army. Habre led an oppressive regime and eventually Idriss Deby was sent into exile after Habre accused him of planning a coup. In exile, Idriss Deby formed a rebellion aided by Sudan and Libya. He took power in late 1990.

Idriss Deby put Chad on a path to economic growth with the building of an oil pipeline. However, the pipeline ended up bringing the corruption within Chad to the forefront. The revenues from the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline Development and the Pipeline Project were supposed to be used to combat famine within Chad. Instead, Idriss Deby took the funds to buy more weapons for the military in order to combat the numerous coup attempts against him. It was considered by Forbes in 2006 to be the “single most piggish use of philanthropic funds” and they ranked Chad as the most corrupt country in the world that year.

His regime has also been characterized by human rights abuses against his opposition and it is clear that all of the elections that have been held since he took power have been fraudulent. In 2005 he eliminated term limits and said in 2016 he would reinstate them but the people have little hope that he will stand by his word. Coup attempts continue to come after every election as the economic conditions of the majority of the population continue to decline and human rights abuses continue. But there is a good part of his reign and that is that he has been a strong force against Boko Haram in Sub-Saharan Africa.

10 Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

Charles Taylor of Liberia

(1997 – 2003)

Charles Taylor of Liberia was one of the few corrupt leaders on this or any list that resigned from power. He was born in Liberia but went to Bentley College in the U.S. before returning to Liberia as part of Samuel Doe’s government. He was fired for embezzling $1 million into an American bank account and he fled to the U.S., where he was arrested. He escaped custody and fled to Libya where he formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. This started the First Liberian Civil War which ended in 1996. Charles Taylor then ran for President with the infamous slogan “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”

As President, he created his own private army while reducing the size of the Armed Forces of Liberia. He was charged with war crimes for his ties to the violence in Sierra Leone in 2003 which included murder, enslavement and the use of child soldiers. He also was believed to have accepted diamonds in exchange for weapons to support the rebels in Sierra Leone.

His corruption of the treasury and industry was as bad as his human rights abuses. He was known to take revenue from the Liberian logging industry. He used that money not only for his own gain but to fund rebels in other states and to destabilize the region. The logging companies all paid funds to Taylor while also providing a way for him to smuggle arms into the country even after arms embargoes were imposed on Liberia. He was believed to have amassed of fortune of $100 million despite Liberia being a desperately poor country.

In 1999 as he was being accused of being a gun runner and a diamond smuggler. He was indicted on 11 counts of crimes against humanity and in 2003 he was asked to step down by President Bush and the international community. He was later convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

10 Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

(1965 – 1997)

Mobutu Sese Seko was a leader that was able to bleed his country dry while still enjoying the support of countries like the United States because of his anti-communist stance. Mobutu Sese Seko led a coup d’état with the help of Belgium against the democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba. Patrice Lumumba was killed and Mobutu Sese Seko took over the role of army chief of staff in 1960. In 1965 he took power directly and declared himself leader of the Congo. He would later rename the country Zaire but it would become the Democratic Republic of the Congo when Mobutu was ousted from power.

He created a one-party state that concentrated all power in his hands. He created a culture that was based around his worship and he often flaunted his personal extravagance to build up on his cult of personality. His highly centralized government allowed him to loot the state coffers with impunity, leading many to call his government a “kleptocracy” due to the massive amount of funds he stole. He forced all foreign investors from the country and nationalized all foreign-owned firms. The management of said firms was passed to relatives or allies which would just steal the assets of the company. He lived an opulent lifestyle with state funds and amassed a personal fortune of more than $5 billion.

His reign was also filled with human rights abuses. He would imprison, torture and kill his political opponents often publicly. He would lure opponents who went into exile by promising them amnesty only to torture them once they emerged. His reign of terror and theft came to an end with the First Congo War when Laurent-Desire Kabila took control of the government with the support of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.


Sources For Further Reading:

Foreign Policy – How the World’s Hardest-Working Dictator Won Re-election

BBC News – Sani Abacha: 10 Reasons Why Nigerians Go Always Tok About Di Late Dictator

The Washington Post – How Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Clung To Power For Almost 40 Years

The Independent – Mugabe Extends Term To Declare Himself The ‘President-For-Life’

PBS Frontline – Cameroon: Pipeline to Prosperity?

BBC – Chad’s Hissene Habre

DW – Chad Leader Idriss Deby Dies On Battlefield After Winning Reelection

Brookings – The Death Of Chadian President Idris Déby Itno Threatens Stability In The Region

The Conversation – Idriss Déby Itno Offered Chadians Great Hope, But Ended Up Leaving A Terrible Legacy

The New York Times – Hunting for Liberia’s Missing Millions

The Washington Post – Mobutu: A Rich Man In Poor Standing

New York Times – Mobutu Sese Seko, Zairian Ruler, Is Dead in Exile in Morocco at 66