Although there are plenty of democratically elected leaders that are miserable failures, at least the citizens of the country have the freedom to cast their vote. Even in cases when they have voter’s remorse, they have the opportunity to exact revenge at the polls in the next election. However, a significant percentage of the world’s population don’t have this luxury. Today, there an estimated two billion people around the world who have to endure everyday life in a nation controlled by a brutal dictator with little or no regard for human life.
These individuals are not elected. Instead, they rose to power in a gigantic pool of blood. When you hear the word ‘dictator,’ you automatically think of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Robert Mugabe, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and dozens of more despots responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions, of deaths. As there are dozens of countries under the yolk of dictators, there are also a significant number of these evil individuals who have almost escaped notice. In this article, I look at ten reprehensive people who have ruled, or continue to rule, with an iron fist.
1 – Mengistu Haile Mariam (Ethiopia 1977 – 1991)
Mengistu served as an army officer in the Ethiopian army and was part of the coup that overthrew centuries of monarchical rule in favor of trying to turn Ethiopia into a communist state. He received part of his training in the United States and ultimately rose to the rank of major. However, along with a group of other officers angered at the lack of promotion opportunities, Mengistu was involved in a military rebellion against Emperor Haile Selassie I. Mengistu became the chairman of the Armed Forces Coordinating Committee (Dergue) in June 1974. This group of revolutionary soldiers knew it was time to strike against the emperor.
Haile Selassie was arrested in September 1974 as the Dergue became rulers in all but name. Mengistu was also made vice-chairman of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), a Dergue-controlled organization. Although he was rising through the ranks faster than he could have imagined, it wasn’t enough for Mengistu. On November 23, he ordered the murder of the PMAC chairman along with dozens of members of the old regime. Soon, he began to order the deaths of selected enemies within the Council and quickly became known as the leader.
While he was technically a dictator as early as 1974, it wasn’t until 1977 when Mengistu solidified his control. In February, the Lieutenant-Colonel had to survive a battle between the PMAC and its enemies. There were also rumors that Mengistu murdered the former emperor, but he has always denied these claims. On February 3, 1977, he finally became the official leader of the Dergue, and Ethiopia after a shootout that resulted in the death of influential Dergue member, Tafari Banti. The group’s vice-chairman, Atnafu Abate, clashed with Mengistu over the war in Eritrea and the newly minted dictator executed Abate and 40 officers.
As dictator, Mengistu was determined to wipe out opposition and dissenters which led to his violent Red Terror Campaign. He ordered the executions of members of competing Marxist-Leninist groups in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) were the main communist opposition, and Mengistu was especially brutal when dealing with them. An estimated 750,000 died during the Red Terror campaign which lasted little over a year. He also used Cuban troops and Soviet weapons to repel an invasion by people from Somalia’s Ogaden region.
Mengistu founded the Worker’s Party of Ethiopia in 1984 and three years later, ensured he was ‘elected’ president of the country. However, his luck ran out because, by 1987, he faced rebellions, a ruined economy and the worst famines and droughts in the nation’s history. He realized his time was up when the Soviets withdrew their troops. In 1991, he fled to Zimbabwe after resigning as president and was sheltered by Robert Mugabe. In December 2006, he was tried, and found guilty of genocide in absentia and was sentenced to death in May 2008. Now that Mugabe is no longer dictator of Zimbabwe, it is hoped that Mengistu will finally pay for his terrible crimes.