Africa has had its fair share of good leaders and bad leaders alike. There are those who promised to be Africa’s modern-day messiah, only to turn against them. Africa’s all-time worst dictators are known for the cruel and inhumane treatment that they imposed upon their subjects.

They are known for enslaving the very people that they are obligated to save. Africa’s worst dictators are known to punish anyone who raises a dissenting opinion that varies with theirs. Their word is law, and no one is allowed to deviate lest you face their wrath which comes in various forms. Such ill-treatment entails detention without food, hard labor, capital punishment and so much more.

Africa’s all-time worst dictators

Below is a list of ten African leaders who eventually turned into tyrants, who had an insatiable appetite for power. Such that they were willing to have and keep it at whatever cost.

Charles TaylorLiberia
Paul BiyaCameroon
Robert MugabeZimbabwe
General Sani AbachaNigeria
Sekou ToureGuinean
Macias Nguema   Equatorial Guinea
Said BarreSomalia
Omar Al-BashirSudan
Hissene HabreChad
General Idi Amin DadaUganda

Charles Taylor

Among Africa’s worst dictators is Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor of Liberia. Charles was the twenty-second head of state of Liberia. He served in that capacity for the duration of eight years from 1997 to 2003.

Before clasping the reigns of leadership Charles was a leader of a rebel group known as The Patriotic Front of Liberia. Under the leadership of Charles Taylor, this group committed various kinds of atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity during their involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War that took place between the years 1991 and 2002.

These crimes saw him being charged, tried and being convicted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court of Justice, also known as The Hague in 2012. His charges were eleven in number, ranging from conscripting minors under the age of 15 years as child soldiers, terror, violence to life, health, physical and mental well-being of persons, and last but not least, cruel and inhumane treatment.

These atrocities saw him receive a sentence of 50 years in prison. His jail term commenced in May 2012.

Paul Biya

Paul Biya hails from Cameroon. His love for leadership and politics has seen him manage to be the president of Cameroon several times. Biya first served as head of state in from the year 1982.

Despite having many critics for his lack of public appearance, he rules with an iron fist. His authoritarian nature has seen him uphold policies that he deems fit without any consultation or consideration, even if they are inconsistent with any written law.

His dictatorial nature has not gone unnoticed as his name has been mentioned in David Wallechinsky’s book, ‘Tyrants, the World’s 20 Worst Living Dictators.’ He is ranked with the likes of Robert Mugabe, King Mswati, and Teodoro Obiang all African heads of state, from Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Equatorial Guinea respectively.

Robert Mugabe

worst African dictators

Robert Mugabe needs no introduction as a dictator. His track record is well known not only in Africa but also across the globe. Believe it or not, Mugabe has been in power since 1980, and anyone who tries to oust him out of power is dealt with accordingly. This is quite a major paradox as he advocates for democracy.

While he was starting out, Mugabe was quite the ideal leader who brought freedom to Zimbabwe from their colonial masters. However, along the way, he developed an insatiable hunger for leadership and power. This has seen him remain in power since 1980.

This worst all-time African dictator is considered a racist, known for stripping off the property of whites residing in his country using his authoritarian powers. Besides that, he is known for committing many human rights violations as well as crimes against humanity.

General Sani Abacha

Although Abacha was only in power for a mere five years, he managed to commit lifelong crimes in Nigeria during that period of time. Despite there being laws and regulations, Abacha declared his government to be above the law. That meant that he essentially did whatever pleased him irrespective of the ramifications that accrued to his country and the citizens.

He ruled Nigeria with impunity. His regime was marred with corruption and a slow economy.  He is remembered for ordering the assassination of political and environmental activist Ken Saro. His greed for money saw him steal funds amounting to five billion dollars. His actions have earned him a spot among the worst dictators in Africa.

Sekou Toure

When Sekou came to power, he promised his subjects heaven on earth. Being an astute Pan-Africanist, his people expected exemplary leadership from him. He had promised to be in power for just one term. But on the contrary, he ruled for three solid decades from 1958 to 1984. His dictatorial nature started portraying itself when he declared Guinea a one-party state and abhorred multipartisan.

It is quite ironical that he was involved in the Pan-African movement which spoke out against colonial powers, yet he befriended African-American activists whom he offered asylum. Under his watch, death camps were put up which were used to torture his political opponents.

Macias Nguema               

Macias was the first president of Equatorial Guinea. He was the son of a witch doctor who spent most of his time in his ancestral village Mongomo. He had weird habits such as keeping the national treasury under his bed and stalking his mistress’s former lovers.

He, however, had a bad side which saw him commit intellectual murder by ordering for the killing of the intellectuals in his country. This move was premeditated in a bid to reduce the chances of being ousted from power. Under his watch, entire families and villages were executed and many people had to flee to other countries to evade his brutal reign.

Macias was not only one of Africa’s worst dictators, but also one of the poorest leaders who’s leadership lacked a development plan as well as a proper accounting system for government funds.

Said Barre

Having seized power from October 1969 until January 1991, Said tried to bring lots of development in Somalia such as adopting socialism to meet its needs. He, however, fell into the dictator’s category when he started committing gross human rights violations. Barre was also known for using his power and influence to execute all persons in the opposition or people who he simply did not fancy.

He died in political exile, but his body was brought home for a befitting send-off.

Omar Al-Bashir

Omar is considered as one of the worst all-time African dictators. His conduct has warranted him seven charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague. Omar is also known for planning to commit crimes of genocide against several ethnic groups in his country.

His regime was marred by corruption, impunity and absolute abandon for the law. He did whatever pleased him at the expense of his subjects.

Hissene Habre

Hissene rose to power when he defended Chad from being invaded by Libya. His troops managed to counter the attack under his leadership. Despite this good record about him, Hissene has been held responsible for killing thousands of people during his tenure.

He has been charged by The Human Rights Watch for authorizing mass murders of thousands of civilians, including the massacre of the Hadjerai and Zaghawa tribes and torture.

General Idi Amin Dada

Idi Amin needs not be introduced. His dictatorial leadership is known world over, to an extent that movies have been shot based on his character. Idi Amin was born in the mid-1920s. He is referred to as Africa’s worst dictator. He is known for his temperament which often made him act on the spur of the moment. Which triggered him into doing very astounding and inhumane things to his subjects?

It is believed that over 300,000 people were killed during his tenure as president of Uganda. He used to perform these killings by engaging killer squads to murder his opponents as well as their families. This earned him the title, ‘Butcher of Uganda.’

Idi Amin showed no mercy to anyone irrespective of their economic, social or political status. It is rumored that at one time, he ordered that all the beggars and street urchins be picked up from the streets and be dropped in the raging waters of the Nile for littering the streets with their presence.

Amin can be described as an erratic, temperamental, free-spirited and unpredictable leader, whose word was law. He met his untimely death on 18th August 2003. This must have brought a sense of relief not only to the opposition but to the citizens of Uganda as a whole.


Good governance is gaining root in the African continent. Unfortunately, it is happening at a very slow pace. If only it would catch up as fast as technology and westernization is, then we would not have anything to write on Africa’s all-time worst dictators.

However, with the introduction of courts such as The Hague, we are bound to see an improvement in leadership and a reduction in ill-treatment of subjects. This is because The Hague acts as an oversight authority to keep leaders in check.

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