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Africa’s 10 greatest murderers


By far, these murderers have exceeded others in slaughtering their fellow Africans in the past three decades. Most of them are found in the Great Lakes Region, which has seen the worst of the worst bloodbaths in post-colonial Africa. Sadly, some of them have lived long to carry on their killings to the 21st Century, and, given their closeness to western powers, chances for their indictment appear slim.

This article first appeared in the print version of The Campus Journal in 2011

1. Paul Kagame
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has orchestrated and perpetrated some of Africa’s most horrible bloodbaths, including at least one campaign of genocide.

During his reign as deputy head of Uganda’s military intelligence in the late 1980s, Gen. Kagame was nicknamed Pontius Pilate, a murderous character in Jewish literature who executed suspects without trial and habitually engaged in acts of violence, robbery and abusive behavior.

Four years after fighting in a bloody war that brought Yoweri Museveni to power, Kagame led exiled Tutsis in a four-year rebellion against Kigali, paving way for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Whereas the genocide was orchestrated by Hutu extremists, Kagame had a hand in bringing about the tragedy that left a million people dead, mostly Tutsis and a considerable number of Hutus.

Like his mentor President Museveni, Kagame chose the path of violence to reach power, a path that also led to genocide. In When Victims Become Killers, Mahmood Mamdani relates “a wise old Tutsi man” telling a young RPF rebel who had come to liberate him in the northern Rwandan city of Ruhengeri in January 1991, “You want power? You will get it. But here we will all die. Is it worth it to you?”

It was worth it, at least according to Kagame and his rebels. Three years later, almost a million Tutsis were massacred because the RPF wanted power. In The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency, Mamdani further explains how Kagame’s forces – with the backing of the United States and the Ugandan military – contributed to the genocide.

…the US did intervene in Rwanda, through a proxy. That proxy was the RPF, backed up by entire units from the Uganda Army. The green light was given to the RPF, whose commanding officer, Paul Kagame, had recently returned from training in the US, just as it was lately given to the Ethiopian army in Somalia. Instead of using its resources and influence to bring about a political solution to the civil war, and then strengthen it, the US signalled to one of the parties (RPF) that it could pursue victory with impunity. This unilateralism was part of what led to the disaster (genocide), and that is the real lesson of Rwanda.

For his clear role in causing the 1994 genocide, Kagame cannot be praised for ending it: he should, first and foremost, be held accountable for laying ground for it.

In the years that followed Kagame demonstrated that his involvement in the 1994 bloodbath was not an isolated case. In the name of pursuing Hutu rebels based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army launched a similar bloodbath in the neighboring country, killing tens of thousands of Hutus, mostly children, women, the sick and elderly.

In one of such numerous incidents documented by the August 2010 UN Report, Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, the RPA and its paramilitary group, the AFDL, behaved this way:

In December 1996, AFDL/APR soldiers allegedly killed several hundred [Hutu] refugees in the Mutiko locality. After being intercepted at checkpoints set up by the soldiers, the victims were transported to the village of Mukito. The soldiers gave them food and asked them to prepare to board UNHCR trucks that were supposedly waiting for them at the edge of the village. The victims were then led out of Mukito on to the road and killed with blows of sticks, hammers and axes to their heads. The soldiers encouraged the indigenous population to participate in the killings. They then forced them to bury the bodies.

The systematic manner in which Kagame’s all-Tutsi forces indiscriminately massacred Hutus suggests that the perpetrators had a specific intension to destroy in whole or in part the Hutu ethnic group as such. The UN Report observes:

The numerous attacks against the Hutus in Zaire, who were not part of the refugees, seem to confirm that it was all Hutus, as such, who were targeted. The crimes committed in particular in Rutshuru (30 October 1996) and Mugogo (18 November 1996), in North Kivu, highlight the specific targeting of the Hutus, since people who were able to persuade the (RPF) aggressors that they belonged to another ethnic group were released just before the massacres.

The report proceeds:
The extensive use of edged weapons (primarily hammers) and the apparently systematic nature of the massacres of survivors after the camps had been taken suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.

It should surely be clear that Kagame’s invasion of Congo was calculated to commit genocide against Hutus. The quest for power has often impelled Hutus and Tutsis to try to eliminate each other in indescribable manners.

On top of directly committing massacres in Congo, the RPA trained, armed and organized paramilitary groups – including the ANC and CNDP – that are responsible for the death of up to five million people in the central African state. Such militias are still causing suffering there.

Back home in Rwanda, Kagame has instituted and perpetuated a reign of terror to keep himself, and his Tutsi oligarchy, in power. He has murdered journalists, assassinated opposition politicians, incarcerated dissenters, exiled critics and applied every apparatus of repression to cling to power.

Kagame is ranked ahead of all murderers on the continent because of his recurrent massacres. He is ranked worse than Col. Thonesta Bagosora, the coordinator of the worst single bloodbath in postcolonial Africa – the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, because of two reasons.

One: whereas Col. Bagosora armed the Interahamwe, a militia which executed much of the massacres that amounted to genocide, he was by no means the sole architect of the slaughter, and indeed with or without his input, the genocide would have taken place with much or less the same efficiency. By 1994, proponents of Hutu Power had become so strong and so determined that no absence of any single individual would have stopped them from exterminating those whom they regarded as aliens. Many actors, working collectively or separately, contributed to the outbreak and continuation of the genocide, including the Church, the military, the media, the general population, government officials, and even Kagame’s RPF rebels.

On the other hand, Kagame – being an absolute dictator in the military and Rwanda at large – is primarily and entirely responsible for the actions of the RPA, including the genocide committed against ethnic Hutus.

Secondly, apart from his role in the 1994 genocide, Col. Bagosora is not known to have participated in any other mass killings. This is not the case with Kagame who has presided over recurrent massacres. If Theonesta Bagosora killed, Kagame killed, and killed, and continues to kill.

For being the prime architect of repeated massacres, Paul Kagame ranks ahead of all murderers on the African continent.

2. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
“Uganda is a country led by people who have fought wars,” President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni boastfully said at a press conference late last year. He should have added that millions of innocent lives have starved and died as a result of his violent behavior.

And yet, the victims of his violence cannot easily be played down as collateral damage. Reliable reports suggest that helpless civilians have often been slaughtered in the most horrific, wicked and persistent manners at the orders or under the watch of Gen. Museveni.

Following the fall of President Amin in 1979, Museveni allegedly ordered the massacre of 64 Muslim civilians in Bushenyi District. Makerere University Professor Abasi Kiyimba led an investigation into the massacre and compiled his findings in his book, Is the 1979 Muslim Blood-bath in Bushenyi History?: A Review of the Genocide that was Called "liberation".

“On the morning of Tuesday 26th June, 1979,” writes Abasi, “a mob of Christians armed with spears, knives and ropes, started rounding up Muslims and tying their hands behind their backs. They said that they were doing it on the orders of Yoweri Museveni the then minister of defence.”

Prof. Abasi’s report goes on to document the brutality with which alleged Museveni’s men slaughtered helpless villagers:

They gathered the Muslims in the home of Abdallah Segululigmba from where they marched them to Rwizi river to be executed one after the other. At the river Muslims were butchered in the most horrifying manner. There was one whose head was cut into three pieces before being finally thrown into the river. Other cases included those whose hands or legs were cut off, then thrown into the river to drown. The Imam Abdallah Segululigamba was mercilessly hacked in the middle with a machete and thrown into the river. The most memorable of these cases of cruelty is the 27 year old Madiya Natende who was seven months pregnant. Her stomach was slashed open with a machete and the fetus crudely ripped out.

The operation did not stop at killing civilians in the described manner. Over 400 Muslims were detained without trial and “forced to ransom themselves by paying dearly in form of money, cows, goats, sheep, bicycles, radios and other items” while many others were forced to flee their homes and live as refugees in their own country. Three decades after the tragedy, they have never returned home and they have never seen any compensation.

The operation that also left mosques burnt, Muslim land seized and banana plantations slashed was, according to investigators, executed in a planned, systematic and methodical manner and targeted Muslims as such – a collection of characteristics typical of genocide.

Three years after allegedly masterminding the massacre, Museveni embarked on a five-year insurgence that propelled him to power at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

Having miserably lost the 1980 general elections, Museveni claimed that he had been robbed of victory and resorted to violence to seize power. While the election was blatantly stolen, it was not stolen from Museveni who was by then an insignificant player in the country’s elective politics.

The insurgence he launched in the Luwero Triangle caused as much deaths as Joseph Kony’s LRA rebellion in northern Uganda. Museveni blames the then UPC government for most of the killings but he has ignored UPC’s repeated calls for an investigation.

Regardless of who massacred most, the fact that Museveni used violence as a method of seizing power demonstrates how he disregards human life.

Museveni’s disregard for human life became even clearer after seizing power. In 1989, his NRA forces locked 79 people in train wagons and burnt them to death at Mukura, Soroti District.

Six years later, following the outbreak of the ADF rebellion in 1996, Museveni unleashed a campaign of terror against the country’s Muslim population, a campaign in which countless have been summarily executed and hundreds, if not thousands, tortured in incommunicado detention centers known as safe houses. This campaign, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, is ongoing.

In Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force in Uganda (2009), Human Rights Watch documents over a hundred cases in which Muslims were subjected to untold pain. One case may suffice here:

JATT arrested Saidi Lutaaya around November 22, 2007, from the Old Taxi Park in Kampala where he worked as a hawker… Two days later, the Voice of Africa radio program broadcast that the body of Saidi Lutaaya was at the mortuary at Mulago hospital in Kampala…Nurses informed family that Lutaaya had been brought to the hospital early in the morning by soldiers. One said that the man had ‘a hole in his foot and the bone of his lower leg was out, and that he was hit in the head with a hammer, blood was oozing out of his body.’

These crimes against humanity, extensive and horrific as they may be, are dwarfed by those committed by Museveni’s forces in the DRC. Without the knowledge of the relevant institutions, Museveni ordered Ugandan troops to invade Africa’s third largest country in the mid 1990s under the pretext of pursuing ADF rebels. As soon as they set foot in the country, the UPDF, along with Rwandan troops, started fighting one Congolese government after the other, plundered the country’s natural resources, massacred innocent civilians in masses and armed paramilitary groups that continue to butcher and torture.

These operations have so far led to the death of five million people. Many of them were slaughtered by the UPDF in shocking manners, as the August 2010 UN Report says of one such case:

In the town of Beni, UPDF soldiers instituted a reign of terror for several years with complete impunity. They carried out summary executions of civilians, arbitrarily detained large numbers of people and subjected them to torture and various other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments. They also introduced a particularly cruel form of detention, putting the detainees in holes dug two or three metres deep into the ground, where they were forced to live exposed to bad weather, with no sanitation and on muddy ground.

There is no reason to suggest that Museveni, the commander in chief, was not aware of these crimes committed over a period of years. Museveni, like Kagame, has total control over the military and monitors every detail of its operations. His failure to punish the UPDF commanders who directed the murderous operations and his insistence that no crimes were committed at all point to his possible involvement.

The tactics used to slaughter innocent Congolese villagers were also applied on the people of northern Uganda. To deny Joseph Kony’s rebels collaboration from the population, Museveni’s government, as Mahmood Mamdani observes in Saviors and Survivors, embarked on an ethnically targeted “civilian massacres and other atrocities”.

Mamdani continues, “It took a (Ugandan) government-directed campaign of murder, intimidation, bombing and burning of whole villages to drive the rural population into I.D.P. camps.”

Such a record of alleged widespread murder and cruelty warrants Gen. Museveni a place on the list of Africa’s greatest murderers.

3. Theonesta Bagosora
Col. Theonesta Bagosora was the chief coordinator of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The slaughter of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and a significant number of Hutus in just one hundred days remains the single largest bloodbath in postcolonial Africa.

He was a member of the CDR, an extremist Hutu party that opposed any peace negotiations with the Tutsi RPF rebels. The CDR broke away from the ruling MNRD party and established its own radical structures, including youth brigades and media institutions.

Following the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994, the CDR gained immense influence as Col. Bagosora took control of military and political affairs in the ethnically divided country.

With the military within its orbit, the CDR started slaughtering Hutu government officials who supported peace talks with the rebels. The elimination of moderate Hutus left no one standing in the way of those who sought to wipe out all Tutsis from the face of Rwanda.

Through its radio, television and newspaper, the CDR told Hutus that the minority Tutsi population and its RPF vanguard wanted power for no reason but to enslave Hutus, grab their land and relegate them to their pre-1959 status of second class citizenship. Such propaganda inflamed Hutu masses and encouraged them to slaughter their Tutsi spouses, friends, relatives and neighbors whom they regarded as aliens and to whom they gave a dehumanizing name of inyenze (cockroaches).

These killings were led by the Interahawme, a militia that was organized, trained and armed by Col. Bagosora.

The Interahamwe, which means “working together”, was a youth militia of the ruling party whose members decided to work together to wipe out Tutsis. To prove that they were true Interahamwe, members of the group were required to kill their Tutsi spouses before they proceeded to kill anyone else. Those who refused to kill their loved ones were themselves slaughtered.

What makes Col. Bagosora and his agents exceptionally murderous isn’t just the brutality with which they slaughtered their victims, not even the huge number of innocent people they massacred, but the hatred that drove them to kill their own spouses, neighbours, friends and relatives for simply belonging to a different ethnic group or, as they purported to believe, a different race.

Col. Bagosora is currently serving a life sentence after a UN Court found him guilty of committing genocide.

4. Charles Taylor
Like Kagame of Rwanda and Kaguta of Uganda, Charles Taylor’s greed for power impelled him to stage a bloody rebellion that left hundreds of thousands dead. Like the two East African murderers, the Liberian warlord has killed at home and abroad on a large scale.

After escaping from a US prison with the apparent connivance of the US Administration, Taylor returned to Liberia in 1989, bringing with him death, destruction and disaster.

He started by forming the National Patriotic Front of Liberia with a great composition of child soldiers and waged war against the government of Samuel Deo. The boy soldiers were given marijuana and other narcotics in order, as Lydia Polgreen puts it, “to keep their killing instincts keen”. With their inhuman instincts stimulated, the boys easily obeyed orders to kill anyone, including their own parents and, like their seniors, fully utilized their freedom to rape and rob.

In 1997, following the end of the first civil war, Charles Taylor warned Liberian voters that he would resume his slaughter campaign if he lost the presidential election. This threat was clearly implied in his campaign slogan, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”

Having won the election, the warlord-turned-president fully extended his campaign of terror to neighboring countries. In Sierra Leone, where his terror reached proportions that prompted a United Nations war crimes tribunal to indict him, Taylor backed a rebel movement – the United Revolutionary Front – that excelled in mass murder, mutilation and rape.

He backed similar murderous rebel groups in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

But unlike Museveni, Charles Taylor could not enjoy impunity for long. He was forced to resign in 2005 and later arrested to face trial for crimes he allegedly committed in Sierra Leone.

It is not clear whether he will ever be tried for crimes he committed elsewhere, including in his own motherland – Liberia – where his mischief left 200,000 people dead.

5. Joseph Kony
On top of killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions, Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA) have abducted children, raped women and chopped off the lips of villagers suspected of collaborating with government forces. His ultimate goal, he says, is to capture power and rule Uganda according to the Bible.

Joseph Kony, like most of his tribesmen in northern Uganda, did not welcome President Museveni’s government in 1986 probably for ethnic reasons. The northerners had dominated both the military and politics since independence and they had come to regard state power as their exclusive right. For southerners to assume such powers was an insult and a disorder that must be corrected by expelling the Banyankore-led government from power.

Thus Joseph Kony mounted his rebellion with popular support in the north. Little did the Acholi and Luo know that their own son would soon reciprocate their kind support with amputating their limbs, chopping off their lips and enslaving their women and children.

With total impunity, Kony’s rebels carried out massacre after massacre for over two decades. Whereas some of the atrocities blamed on Kony were actually committed by government forces, there is no doubt the rebel leader has murdered on a regular basis and forced children as young as 13 to kill.

Like the people of Luwero who suffered as a result of Museveni’s five-year bloody rebellion, the northern communities, for over 20 years, experienced a kind of cruelty and brutality that no Ugandan community has ever known in known history.

Such atrocities later turned the people of the north against their errant son, forcing him to run to Sudan, then to the Congo and even up to the Central African Republic. But Kony did not flee without his terror. He continues to kill, rape, abduct and mutilate wherever he sets foot, with his latest victims being in the DRC.

There have been reports that some UPDF officers, for quite long, deliberately avoided ending Kony’s insurgency and, instead, exploited it to steal funds meant for restoring peace. These reports cannot be dismissed outright given that the army harbours corrupt generals who inflate payrolls and receive salaries for nonexistent soldiers.

Indicted by the partisan International Criminal Court, Joseph Kony is still at large, hiding in the impenetrable forests of lawless eastern DRC with several hundred men. As he continues to prove, his killing spree is far from over.

6. Meles Zenawi
Like other US puppets, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has killed innocent people to please the western power. Asked by the Bush Administration, Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia in 2006 to topple the Islamic Courts Union, months after the new government had restored calm to a country ruined by years of fighting.

The only crime committed by the Somali government was to govern according to Islamic teachings. After unseating the Islamic Administration, Zenawi’s forces launched a slaughter campaign, killing innocent Somali civilians on a daily basis for two years. Many of the victims were poor citizens selling or buying merchandise in the main Bagara market.

Whereas he acted on US orders, Zenawi is known to harbor severe hatred for Islam and Muslims. He once tried without success to ban the adhan – the Islamic call for prayer – in Ethiopia where almost half the population is Muslim. He was the only African leader who joined Museveni in supporting the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. It was therefore not surprising that when he invaded Somalia, he seized the opportunity to kill as many Muslims as he could.

His invasion drove Somalia back to chaos. He knew that even after his troops leave, suffering would continue for some good time. And he was not wrong: two years after Ethiopian troops left, Somalis continue to die as a result of the instability reignited by the invasion.

Even in his own country, Zenawi does not hesitate to fire live bullets at peaceful demonstrators. In 2005, Zenawi’s government shot and killed hundreds of innocent civilians demonstrating against a rigged election in Addis Ababa.

Yet this massacre – appalling and atrocious as it was – is nothing compared to the suffering he has inflicted on the people the Ogaden who are fighting for their freedom. His wickedness allows him to do anything to stay in power. Surely Zenawi deserves the dishonor of sitting next to Joseph Kony on this list.

7. Laurent Kabila
Laurent Kabila’s rebel group, the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation due Congo-Zaire or AFDL, killed as many people as Kagame’s RPA forces in the first Congo War of 1996 – 1998. Fully under Kigali’s control, the AFDL participated in every atrocity committed by the Rwandan army (see Paul Kagame’s atrocities against Hutus in the DRC in No. 1).

The 2010 UN Report reveals numerous cases in witch Kabila’s rebel movement massacred innocent refugees, including this horrible incident:

In December 1996, AFDL/APR soldiers allegedly killed several hundred refugees around the town of Kifuruka, ten kilometres from Biriko. The soldiers had rounded up the victims in the village of Kifuruka and then led them to the road, leaving them to believe that they were going to help them return to Rwanda. Once they had left the village, however, the soldiers shot them dead or killed them with machetes.

After Kabila took power and turned against his Rwandan allies, his forces and loyalists killed many Tutsi civilians whom they suspected of collaborating with the RPA.

Having subjected Africans to years of untold suffering, Kabila was shot and killed in 2001 by his own bodyguard.

8. Foday Sankoh
As leader of the Revolutionary United Front, Fody Sankoh inflicted untold suffering on the people of Sierra Leone, killing innocent civilians, amputating their limbs, chopping off their hands, enslaving girls and forcing boys to join his rebel movement.

He forced the boys to kill or rape their relatives to prevent them from returning to their homes. In Operation Pay Yourself, Foday Sankoh encouraged his forces to loot whatever they laid their hands on.

His decade-long rebellion that started in 1991 killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands. Sentenced to death in 1998, Foday Sankoh was released shortly after following a peace deal that also made him vice president of Sierra Leone.

But the new post was not as lucrative as the diamond mines in the hands of his rebels. He quickly rejoined the rebels and escalated fighting, a move that led to his end. As he succumbed to defeat in 2001, an angry mob descended on him and gave him a thorough beating before he was taken to a United Nations court.

His capture ignited huge celebrations in Freetown. His death in custody in 2003 was equally received with relief.

9. James Kabarebe
Current Rwandan defence minister James Kabarebe led the RPA murderous operations in the DRC in the 1990s and early 2000s. He, besides his boss Kagame, is responsible for the atrocities committed by the force in the country.

The most serious of these atrocities is the genocide committed on ethnic Hutus. He also organized, trained and armed paramilitary groups that are responsible for the death of up to five million people in Congo.

10. Muammar Gaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has trained, armed and financed some of Africa’s most notorious warlords, including Fode Sankoh, Yoweri Museveni and Charles Taylor. He has financed wars and coups across Africa.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have died at the hands of insurgents he funds and arms.

But Gaddafi has also helped restore peace in parts of Africa, including his role in mending relations between Sudan and Chad last year.


0 #1 Deng 2012-05-25 11:00
Whar about Omer El Bashir who killed millions in Sudan?