Gaddafi was bad and mad but how about these devils you don’t know?
In recent weeks, the walls have closed in on Colonel Gaddafi – the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya, if you don’t mind – with rebel forces taking control of the country after a six-month civil war. The fall of his regime has been accompanied by a series of revelations about the Colonel’s excesses and cruelty. Naturally enough, his demise has precipitated fresh condemnation for a regime that impoverished its subjects while plundering the country’s resources. Gaddafi, though, is not unique – there are dozens of forerunners whose crimes are just as heinous.
Sure, there are the obvious ones – Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Kim Jong Il – but some of the 20th century’s lesser lights were just as monstrous and possibly weirder, especially when left to indulge their violent eccentricities.
Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Central African Republic
Bokassa combined cannibalism with ridiculous spending and shocking violence. Hoping to emulate Napoleon, he made himself Emperor of Central Africa in 1977 and nearly bankrupted the country by spending £12m on a 48-hour coronation ceremony that required 100 limos, 130 thoroughbred horses, a 120-piece orchestra and 65,000 bottles of champagne, complete with waiters from Paris.
In 1979, schoolchildren protested being forced to buy expensive uniforms bearing Bokassa’s image, purchased from a factory owned by one of his wives. Bokassa personally participated in the massacre of more than 100 of them, using his ebony walking stick to crush their skulls.
Joaquín Balaguer, Dominican Republic
To be fair, Balaguer wasn’t as bad as the rest of these crackpots – the Dominican Republic was a basket-case when he first took over in 1960 but had some semblance of democracy after his third stint as president ended in 1996. But he also did some crazy shit along the way. He passed laws that banned people living in slums from entering the richer areas. And, in the 1990s, he decided to build El Faro a Colón, a 10-story building shaped like a cross and designed to illuminate the night sky in commemoration of Christopher Columbus’s arrival. All hell broke loose but the plan went ahead – when the weird ‘cross-building’ was eventually turned on, the national grid shut down.
François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Haiti
The President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971, Duvalier was so obsessed with voodoo that he made it the state religion.
He claimed to be Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, and wore the spirit’s trademark top hat and tails. Duvalier insisted on collecting the heads of his dead rivals, believing he could trap their spirits. He also decreed all black dogs be killed, suspecting an enemy had transformed into one.
His private army – The Tonton Macoutes, named after a voodoo spirit that makes people disappear – forced Haitians to sell their blood to Duvalier for £1 a pint.
Sani Abacha, Nigeria
Abacha was an audacious kleptocrat, stealing about £3bn in five years during the 1990s. His surviving family is classed as a criminal organisation by many foreign governments.
Abacha pocketed massive kickbacks from multinationals that wanted access to Nigeria’s oil reserves and summarily executed anyone who opposed this outrageous graft. He got his comeuppance, though, when, in 1998, he dropped dead during an orgy with six teenage prostitutes after taking too much Viagra. His widow, Maryam, was busted fleeing the country with 38 pieces of luggage, all stuffed with money.
Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines
In the 1960s, while his country foundered in the grip of runaway inflation, the Marcoses redecorated their palace, hanging ridiculously opulent chandeliers in every room. Indeed, one room ended up with 17 of them. Marcos’s wife, Imelda, was known for her extravagant collection of shoes, numbering more than 1000 pairs, including one that had goldfish swimming in the glass heels. She also trained herself to sleep upright to avoid messing her hair.
Don’t worry – it wasn’t just Marcos’s missus who was vain to the point of mania. Ferdinand had a map of the province of Apayao redrawn to resemble his head.
Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania
Camera crews were forbidden from depicting Ceausescu’s short stature, which he was desperate to make up for in other ways. He forced Romanians to move into tiny concrete apartments and had a secret police unit of gynecologists charged with boosting the birth-rate. It was all designed to bring on a Romanian Golden Age, crowned with the planned Palace of the People, which would have been the world’s third-largest building.
After Ceausescu and his wife were both executed in 1989, it was revealed that the Nixon Administration had given a moon rock to Ceausescu as a gift. The Romanian moon rock was worth £4m but its whereabouts remain unknown.
Idi Amin, Uganda
The title dictators bestow upon themselves is a pretty reliable indicator of their craziness and Amin’s is a stand-out: “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” That’s your wiinner right there.
In 1971, Amin seized control of Uganda in a military coup.One horror story claims Amin rounded up the officers who failed to support him and had them decapitated. He then sat on a pile of their heads, chastising them for not backing him, while taking bites out of their flesh.
The big three – by the numbers
Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in what is now Georgia, Stalin changed his name to mean ‘man of steel’. After the Russian revolution, Stalin oversaw purges designed to consolidate the power of the Communist Party, leading to the deaths of somewhere between 20 million and 60 million people.
His designs on dominating Europe led to the Second World War, which claimed an estimated 70 million lives, military and civilian. He also engineered the Holocaust, the execution of up to 17 million Jews, gypsies and others deemed enemies of the Nazi state. That moustache should have been a dead giveaway.
The leader of the Chinese revolution was responsible for somewhere between 50 million and 75 million deaths. In his 33 years in power, Chairman Mao conducted several brutal crackdowns, sending intellectuals and politcal opponents into ‘reform through labour’ camps that killed millions.
Words Tom Sturrock