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‘Assassinated During Active Service’; Here Are Africa’s Top 10 Leaders Murdered While In Power

African Presidents are usually strong, dominating and long-lasting but a few still got assassinated despite. Here are 10 of the most famous African Presidents who got killed while in office.

African President Assassinated #11:
Joao Bernardo Vieira

State: Guinea-Bissau      Age: 69           Died: 2 March 2009          Years in Power: 23 years

When Bernardo Vieira seized power in 1980, he went on to rule for 19 long years.

He left his post as President after civil unrest forced him to go on exile in 1999.

Vieira then made a thrilling comeback in 2005 as he romped to victory in the presidential elections.

But soldiers strongly believed he had a hand in the bomb blast that killed Guinea-Bissau’s military chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie. In 2009, they retaliated, killing Vieira in cold blood.

African President Assassinated #10:
Muhammad Anwar El-Sadat

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State: Egypt            Age: 62             Died: 6 October 1981

Muhammad Sadat was Egypt’s Vice President until he succeeded his boss, Gamel Abdel Nasser as president.

Events threw him up as a national hero and the people’s champion, as he bravely led Egypt in the war against Israel to regain the Sinai Peninsula.

Believing that he had the best interests of all Egyptians at heart, President Sadat proceeded to negotiate the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty successfully. It was a move that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it also made him very unpopular among a section of the Egyptian populace, especially the Islamists.

They would plan and carry out his assassination. His killer, Islambaili, a fundamentalist army officer, emptied his assault rifle into Sadat’s body. Islambaili was later tried and executed for the crime.

African President Assassinated #9:
Juvenal Habyarimana

State: Rwanda         Age: 57               Died: 6 April 1994

After ruling a nation for 21 years in a continent where coups happen almost yearly, it’s understandable when your people start to call you ‘Kinani’, meaning the ‘invincible’.

Juvenal himself rode to power on the back of a coup d’état when he was just 36. But he found himself tugged between an increasingly restless populace caught in a tribal feud.

While his official airplane was trying to land at the Kigali International Airport, Habyarimana with his friend and president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were blasted into nothingness by unidentified assassins.

The assassinations of the two top men ignited the tensions in the region and helped sparked the bloody Rwandan Genocide that claimed about a million lives in a few months.

African President Assassinated #8:
Laurent Kabila

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State: DR Congo         Age: 61            Died: 18 January 2001

In 1997, when Zaire needed a saviour from the dictatorial grip of Mobutu Sese Seko, in came rebel leader – Laurent Kabila.

He had a decent background in business but he dropped that for the guns and became a key player in the First Congo War. After ousting Mobutu’s regime, Kabila began genuine reforms.

Within a few days in office, he changed the country’s name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He would not be allowed to go far with his visions for his people.

One afternoon, one of his bodyguards shot him severally and bolted. He was killed as he attempted to escape. Laurent Kabila battled with death for another two days before giving up the ghost.

His son, Joseph, took over from him as president.

African President Assassinated #7:
Cyprien Ntaryamira

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State: Burundi        Age: 39             Died: 6 April 1994

When President Melchior Ndadaye and two of his administration’s top officials were assassinated, Burundi needed a moderate Hutu to avoid plunging into civil war.

Cyprien Ntaryamira was not an extremist and he was the compromise choice to become President. The respite though was brief.

Only six months after assuming office, Ntaryamira was dead. He was with his friend Habryarimana, President of neighbouring Rwanda, when their plane was shot out of the sky while landing in Kigali.

The murder sparked off the Rwandan Genocide.

African President Assassinated #6:
Melchior Ndadaye

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State: Burundi        Age: 40               Died: 21 October 1993

Melchior Ndadaye was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi after winning the landmark election in 1993. He had won a crushing victory, defeating the incumbent Pierre Bujoya, a Tutsi man.

The Tutsis were not particularly delighted with his success at the polls and a week before he was sworn in, an attempt was made on his life but the coup failed.

He would not be twice lucky, though.

Barely three months in office, he was overthrown and bayonetted to death in another coup plot by the Tutsi-dominated army.

African President Assassinated #5:
Ibrahim Bare Mainassara

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State: Niger         Age: 49                  Died: 9 April 1999

When Bare Mainassara seized power through a coup d’état, he knew it was an increasingly unpopular route to power in Africa. So he set about legalizing it.

He organised presidential elections and won by 52% in very fraudulent circumstances. The opposition protested vehemently and wanted results cancelled. But Bare Mainassara had no intentions of relinquishing his high throne.

The military intervened.

The president was ambushed on 9 April 1999 as he was going to board a helicopter at the airport in Niamey and shot dead. Leader of the coup, Daouda Malam Wanke, succeeded him as Head of State.


African President Assassinated #4:
Mohamed Boudiaf

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State: Algeria           Age: 73            Died: 29 June 1992

Mohamed Boudiaf was always a major political presence in the years leading to Algeria’s independence. A principled figure, Boudiaf remained in the opposition, though.

It didn’t buy him so many friends. Several times, there were attacks on his life, he was left for dead, and he even had to embark on self-exile to stay alive.

After a 27-year exile in Morocco, Mohamed Boudiaf was surprisingly invited to head a military junta. He accepted and in February 1992, he began his reign.

But he would not have enough time to turn things around. A mere four months after taking the reins of power, he was assassinated by a bodyguard during a televised public speech on his first visit outside Algiers as Head of State.


African President Assassinated #3:
Samuel Doe

State: Liberia         Age: 39             Died: 9 September 1990

Liberia before Samuel Doe had been politically dominated by Americo-Liberians for over a century. And they still were not in the mood to just hand the Presidency over for free.

Someone had to take it by force. Samuel Doe was that someone.

He led a military coup that killed President William Tolbert Jr.

Tolbert’s cabinet ministers were also publicly executed ten days later. He cemented his place as the first indigenous Head of State in Liberia and would rule for over ten years.

Then Charles Taylor, a former ally of Samuel Doe, broke out of a jail in the United States. By December 1989, a civil war broke out and the rebels, led by Charles Taylor entered Liberia through Cote d’Ivoire.

Soon, President Doe was captured tortured and executed, his naked remains paraded on the streets of Monrovia.

African President Assassinated #2:
Thomas Sankara

State: Burkina Faso           Age: 37       Died: 15 October 1987

Thom-Sank became the President of Upper Volta through a coup d’état organised by Blaise Compaore when he was only 33years old.

He developed into the symbol of economic revolution and an icon of many of African’s poor. He changed his country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning ‘Land of Incorruptible People’. He was also the first African leader to appoint women to major cabinet positions.

But good things don’t last forever.

After only four years in power, another coup by his former colleague, Blaise Compaore, brought an end to his reign.

Sankara was caught and assassinated. The African continent mourned his loss. Despite his death at a relatively young age, Africa’s Che Guevara won the hearts of many young and old.

Several books have been written about him and his time at the top.


African President Assassinated #1:
Muammar Gaddafi

State: Libya         Age: 69               Died: 20 October 2011

Like several African leaders in the 60s, Gaddafi took power in a coup d’état from the absolute monarchy of King Idris. The young soldier and revolutionist abolished the monarchy and proclaimed a Republic.

A new Libya was born.

Gaddafi would go on to nurture the nation through good and bad times for another 42 years. But he was never popular with the United States and he even had to lead Libya to survive the US bombing of his country in 1986.

In 2011, an anti-Gaddafi uprising broke out resulting in civil war. Eventually, US and NATO-backed rebels brought down Gaddafi’s government.

Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed, bringing an end to one of the

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