5 Strangest Dictators Of Modern Times

From the despot with a morbid fear of black dogs to the man who banned the word “intellectual”, meet the five dictators who were as peculiar as they were powerful.

Dictators Niyazov, Papa Doc and Mobutu

Dictators Niyazov, Papa Doc and Mobutu

Papa Doc

Francois Duvalier - better known by his misleadingly cuddly nickname "Papa Doc" - ruled Haiti through a mixture of superstitious fear-mongering and brute force. He deliberately dressed like Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death (see the cackling demon character in the James Bond film Live and Let Die). This wasn't just a pose - Papa Doc seemed to genuinely believe in magic and mysticism. When he heard a political rival had transformed into a black dog, he ordered all the black dogs in the country to be killed.

Papa Doc's ego also led him to identify with none other than Jesus Christ. He literally had the Lord's Prayer re-written to feature... himself. It began "Our Doc, who art in the National Palace for life, hallowed be thy name" and also featured the memorable line "Give us this day our new Haiti and forgive not the trespasses of those anti-patriots who daily spit upon our country."

Statue of Saparmurat Niyazov, Ashkhabad.

Statue of Saparmurat Niyazov, Ashkhabad.

Saparmurat Niyazov

Saparmurat Niyazov was undoubtedly one of the most eccentric dictators of all time. The burly boss of Turkmenistan ordered the months of the year to be renamed, with January re-dubbed Turkmenbashi in honour of his own official title. The days of the week were similarly given new names, with Tuesday becoming "Young Day" and Saturday becoming "Spirituality Day". He also created a national holiday in honour of melons.

Niyazov was less keen on beards, and banned men from growing them. He also banned opera and ballet because they were "unnecessary", and eventually outlawed the playing of all recorded music on television or at public events. He wrote a book called Ruhnama, or "book of the soul", which citizens had to read in order to be granted a driving license. The tome was even blasted into the cosmos on a rocket, with the official press announcing that "the book that conquered the hearts of millions on Earth is now conquering space."


Even by the standards of greedy despots, Mobutu pushed the boundaries of ludicrous extravagance. The dictator of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Mobutu amassed billions of dollars during his reign and was described as "a walking bank vault with a leopard-skin cap". One of his palaces wasn't just bedecked with gold, marble and Louis XIV furniture - he also had conveyer belts installed to bring around Champagne and foodie delicacies to his guests while speakers poured out the Gregorian chants he liked so much. He was also fond of using a chartered Concorde for impromptu shopping trips to New York.

His full name, which he gave himself, translated as "The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake." Yet he was weirdly erratic in his decisions. He had his foreign minister fired, then tortured and imprisoned, only to have him released and appointed prime minister. Not all of Mobutu's other subjects were so lucky.

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Francisco Macias Nguema

He may have been President of Equatorial Guinea, but Francisco Macias Nguema had a quite staggering inferiority complex. Fearful of clever people, he literally had the word "intellectual" outlawed, and people who wore spectacles were reportedly killed. At the same time, he called himself the "Grand Master of Education, Science and Culture", despite spending much of his time taking huge amounts of hallucinogenic drugs. In fact, he was known to have entire conversations with imaginary guests.

Bizarrely believing Hitler to have been the "saviour of Africa", Macias Nguema shared the Fuhrer's fondness for mass executions and once had 150 of his opponents shot to death by soldiers dressed as Santa Claus. It's also worth recalling the time he banned workers in a power plant from using lubricating oil, assuring them the machines would run on magic instead. They didn't.

Rafael Trujillo

Few leaders could squander precious cash the way Rafael Trujillo could. The bloodthirsty dictator of the Dominican Republic, he once organised an event called the "Fair of Peace and Fraternity of the Free World" which was a whole year's worth of extravagant dances, exhibitions and other public events which ate up a third of the national budget. His daughter's dress alone was made from the skins of 600 animals.

Never short on ego, Trujillo renamed a mountain after himself ("Pico Trujillo"), and churches had to post the slogan "God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth". He also saw fit to make his son a colonel at the age of 14, with some reports suggesting he'd named him a brigadier general aged nine. It says something that one of his lesser obsessions was his fondness for neckties - he had over 10,000 of them.