7 Presidents That Were Ex-Convicts

It can be easily argued that they are all not saints, but the sacrifice made by these people has to be respected.

These modern-day Josephs, driven by love for their country or ambitions, risked their lives to secure a better future for their people.

Here are seven presidents who rose from prisoners to becoming the leaders of their nations.

1. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi [India]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

The first and only female Prime Minister of India, Indira was the daughter of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. She first served as Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977, before losing her seat to the Janata alliance.

She later won a bye-election in 1978 but was arrested along with her son Sanjay Gandhi by the Janata government on some trumped up charges but was released after the collapse of  the Janata coalition.

In 1980, Indira Gandhi once again became Prime Minister but was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 for ordering the storming of the Harmandir Sahib as a countermeasure to the Punjab insurgency.

2. Fidel Castro [Cuba]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

The son of  his father’s maid, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz and his brother Raul were captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison, after their group “The Movement” staged a failed attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953.

Released in 1955 they traveled to Mexico, where they metErnesto “Che” Guevara who helped them mount a series of successful military campaigns, that eventually led to the collapse of General Fulgencio Batista’s government in January 1959.

Manuel Urrutia was then installed as president while José Miró Cardona became  prime minister. But after just a month Miro resigned, and Castro was sworn in as prime minister at the age of 32.

3. Dilma Vana [Brazil]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

 Daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, Dilma Rousseff joined various guerilla groups which fought against the dictatorship in 1964 before she was captured, tortured, and locked up between 1970 and 1972.

The Mensalao corruption scandal in 2005, saw her become the Chief of Staff of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and in March 2010 she resigned to run for president.

Dilma Rousseff became Brazil’s first female president in 2010 and was re-elected again in 2014, but was suspended by the senate for six months on 12 May 2016, before she was finally impeached on 31 August 2016.

4. Kim Dae Jung [South Korea]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

Referred to as the “Nelson Mandela” of Asia, Kim Dae-Jungwas arrested in 1980 and sentenced to death. But the intervention of the United States and the Pope John II, saw his sentence changed to 20 years in prison, then to an exile in the US.

In 1985, Kim returned to South Korea and was once again put under house arrest, before losing the first transparent elections held in a long time by dictator Chun Doo-hwan after succumbing to pressure.

Finally, after trying four times, Kim Dae-Jung defeated Lee Hoi-Chang and was sworn in as the eighth President of South Korea on 25 February 1998.

5. Nelson Mandela [South Africa]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

A lawyer by profession Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela joined the ANC in the late 1940s, co-founded its Youth League and before being appointed President of the ANC’s Transvaal branch.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 1962 for conspiring against the state after his militant group Umkhonto we Sizwe, launched a sabotage campaign against the government but was freed in 1990 after serving 27 years.

In 1994 Mandela became the first black President of South Africa after winning a multiracial general election. A true statesman, he only served one term before handing over the reins to Thabo Mbeki.

6. Patrice Lumumba [Congo]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

Hailed by Malcolm X as the most impressive black man to ever walk the African continent, Patrice Lumumba was handed a 69-month sentence in 1959 for his anti-colonial fight but was released after serving only nine months and became the Prime Minister at the young age of 34.

He only lasted three months as Prime Minister before being ousted in a military coup fronted by Mobutu Sese Seko but orchestrated by the US, England, and Belgium their former colonial lords.

Lumumba’s believed to have been shot multiple times, before his body was dissolved in acid, by the Belgian military in a bid to cover a full-scale investigation. Belgium later apologised in 2002 for its role in his death.

7. Olusegun Obasanjo [Nigeria]

7 ex-convicts who became heads of state

Credited with bringing the civil war to an end, Olusegun Obasanjo first became the President of Nigeria after the death of Murtala Mohammed in the failed Dimka coup.

In 1995, Obasanjo an outspoken critic of the Abacha regime was arrested on trumped up charges of plotting a coup but was released after the sudden death of Abacha in June 1998.

After his release, Olusegun Obasanjo contested for and won the presidential elections held in 1999, under the Peoples Democratic Party and also won a second term in 2003.

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