North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un celebrates his birthday today – though it is unclear if he is either 30 or 31 – after two years in power marked by ruthless elimination of rivals, war mongering and an expansion of labour camps.
Having taken over two years ago after the death of his father Kim Jong-il, he is already doing more to earn a dubious reputation at a young age than many previous dictators around the world.
When the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin turned 30 in 1908, he had already completed a seven month jail sentence and was developed a reputation for kidnapping for ransom or ordering the murders of supporters of the Tsar. Shortly after prison, he was sent into Siberian exile for the first time to a village called Solvychegodsk. He managed to hop on a train back to St Petersburg after just two months, disguised as a woman.
The young Stalin had been a bit of a gangster as he approached his third decade, often in a bid to raise money for the Bolsheviks. He organised a bank robbery that killed 40 people a year before he turned 30.
At the age of 30 Adolf Hitler was beginning to express the ideas that would start a world war and aim to wipe out an entire race. A few months after his 30th birthday in 1919, he articulated his anti-Jewish sentiment for the first time in writing, in an essay stating that the “ultimate goal must definitely be the removal of the Jews altogether”.
During the First World War anti-Semitism, fuelled by the political right, crept into the higher ranks of the German army, somewhere Hitler felt at home for the first time. The Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who led one of the largest genocides of the 20th century, was only dipping his toes into political life as he entered his third decade. Pol Pot (AP) In his late twenties, then named Saloth Sar, wasn’t regarded as the brightest spark in the box. Indeed, he was accepted in communist circles in Paris largely because of his lack of intellect while studying radio electronics. This was an advantage to the French communists, who thought this was symbolic of the true working class. He was then forced to go back to Cambodia after failing exams three years in a row. But after his return, he became actively involved in politics and helped set up the communist Pracheachon party. which ran in the 1955 general elections – the year he turned 30. It failed to win the election, and would later be shut down. The late Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was, like Kim Jong-un, already in power by his 30th birthday. He remained as de facto leader for 42 years until he was removed by a Western-backed rebellion in 2011. Col Muammar Gaddafi (AP) After seizing power in 1969, he delivered a speech against the British and American governments resulting in their ambassadors leaving the country in protest. Gaddafi would eventually become the longest serving dictator in the Arab world. Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo for 33 years, changed its name to Zaire and made £5 billion in personal wealth as a result, also started young, receiving a CIA-sponsored coup as his 30th birthday present. Mobutu Sese Seko (AP) The US, fearing a Communist rule in the Congo, helped Mobutu take control just a few weeks after the Congo was declared independent of Belgian colonial rule. The leader quickly suspended President Joseph Kasavubu and his two rival prime ministers, then claimed a growing political crisis in the Congo had been resolved. But the notoriously corrupt and money-hungry future leader was not given control of the country just yet, and was merely promoted to major-general. He finally seized power five years later with a second coup, quickly abolishing parliament and political parties for the next five years, and very nearly creating an absolute state – something which Kim Jong-un had tailor-made for him. In an earlier time, Napoleon Bonaparte saw in his 30th year with a coup d’etat in November 1779. Having spent time in Egypt as a military commander, he returned home after hearing about the instability in France. Upon his return, he was cheered by the French people and soon overthrew the powers at the time, the Directory, in a coup that effectively ended the French Revolution. But he had not been alone in his mission, and a second coup to eliminate his former allies bought Napoleon towards despotic rule. He installed himself as the first consul, and then became emperor of the French people in 1804 – a title he granted himself. It was a position he would hold for over ten years. A portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte from 1805 (Alamy) But while most of the world might not mind to object to seeing Kim Jong-un removed from power, or undergoing a dramatic change of approach, he can some comfort in making it further than the third Roman Emperor Caligula. After a tyrannical four year rule, he was assassinated at 28.