The 25-Year-Old Soldier Who Became The Youngest Head Of State In The World

Following a surprise overthrow of Sierra Leone's president Joseph Momoh, 25-year-old soldier Valentine Strasser was made the new dictator of a country that had suffered more than 20 years of corrupt governments and declining living conditions. According to Buzzfeed, the coup was surprisingly easy for the soldiers who marched into Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, to decry the dearth of ordnance and wages, stealing weapons and valuables from armories and government officials' homes with few to oppose them. It was only a few hours between the time the rebellion arrived at the presidential palace and when President Joseph Momoh was on a helicopter departing from Freetown, effectively leaving Sierra Leone without a leader or a cabinet.

Buzzfeed reports that while the coup itself was planned, the aftermath was not. As the group of soldiers was mostly young men who had little to no political experience, Valentine Strasser was ultimately chosen to become the head of state, less because of his leadership qualities and more because of his proficiency with the English language. As one of the few soldiers to have gone to school, Strasser's literacy meant that he could read their manifesto which was broadcast to radios around the country. Also, it was believed that having a young soldier as the face of the government would inspire optimism among the beleaguered citizens, and so it was on April 29, 1992, that Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Strasser became the youngest head of state in the world.

Strasser's Time As Dictator

Buzzfeed states that, because Sierra Leone had spent so many years under corrupt politicians doing everything they could to hold onto their power while holding down their people, Valentine Strasser was welcomed with open arms to a population who believed that hope had finally arrived. There were signs of positive changes at the beginning of Strasser's reign: trash was being cleaned out of the streets, more utilities were being made available, and the economy was finally starting to perk up. These early indications of a better way of life won Strasser and the members of his National Provisional Ruling Council massive admiration from citizens, who painted their faces on the sides of buildings.

However, the cracks in Strasser's regime began to show within the same year he was elevated to power, starting with the execution of 29 men who were executed for their supposed attempt to overthrow him. It was later revealed that some of these men were already imprisoned during the time when the attack was being organized, and this event would haunt Strasser for the rest of his career. Also, word began to spread of the lavish lifestyles that Strasser and his cabinet lived using the state's funds which, considering the National Provisional Ruling Council was made up of men in their 20s, is no surprise. Expensive parties, cars, and drugs are just a few of the luxuries that Strasser and his men enjoyed while civilians struggled to survive in a country that could barely provide for them.

Fall From Grace

Buzzfeed reports that protests took place against Strasser's government and to quell tensions, he held an election with himself as one of the candidates. This angered his cabinet and, when Strasser attended a meeting with his right-hand man Maada Bio, Bio pulled out a gun and sent him to a helicopter to be escorted out of the country to Guinea. Because of a deal established with the U.N., Strasser received a chance to have his education paid for if gave up his power, and he went University of Warwick in Coventry, England. However, Strasser's human rights violations made him enemies all over, and he couldn't stay anywhere in the UK for long before attracting hatred.

After a failed attempt to start anew in the Gambia, Strasser returned to Freetown where he lives a reclusive life with his mother. While he has a few friends around town, he's mostly avoided by locals; Strasser allegedly became a heavy drinker after his fall from power and developed a reputation for lashing out at those who he feels disrespect him, according to those interviewed in the Buzzfeed article. Not much has been reported about Strasser, although there was an interesting update published in 2021 by The Patriotic Vanguard: he had surgery performed on one of his legs following a gunshot wound he suffered during Sierra Leone's civil war, and was welcomed back into a new home by current president Maada Bio, the very man who forced him out of the country in 1996 by gunpoint.