The world’s youngest leader

Kim Jong Un, the third family member to rule North Korea, with military personnel during a tactical-rocket firing drill, 2014. From Xinhua/Polaris


The world’s youngest leader is one of the most feared person on the planet. Having had been chosen to be the next leader of North Korea in 2011, Kim had big shoes to fill; his father and grandfather were much respected and revered by the North Korean people. In hindsight, it can be said that Kim definitely did a good job in establishing his own sovereign right to rule.

So how did Kim manage to climb his way up to power and in such a short period of time?

Before we take a look at his strategies in establishing his rule (or fear), let us look at his background.

Kim Jong-un is the third and youngest son of Kim Jong-il, and also the world’s youngest leader. He is said to be born on 8 January 1982/3/4, the second-born son of Kim Jong-il’s second mistress, Ko Young Hee.

In the last half of the 1990s, Kim attended two different schools in Switzerland. The first of these was the International School of Berne, in Gümligen, and the second was the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school, near Bern.

In 2000, he returned to Pyongyang, where he attended the military academy,  Kim Il-sung Military University (KISMU).

Around 2009, Kim was personally chosen by Kim Il-sung to be his heir. His older brothers were deemed to be unsuitable for leadership, with one said to be ‘too feminine’. Kim was seen as the closest fit with Kim Il-sung’s personality and with the most potential to lead North Korea.

It is said that in order to more closely resemble his revered grandfather, he was ‘encouraged’ to put on weight (estimated to be between 265-287 pounds in 2015).

Upon Kim Il-sung’s death in 2011, Kim had an arranged marriage with Ri Sol Ju, and it is speculated that the couple have a child.

Kim Jong-un had to prove himself that he was capable of becoming North Korea’s new leader to experienced military party officials. He had to cement his power and legitimacy so much so that no one would dare question his right to rule.

Thus began Kim’s pursuit in consolidating power among the country’s governing elites, which was and is done mainly in two ways:

  1. Exiling or executing high-level officials (see public execution of his uncle Jang Song Taek)
  2. Continuous military provocations: nuclear development, missile testings et cetera. 

The first approach involves instilling fear among the party elites, a stark reminder to them who is ultimately in power. The second approach is mostly to prove to the international community that despite his young age, he is not ‘soft’ and definitely someone to be reckoned with. Also, this approach aims to reassure the North Korean citizenry that North Korea can still hold its ground in the face of stronger powers under his capable leadership.







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Currently living and pursuing my undergraduate studies in South Korea.

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