There’s been a lot of talk about dictators recently, leaders who have absolute power over their people and can decide on a whim whether they’ll have access to healthcare, schools or employment, basically any of the basic necessities for living a happy, fulfilling life. This has mostly been down to the ever growing debate surrounding Donald Trump, and whilst we’ve established what he might do about weed, it’s hard to escape the constant Hitler parallels. Calling Trump a dictator is the trendy thing to do right now, but what about the actual dictators we still have skulking around? It’s easy to think of proper dictators as being in the past and in many ways they are, Gaddafi and his horrifying rape chamber is a good example. But according to Freedom House, the US based organisation that ranks nations by their level of freedom, there are still around 50 countries that fall under the ‘not free’ category.
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They’re headed up by a range of sinister and sometimes bizarre characters, often pariahs on the international stage due to human rights or other violations at home. They stay tucked away in their kingdoms pretty much just doing their thing. Power is an addictive drug, and whilst the days of the supreme ruler/overlord are over, these modern dictators employ a range of methods to ensure they hold onto it, usually hurting a whole bunch of people in the process. Here are five of the worst culprits.
Alexander Lukashenko – Belarus
Commonly referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko is a spidery character with a big moustache and a bigger forehead. He served in the Russian Army and was the only deputy to vote against Belarus’ withdrawal from the old Soviet Union in 1991 which says a lot about his close ties and loyalty to the Kremlin. Plus if any nation knows how to do dictatorships it’s the Russians. A common theme between dictators is their manipulation of constitutional referendums to increase their power, and after a rigged vote in 1996 Lukashenko’s right to rule was extended indefinitely whilst granting him sweeping control over all areas of Belarusian law.
Since then a number of other heavily controlled elections and referendums have further cemented that power, so what’s he done with it? In 2003 he provoked widespread condemnation for selling arms to Iran and Iraq, the latter of which was embroiled in conflict with pretty much the entire Western world, a money making scheme that was perhaps more shaky than his usual ploy of buying very cheap Russian oil, refining it and selling it onto Europe at vastly inflated prices. Still, not as left-field as his role in starting a international striptease.
Weirdly known in Belarus as ‘Daddy’, Lukashenko has been praised by leaders like Hugo Chavez and Putin, so not exactly the best of the best. My favourite thing about Lukashenko are his inflammatory but hilarious remarks, including:
It’s better to be a dictator than be gay.
If someone is a lesbian, it’s a man’s fault.
You need to control the country, and the main thing is not to ruin people’s lives.
Some serious words of wisdom there, phrases to live by for sure. Perhaps not as funny in light of the thousands that have been arrested, exiled or simply disappeared for speaking out, but it’s comforting to know that Lukashenko will never be more than small fry on the world stage. His cringe-worthy presidential website is the icing on the cake for this pretty ridiculous, somewhat irrelevant dictator lurking on the outskirts of Europe.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – Equatorial Guinea
Moving onto Africa, the small nation of Equatorial Guinea and maybe the weirdest member of this list, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Seeing as his name is insane and totally not worth typing out again, I’m going to call him Teo from now on, and boy does this guy fit the old, crazy dictator stereotype perfectly. The longest serving leader in Africa and the longest serving president in the world, Teo knows a thing or two about holding onto power, which he seized from his uncle, Francisco Macias, in a 1979 coup d’etat. Macias was executed by foreign firing squad because Teo’s own troops believed he had magic powers, so a fitting start to his rule.
Forbes claim Teo is worth an estimated $600 million, and in 2003 the ruler took full control of his country’s treasury, claiming he was preventing officials from being corrupt in what must be the biggest pile of bullshit ever purported by anyone. Equatorial Guinea is one the most corrupt nations in the world, too opaque to even be included on the Transparency International corruption index, and it seems as if Teo has essentially used the nation as a giant bank account to make him and his family rich. In a nation where the average citizen lives on less than $2 a day, national income goes on luxury mansions, yachts, $2 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia and even a $55 million private jet with gold-plated toilets, almost as luxurious as gold-plated KFC.
But the most messed up part of Teo’s repertoire, despite the brutal repression employed to keep his populace in check, is the claim that he eats people in order to gain their power and boost his sexual prowess. Specifically the brain and testicles, which I guess makes sense, and in 2004 a political rival claimed he had killed and then “devoured” a police commissioner, stating on the radio that:
I say devoured because this commissioner was buried without the testicles and the brain.
Wow, so why doesn’t anyone get rid of him? Besides his complete control over every aspect of the security forces, Teo has cultivated an image of divine immunity, a cult of personality. People wear clothes with his face on them and presidential speeches end with good wishes to himself, not the nation. State-controlled radio proclaims him to be a god with the ability to, “kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell,” and some believe he has magical powers like his uncle.
It’s safe to say this dude is an absolute nutjob, rumour has it he has cancer so hopefully won’t be about much longer. Maybe he’ll die perched on top of a gold toilet, listening to MJ just loud enough to drown out the suffering he’s caused. Prick.
Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe
I couldn’t write a rundown of dictators in 2017 and not include this dude, well-renowned arse wipe and everyone’s favourite strongman besides maybe Kim Jung-un. Mugabe has a good backstory: he was a teacher who became a politician to try and help overthrow the white minority government, was imprisoned for 11 years and later fled to Mozambique before returning in 1976 to lead a guerilla army. His Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) held a majority in parliament after elections in 1980, another example of a dictator getting into power through legal means, but proceeded to do a generally terrible job of just about everything.
Initial investment created a wealthy upper class, whilst despite new schools the majority of the population languished in poverty amidst rising unemployment and a growing population. Ever since ZANU came to power Zimbabwe’s been rocked by racial violence, and throughout the 1980’s Mugabe’s forces ruthlessly killed and tortured their war through tens of thousands of people, at one point by extending a famine through deliberate food shortages. Whenever he loses his grip on power due to the terrible economic management, which has led to hyper-inflation and brutal land expropriations, Mugabe brands opponents as enemies through racially charged patriotic rhetoric, distracting from himself and destroying them.
Other notable moments include endorsing gang rape of opponents, cheating on his wife with a maid and that time he tripped and became an internet sensation.
You almost have to hand it to the guy, it’s no mean feat to hold onto power for 30 years when you’ve made as many enemies as he has. Still, he’s got rich whilst directly contributing to the pain and suffering of millions, which, if you ask me, pretty much disproves the existence of karma. Let’s end with a poignant quote from the man himself:
The only white man you can trust is with a dead white man.
Bashar El-Assad – Syria
Almost like Mugabe, I felt like considering the ongoing situation across the Mediterranean I should include this dick. You can tell just from his always slightly sneering face that he’s not someone you want to be trapped in an elevator with, just like you don’t currently want to be stuck in Syria, considering the giant fucking mess that it now is. The Assad family have ruled Syria since 1971, first his dad Hafez, then Bashar in 2000. By 2005 Bashar was being accused of involvement in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, before in 2011 the Arab Spring reared its head and everything went a bit downhill.
Mass protests in January demanding sweeping freedom reforms were brutally put down, and by July 2012 the country was in a state of civil war with 20,000 dead. Assad continued to claim the blame lay on foreign subversion, but a complex battle between the Free Syria Army, Government forces, ISIS and other jihadist groups was underway, in which Assad fared poorly until NATO and Russian involvement in 2014 and 2015. As of right now fighting is still endemic, and due to heavy Russian support it looks likely he’ll hold onto power, proving both my karma theory and also the potency of chemical weapons, cluster bombs and Putin.
The argument as to whether foreign nations should get involved is a difficult one because national sovereignty should be respected, and you only have to look as far as the Iraq War to see that intervention can cause more problems than it solves. But then again, ISIS need to be countered and if war crimes are being carried out something surely has to be done. None of this matters that much in real life, considering Russia would be wading in regardless and Putin looks set on propping up Assad, strengthening his Middle Eastern influence considerably in the process.
With any luck Bashar El-Assad will end up on trial for war crimes, and I can’t think of many things more satisfying than seeing him pay for what he’s done in a court of law, not getting the easy way out like Gaddafi, Mussolini or Hitler, especially after the terrible devastation to cities like Aleppo.
To finish, here’s a picture of Lukashenko looking like a lost dad:
It’s hard to imagine the serene pile of forehead wax in the picture above commands the authority of an entire country, but I guess if Putin and Trump can team up to poison Hillary Clinton then anything is possible politically.