Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the Worldby George B.N. Ayittey
The recent turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East disproves the idea that dictatorships are acceptable to the people of these nations. From the uprising in Tunisia to the overthrow of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and rebellion across the region, the tide is turning against oppressive regimes. In this timely and urgent narrative, White House advisor on Africa George… See more details below
The recent turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East disproves the idea that dictatorships are acceptable to the people of these nations. From the uprising in Tunisia to the overthrow of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and rebellion across the region, the tide is turning against oppressive regimes. In this timely and urgent narrative, White House advisor on Africa George Ayittey takes a hard look at the fight against dictatorships around the world, from Eastern Europe in the twentieth century to the present turmoil in the Middle East. He describes the historic circumstances that led to the rise of brutal dictators and explains how, despite the best intentions and billions of dollars in aid, Western governments have been complicit in helping dictators consolidate power. He not only shows how the popular uprisings underway can best bring about democracy, but warns how democratic movements can inadvertently pave the way for more dictators. Ayittey examines strategies that have worked in the struggle to establish democracy through revolution, and suggests that by harnessing the power of democratic institutions and grassroots efforts, Africans can bring stability and security to the continent.
"[Ayittey's] forthright language, lucid analyses, and pragmatic attitude make this a compelling and timely challenge to the despotism-as-usual status quo." –Publishers Weekly
How to deal with despots in Africa and other parts of the world.
The founder of the Free Africa Foundation,Ayittey (Economics/American Univ.; Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future, 2004, etc.) has struggled for nearly 40 years to advance the idea that despotic governments are not caused by external factors—imperialism, for example—but by internal corruption and incompetence. In fact, the author argues that intervention from the United States and other Western powers often aggravates the problem. His latest work elaborates on "Ayittey's Law," which identifies the sequence of events that accompany what have been successful movements against despotic regimes. Ayittey divides the despotic regimes into "vampire states" and "coconut republics." The worst of the vampire states include Mexico and Nigeria, while Uganda and Tanzania are among the coconut republics. He also provides a helpful list of "the most odious and despicable" of the despotic regimes, which include Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Than Shwe of Myanmar and Isaiah Afwerki of Eritrea. The author writes that traditional societies can provide a basis for opposing despots and despotisms. In addition to providing recipes for tactics to be employed against differing kinds of despotisms, Ayittey also shows where movements against despots have failed. Freedom of expression and outreach through media access are among the tactics he recommends, and he cites the successful use of radio in Ghana and online activities in Egypt and Tunisia.
A useful step-by-step guide to "help oppressed people...bring democratic change to their countries peacefully—without violence, without firing a shot, and without Western help or intervention."
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Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the World
By George B. N. Ayittey, First edition: November 2011
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2011 George B. N. Ayittey
All rights reserved.
DESPOTIC REGIMES TODAY
"A political system based on force, oppression, changing people's votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate."
—Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
THE TERMS "DESPOT," "AUTOCRAT," "TYRANT," AND "DICTATOR" are used interchangeably throughout this book to refer to a ruler with absolute or unlimited power, but there are subtle differences. A despot may be more reminiscent of medieval monarchs who were convinced that they were endowed with the divine right to rule over their people. In other words, despotism is often infused with a dose of narcissism. An autocrat may have no such grand delusions about himself, but he still wields enormous power. A tyrant is a ruler who exercises power oppressively and harshly. The word dictator may be more applicable to a ruler with a military background who barks orders, issues diktats or edicts, and expects full compliance and obedience. It is possible to make other distinctions, such as "benign" or "benevolent" dictatorship, but this book does not do so.
Modern dictators come in different shades, races, skin colors, and religions, and they profess various ideologies. However, in general, they share common characteristics and idiosyncrasies. They are rulers who are neither chosen by their people nor represent their people.
The political watchdog Freedom House found in 2011 that 60 of the world's 194 countries are "partly free" and 47 are considered "not free." That means that the populations of roughly 55 percent of the world's nations are oppressed.
The continent of Africa has the dubious distinction of harboring more dictators per capita than any other region in the world. Teeming with tyrants, it is the most un-free continent in the world. The usual suspects received the lowest possible ratings for both political rights and civil liberties: Myanmar (Burma), Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. But China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are cited for having stepped up repressive measures with greater brazenness.
Despots are constantly refining their tactics and learning new tricks from each other in their efforts to control pro-democracy forces. To maintain their iron grip on power, despots invent new "enemies." This enables them to mobilize their security forces, keep their countries on a war footing, and suspend civil liberties. These enemies are often foreign, but they might also come from within, in which case they are labeled "neo-colonial stooges," "imperialist lackeys," or "CIA agents."
In some countries, despots justify their repressive rule by rallying the people around some nationalistic cause or some farcical "revolution." In Sudan, for example, Lieutenant-General Omar al-Bashir proclaimed an "Islamic Revolution" that will deliver the Sudanese from abject poverty and squalor by tapping the country's oil and mineral riches to create a model economy.
The despots have grown bolder as the resistance against them appears to be collapsing. The weakness of domestic opposition and inadequate support from democratic countries for that opposition, as well as fatigue, appear to be contributing factors. Unless the resistance—both domestic and international—is strengthened and democratic countries join forces, the despots will continue to gain momentum and win.
THE GALAXY OF DESPOTS: THE WORLD'S MOST ODIOUS AND DESPICABLE DICTATORS
On April 8, 2010, a coalition of opposition groups ousted Kyrgystan's dictator, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, from power in Bishkek. A continent away, Africans like myself cheered: "One coconut down, 54 more to harvest!" Then, on January 14, 2011, came a loud thud! Another coconut down, this one in Tunisia, inspiring others to shake coconut trees vigorously. Then another in Egypt on February 11, 2011, with more to follow.
The West was caught completely off guard by the upheavals in North Africa. In fact, the West—or the international community—had lost the will to fight dictators, preferring "dialogue," "partnership," or "rapprochement" with such hideous tyrants as Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Pundits intoned that "these people preferred strong men." But this author foresaw these upheavals. Despotism has never been acceptable to "these people," despite the veneer of "stability" despotism projects. There is one insidious and odious aspect of despotism that is particularly infuriating and galling—the political and cultural betrayal. As in Kyrgyzstan, many despots began their careers as erstwhile "freedom fighters," who were supposed to have liberated their people from repressive rule. Back in March 2005, Bakiyev rode the crest of the Tulip Revolution to oust another dictator, President Askar Akayev. So familiar are Africans with this phenomenon that, it may be recalled, we have this saying: "We struggle very hard to remove one cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing. Haba! [Darn!]."
In an article published in Foreign Policy, I denounced these revolutionary-turned-tyrant "crocodile liberators" who were joining the ranks of other fine specimens: the Swiss bank socialists, who socialize economic losses and stash personal gains abroad; the quack revolutionaries, who betray the ideals that brought them to power; and the briefcase bandits, who simply pillage and steal. I drew up a list of the "Worst of the Worst" dictators and warned of their imminent demise. Here is my list, based on these insidious, ignoble qualities of perfidy, cultural betrayal, and economic devastation. These criteria are decidedly non-Western.
THE LIST: THE MOST ODIOUS AND DESPICABLE
1. Omar al-Bashir of Sudan: A megalomaniac zealot who has quashed all opposition, Bashir is responsible for the deaths of more than 4 million Sudanese and has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. His Arab militia, the Janjaweed, may have halted its massacres in Darfur but it continues to traffic black Sudanese as slaves. Bashir himselfhas been accused of having several Dinka and Nuer slaves, one of whom escaped in 1995.
Years in power: 21
2. Kim Jong Il of North Korea: A personality-cult-cultivating isolationist with a taste for fine French cognac, Kim has pauperized his people, allowed famine to run rampant, and sent hundreds of thousands to prison camps (where as many as 200,000 languish today)—all while spending his country's precious few resources on creating a nuclear program. As he succeeded his father, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il is being succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Eun. The country is a "family business and property."
Years in power: 16
3. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe: A liberation "hero" in the struggle for independence who has since transformed himself into a murderous despot, Mugabe has arrested and tortured the opposition, squeezed his economy into astounding negative growth and billion-percent inflation, and funneled off a juicy cut for himself using currency manipulation and offshore accounts.
Years in power: 29
4. Than Shwe of Myanmar (Burma): A heartless military coconut-head whose sole consuming preoccupation is power, Than Shwe has decimated the opposition with arrests and detentions, denied humanitarian aid to his people after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and thrived off a threatened black-market economy of natural gas exports. This vainglorious general, bubbling with swagger, sports a uniform festooned with self-awarded medals, but he is too cowardly to face an untampered-with ballot box.
Years in power: 18
5. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran: Inflammatory, obstinate, and a traitor to the liberation philosophy of the Islamic Revolution, Ahmadinejad has pursued a nuclear program in defiance of international law and the West. Responsible for countless injustices during his five years in power, the president's latest egregious offense was leading his paramilitary goons, the Basij, toward the violent repression of protests after the June 2009 disputed presidential election, which many believe he lost.
Years in power: 5
6. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia: A "rat" worse than the "cockroach" (former Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam) he ousted, Zenawi has clamped down on the opposition, stifled all dissent, and rigged elections. After he stole the May 2005 election, his security thugs opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing more than 200 of them, and jailed more than 1,000 opposition leaders and supporters. Like a true Marxist revolutionary, Zenawi has stashed millions in foreign banks and acquired mansions in Maryland and London in his wife's name, according to the opposition—even as his barbaric regime collects a whopping US$1 billion in foreign aid each year. He won 99.6 per cent of the vote in the May 2010 election—just shy of the 100 percent Saddam Hussein won in a 2002 referendum for another seven-year term.
Years in power: 19
7. Isaiah Afwerki of Eritrea: Another crocodile liberator, Afwerki has turned his country into a national prison in which independent media are shut down, elections are categorically rejected, military service is mandatory, and the government would rather support Somali militants than its own people.
Years in power: 17
8. Hu Jintao of China: A chameleon despot who beguiles foreign investors with a smile and a bow but ruthlessly crushes any political dissent with brutal abandon, Hu has an iron grip on Tibet and is now seeking what can only be described as new colonies in Africa from which to extract the natural resources his growing economy craves and in which to resettle surplus Chinese population.
Years in power: 7
9. Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya: An eccentric megalomaniac infamous for his indecipherably flamboyant speeches and equally erratic politics, Qaddafi today runs a police state based on his version of Mao's Red Book—the Green Book—which includes a solution to "the problem of democracy." Under siege by rebels, he vowed to crush "the rats and traitors." After they seized his compound on August 24, the rebels vowed to smoke out the rat from the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the compound. So who's the real rat?
Years in power: 42
10. Hugo Chávez of Venezuela: The quack leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez promotes a doctrine of participatory democracy in which he is the sole participant, having jailed opposition leaders, extended term limits indefinitely, and closed independent media outlets. He has vowed to rule till 2021.
Years in power: 10
11. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan: Succeeding the eccentric tyrant Saparmurat Niyazov (who even renamed the months of the year after himself and his family), this obscure dentist has continued his late predecessor's repressive policies, explaining that, after all, he has an "uncanny resemblance to Niyazov."
Years in power: 4
12. Idris Deby of Chad: Having led a rebel insurgency against former dictator Hissene Habre, today Deby faces a rebel insurgency led by his own brother. Deby has drained social spending accounts to equip the military, co-opted opposition leaders, and is now building a moat around the capital, N'Djamena, to repel would-be insurgents.
Years in power: 20
13. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea: Obiang and his family literally own the economy in one of the world's most unequal countries; the masses are left in desperate poverty in a country where oil wealth yields a GDP per capita that should be on a par with many European states. (How much oil revenue the country earns is a "state secret.") Obiang is a vicious despot who tolerates no dissent and has amassed a fortune exceeding US$600 million. When he accused his government of corruption, incompetence, and poor leadership, the entire government resigned in protest in 2006. He became the chairman of the African Union in 2011. Imagine.
Years in power: 31
14. Yahya Jammeh of Gambia: An eccentric military buffoon who has vowed to rule for 40 years and claims to have discovered the cure for HIV/AIDS, Jammeh insists on being addressed as "His Excellency President Professor Dr. Al- Haji Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh." He claims he has mystical powers and will turn Gambia into an oil-producing nation; no luck yet. He has threatened to behead gays. He is terrified of witches and evil sorcerers, who, he claims, are harming his country. To root out witches, villagers at Jambur were rounded up and forced to drink a foul-smelling potion in 2009. Six people later died.
Years in power: 16
15. Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso: A tin-pot despot with no vision and no agenda save perpetuating himself in power by liquidating all political opponents and stifling dissent, Compaoré rose to power after murdering his predecessor, Thomas Sankara, in a 1987 coup. He dishonors the name of his own country, Burkina Faso, which in the Dioula language means "men of integrity."
Years in power: 23
16. Bashar al-Assad of Syria: A pretentious despot trying to fit into his father's shoes, which are too big for him, Assad has squandered billions on foreign misadventures in such places as Lebanon and Iraq. After neglecting the needs of his people, they rose up against him in May 2011. But he used tanks and his extensive security apparatus to crush them and maintain his tight grip on power.
Years in power: 10
17. Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan: A ruthless thug since Soviet times, Karimov has banned opposition parties, tossed as many as 6,500 political prisoners into jail, and labels anyone who challenges his iron grip on power as an "Islamic terrorist." What does he do with "terrorists" once they are in his hands? Torture them: Karimov's regime earned notoriety for boiling two people alive and torturing many others. Outside the prisons, the president's troops are equally indiscriminate, massacring hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in 2005 after a minor uprising in the city of Andijan.
Years in power: 20
18. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda: After leading a rebel insurgency that took power in 1986, Museveni declared, "No African head of state should be in power for more than 10 years." He is still in power, winning one coconut election after another. Political parties can be formed legally, but a political rally of more than seven people is illegal.
Years in power: 26
19. Paul Kagame of Rwanda: A true liberator who saved the Tutsis from complete extermination in 1994, Kagame now practices the same ethnic apartheid he sought to end. His Rwanda Patriotic Front dominates all levers of power: the security forces, the civil service, the judiciary, banks, universities, and state-owned corporations. Those who challenge him are accused of being "hatemongers" or "divisionists" and are arrested. Such was the case with opposition leaders who were jailed days before the August 2003 election. A similar campaign of vilification was waged against the opposition in the run-up to the August 2010 election.
Years in power: 16
20. Raul Castro of Cuba: Afflicted with intellectual astigmatism, Castro is pitifully unaware of the fact that the revolution he leads is obsolete, an abysmal failure, and totally irrelevant to the aspirations of the Cuban people. He blames the failure of the "revolution" on "foreign conspiracies," which he then uses to justify even more brutal clampdowns that lead to more failures. He operates from the offensive notion that the entire Cuban economy belongs to the Castro family alone.
Years in power: 2
21. Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus: An autocrat and former collective farm chairman, Lukashenko maintains an iron grip on his country, monitoring opposition movements with a secret police distastefully called the KGB. His brutal style of governance has earned him the title "Europe's last dictator"; he even gave safe haven to Kyrgyzstan's toppled leader during the uprising in that country in the spring of 2010.
Years in power: 16
Excerpted from Defeating Dictators by George B. N. Ayittey, First edition: November 2011. Copyright © 2011 George B. N. Ayittey. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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