Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shocks the whole world and brings people’s attention back to authoritarian and autocratic regimes…including those who, in the past or in the present, have been ruled by dictators.
Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler, Pol Pot, Tito, Saddam Hussein, Genghis Khan: all eras have known their dictators and ours is no exception. Here are the portraits of 7 dictators who currently reign over their countries as absolute masters, as cruel and greedy as each other, to the detriment of their often miserable and miserable people.
1. Kim Jong-un — Leader of North Korea (Far East)
Kim Jong-un, born around 1983, is the youngest living dictator. He has been in power since the death of his father in 2011. His father impoverished the North Korean people, allowed famine to spread and threw hundreds of thousands of people into prison camps (there are about 200,000 still today), while spending the country’s scarce resources on a nuclear program. Kim Jong-un blithely continues in his father’s footsteps and governs the country with an extreme personality cult.
North Korea is today the most totalitarian and isolationist state in the world. Its human rights abuses are difficult to determine because Kim Jong-un’s government is violently muzzling all media in the country. There is no freedom of speech, religion or travel, and as the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world, minority rights are non-existent. The death penalty is widely used, without much legal process.
In 2013, following joint military exercises between the United States, Japan and South Korea, Kim Jong-un threatened them with nuclear war. In October 2013, he had his ex-girlfriend and eleven members of his dance group shot because of a video where they were scantily clad. On December 12, 2013, he executed his uncle, number two of the regime, allegedly for criminal acts and a counter-revolutionary faction. The North Korean regime not only punishes the dissident individual, but condemns his entire family, parents, grandparents, children, all of whom are sent to forced labor camps. Kim Jong-un is believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 31 officers and officials since September 2010.
2. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow – President of Turkmenistan (Central Asia)
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, born June 29, 1957, has been the President of Turkmenistan since February 14, 2007, a country in Central Asia surrounded by Afghanistan, Iran, the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. A dentist by training, Berdimuhamedow succeeded the eccentric tyrant Saparmurat Niyazov (who had the months of the year renamed after his own name and that of his family), whose repressive policies he kept for the simple reason, he explained: he looks a lot like him physically.
It was he who organized in 2004, when he was vice-president, the health policy imagined by his predecessor by eliminating field hospitals as well as 15,000 medical jobs to save money.
The regime of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is considered by several independent organizations to be a dictatorship: indeed, the cult of personality, the Soviet scores in the elections, pharaonic projects such as the so-called “Palace of Happiness” inaugurated with great fanfare for the 20 years of independence for sums disproportionate to the wealth of the country are all indications that converge towards this conclusion.
3. Bashar al-Assad — President of Syria (Middle East)
Bashar al-Assad, born in 1965, has been the president of Syria since 2000. He succeeded his father who ruled the country for the previous 30 years. He is described as a pretentious despot who somehow tries to fit into his father’s shoes, which would be too big for him. Al-Assad spent a fortune in countries like Lebanon and Iraq, while neglecting the needs of his people. Al-Assad is accused by the United States and Israel of supporting terrorist factions like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
In 2011, when an “Arab Spring” erupted in Syria, al-Assad’s response was to respond with police and military repression. This violence gave birth to the Free Syrian Army, made up of opponents and army deserters. Al-Assad has been accused of repeatedly using chemical weapons on opponents of his regime.
4. Alexander Lukashenko — President of Belarus (Eastern Europe)
Alexander Lukashenko, born in 1954, is a former farmer who became president of his small neighboring country of Russia. He was elected in 1994 and constantly re-elected ever since. But as the opposition does not have the right to speak, the international community disputes the result of all the elections in which he took part. Lukashenko is often called “Europe’s last dictator”, because of the continuous restriction of public freedoms in his country. It is forbidden to stay in the European Union as well as in the United States.
His power is supported by Russia, which supports him despite accusations from Western countries. Openly pro-nuclear Iranian, anti-homosexual and anti-Semitic, he defends himself by the fact that his country is a “democracy” and that thus everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
5. Isaias Afewerki — President of Eritrea (Africa)
Isaias Afewerki, born in 1946, has been the president of Eritrea since its independence in May 1993. He is the first and only president in the short history of this country. This former secretary general of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front was initially considered a liberator. But once in power, Afewerki has instead turned his country into a prison where independent media have been shut down, elections thrown out and endless military service is compulsory.
Diplomatic messages revealed by Wikileaks in December 2010 painted an unflattering picture of Afewerki’s government. “Young Eritreans are fleeing their country, the economy is dying, the prisons are overflowing and the dictator remains cruel and suspicious. Is the country on the verge of disaster? asked US Ambassador Ronald McMullen at the time.
More than half of the population suffers from malnutrition, which has not prevented the country from refusing foreign food aid, because, as the Eritrean ambassador declared to the media: “foreign food aid demonizes our population and makes them lazy”. In a report published in 2013, Amnesty International counted more than 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea, arbitrarily arrested and held without trial in atrocious conditions. Afewerki’s government is accused of “authoritarianism”.
6. Mswati III — King of Swaziland (Africa)
Mswati III, born in 1968, is the king of Swaziland, a small African country of 1.2 million inhabitants. He succeeded his father in 1986 and is currently the last absolute monarch in Africa. Because he was raised and deced in England, it was initially believed that he would modernize the kingdom… But he instead showed that he did not want any change in traditions or customs. In 2012, he watched thousands of girls and young women dance topless at a traditional head-to-toe party for him to choose who would become his 10th wife (his father had had around 100).
The mother of the selected girl then sued the king, accusing him of kidnapping. Mswati, who rules by decree, then announced that the judiciary in Swaziland no longer had the right to issue regulations limiting the power of the king. While his country is one of the poorest countries in the world and 26.5% of its population is a victim of AIDS and drought, King Mwsati III bought for himself and his wives 20 BMWs and a Daimler-Chrysler from half a million dollars. The king said in 2013 that only death can undo a traditional union, even though Swazi culture allows marriages to end.
7. Teodoro Obiang Nguema – President of Equatorial Guinea (Africa)
Teodoro Obiang Nguema, born in 1942, took over as head of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea in 1979 following a coup against his uncle. He was re-elected several times with scores approaching 100% – strongly indicating interference in the elections. Equatorial Guinea, which has a population of just 750,000, was a relatively unnoticed dictatorship until oil reserves were discovered there in 1995. Since then, oil companies have invested billions of dollars in the country. The annual per capita income is therefore $4,472, while more than 60% of Equatorial Guineans earn less than $1 a day. The oil money therefore goes directly to President Obiang, who declared that there was no poverty in Guinea and that people were mostly used to living in a different way. According to Forbes magazine, Obiang is one of the richest heads of state in the world, with an estimated fortune of $600 million. He is also now the oldest president still in office in the world (after 43 years in power).
In his country, there is no public transport, no media and only 1% of government income goes to health. When asked why he keeps so much of his country’s money for himself, Obiang explains that this helps him avoid corruption. State radio has already reported that President Obliang is in constant contact with the “Almighty” and therefore can “commit murders without having to answer to anyone and without going to hell”. .