Posted by: Martin | January 17, 2011

The Dictatorship Contest

Time for a lighter read

Regarding external military interventions to remove dictators, for the really bad ones like Idi Amin or Pol Pot, it should be a no brainer.  One can probably make a good case for the a-little-less bad ones too, but the question is what type of dictator Gbagbo is.

There is a great site called the dictatorship.com that takes a  humorous angle on relative badness of 20th cetury dictators. They have something called the dictatorship contest where 20th century dictators are pitted against each other in an elimination tournament to crown the “dictator of dictators”.  Dictators are judged subjectively on how “dictatory” they are on criteria such as longevity, brutality, style, flair, eccentricity, audacity, paranoia and kleptocracy.

A few examples:

Uh oh, prepare yourselves for a first round shocker. Granted Hitler pretty much has the lock for greatest bastard of all time award; his mass murder and wartime killing is off the scale and as a demagogue he will be studied for centuries, but here is has drawn a master of despotism. It should not be underestimated how difficult it is to keep the different provinces of Congo/Zaire together but Mobuto did it for 32 years. He had panache (hosting Rumble in the Jungle in 1974) he had political skills (an army uprising? Give every soldier a promotion) and he thieved more money from the State coffers than any man who has ever lived. By contrast Hitler was, though evil personified, rather dull.

Although Suharto has a respectably long rule and a superb economic record behind him he is up against a textbook autocrat. Location: Latin America, Path to power: coup d’etat, Court dress: extravagant militaria, Road to riches: theft and corruption. Besides which is a better way for a dictator to end his life? Attempting to fake illness to avoid a humiliating trial or perishing in a hail of machinegun fire on the San Cristobal highway? No contest, Trujillo triumphs.

An interesting pairing this. Two WWII fascist collaborators duking it out for the next round. Though that is where the similarities end. Whereas Antonescu deposed a reigning king and then snatched power from his coalition partners the Iron Guard, Quisling’s first government collapsed after seven days. Vidkun vanquished. Antonescu goes through.

Gbagbo in the Dictatorship Contest

The obvious question now is how Gbagbo would score in the dictatorship contest. Let’s see:

  • One relatively unique feature of Gbagbo is that it is a husband and wife dictator couple.  Simone Gbagbo is an important political figure in her own right and is seemingly more hardline than Laurent himself.    Could Simone Gbagbo be the closest the world has come to a female dictator?
  • I am thinking of a match up between Simon Gbagbo and Imelda Marcos. Simone’s Spa trips to Switzerland are  far behind Imelda’s legendary multi-million dollar shopping trips to Europe and the US, but Simone holds much more important political positions than Imelda ever did.  And Imelda’s political career was entirely based on her association with her dictator husband and that association had a lot to do – I suspect – with Imelda being a stunning beauty. Simone on the other hand is – and I believe even hardcore Gbagbo supporters agree here – quite a minger.
  • In terms of the scale of Gbagbo’s brutality, I have seen estimates of 6,000 civilians killed since Gbagbo came to power which puts him on par with the likes of Pinochet.  Not quite Idi Amin levels yet in other words.  One thing adding to Gbagbo’s brutality score though is that he doesn’t take political prisoners, he kills stariaght away instead.  And the targets are not only the classic ones, ie opposition politicans and journalists, but also artists and comedians such as Camara “H” Yerefe.
  • Gbagbo’s got to lose some points for losing half the country to a rebellion. It’s not as bad as Ghaddafi losing a war to Tchad though.
  • Gbagbo has two wives and solid rumours say that he has many mistresses and even children with some of his minister’s daughters.   This is however nothing unusual among dictators, and as womanisers, Mobutu, Mussolini and Mswati of Swaziland are far ahead.
  • Gbagbo’s number one asset in the dictatorship contest is that he is holding on against practically the whole world. During the cold war a dictator could easily get support from one superpower against the other, but Gbagbo acts in an era where dictators have a tougher time, and he can’t even pretend that he is a rampart against radical islam as the Ivory Coast doesn’t have much of that. And holding on while losing the central bank and diplomatic representation across the world is unique – even Kim Jong Il, Mugabe and the Burmese junta control their own embassies.   If Gbagbo keeps this up for years and works on getting more eccentric and paranoid he might go far in the contest.

So, in summary, at the moment Gbagbo is a lesser dictator, and likely to exit in the first round.  Unless he is lucky with the draw and is pitted against someone like Scandinavia’s only (thank god) entry in the contest; Norway’s Vidkun Quisling.

Quisling’s party’s best electoral score was 2% in elections of 1933, and then the party got even less 1936.  In comparison Gbagbo’s score of 46% in 2010 is respectable, although I suppose real dictators aren’t supposed to score well in free and fair elections. Getting 99.98% in rigged elections is more like it.

While staying in power for only three years and – very much unlike Gbagbo – with the help of a European superpower, Quisling does score on managing to get his opponents out of their Golf Hotel, ie the town of Elverum where the Norwegian government fled in April 1940.

Another parallel  between Quisling and Gbagbo is that they have great onomatopoetic names.  I have seen it noted several times that Gbagbo sounds like a firearm:
Gba – Gbo – Gba – Gbo!!!  GbanGban!

As for Quisling:

To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Actually it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous

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