Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Don't call it a comeback"

First of all, my apologies to LL Cool J for the title of this post, but it's just too fitting to pass up. What else could describe the attempts of Nigeria's former military dictator Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (pictured at left with Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak) to stand as a candidate in Nigeria's 2007 presidential elections?

After taking power in a military coup in 1985, Babangida ruled as a classic African big man, and cut no corners to show his countrymen that he deserved to be discussed in the same sentences as his contemporaries in Zaire and Uganda. While at first styling himself as a political reformer, Babangida quickly discovered that ruling by decree freed him of tedious legislative busywork, and that his modest civil service salary and pension would necessarily be inferior, from a personal economics standpoint, to kleptocracy.

Babangida's comeback tour is not without precedent, as dictators of the 1980s have, more and more, been looking to return. Not all have been successful, such as Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's ill-fated presidential campaign in Haiti, but really, if voters in Nicaragua could forgive Daniel Ortega, who's to say that Babangida won't tug on Nigerian heartstrings in the same way? One good, or even bad!, turn may truly deserve another.

By the time Babangida was ousted in a military coup by (the now deceased) General Sani Abacha, the ousted dictator had left little to show for his rule beyond a string of extrajudicial murders, human rights abuses, fraudulent elections, and empty state coffers. On the plus side, however, he does have his own website (viewable here), and I'm a sucker for a dictator with a website.

Monday, November 13, 2006

US sources: Fidel dying of cancer

Time Magazine is reporting that unnamed "American intelligence officials" are claiming that octogenarian Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is dying of cancer, corroborating earlier reports from Brazilian sources. The Cuban government, of course, is denying everything. Should Fidel live to see February 16, he will have been in power for 48 years - two more than the late Kim Il-Sung of North Korea.

Fidel's younger, yet still elderly, brother Raoul is currently ruling in Fidel's stead, and is expected to be Cuba's new dictator once Fidel kicks the bucket. We have yet to hear any official statements from the US government on what they expect from US-Cuba relations after Fidel. Similarly, Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez, who has visited his mentor in the hospital, hasn't said a word about what he expects when his despicable role model has died. Expecting that Raoul, who is now 75, stays close to Fidel's line politically, Fidel's departure may mean very little indeed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lesson understood.

Now that the Butcher of Baghdad has been sentenced to hang, what have we learned?

I know it's a hoary question, but it's still a valid one. The European Union, fainting at the mere thought of violence, simply thinks it's wrong to execute anyone for any reason, as does Amnesty International. Opposition from these quarters was to be expected. After all, they tend to oppose the death penalty in more or less every instance, no matter who it is that's to be executed. No lessons learned here.

There have, however, been a few observers keen enough to learn one of the real lessons of Saddam's ignominious date with destiny. A group of Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa have welcomed Saddam's death sentence, and hopes it sends a message to Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe, as well as deposed dictators Augusto Pinochet of Chile and former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, saying:

"[we] believe that together with the Pinochet, Taylor, and other recent cases, this case sends an unequivocally clear and resounding message to dictators and perpetrators of serious crimes under international and national laws. [We] hope that this loud message will not escape the ears of tyrants like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and all those who serve under him in the commission of torture and other crimes against humanity"
While stating that they "deplore the death penalty as a method of punishment", they welcome the trend of dictators facing justice at the hands of their former subjects in a court of law. As you can imagine, this trial has resonated strongly in countries who have recently rid themselves of their dictators, but less surprisingly, it's created quite an impression on another group: dictators still in power.

Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is nervously talking about about the "instability" that Saddam's hanging will cause in Iraq, while Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez predictably opposes Saddam's date with the gallows (although he just as predictably supports hanging George W. Bush).

Not surprisingly, most dictators have closed ranks around Saddam because they've drawn exactly the same conclusion as Iraqis and the aforementioned exiles in Zimbabwe have: if they ever have to account for their crimes in a courtroom of their own people, they're as good as dead. No dictator is afraid of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and frankly, who can blame them? The extradition proceedings take an eternity. They confine you in large, well appointed quarters. And no matter what - under any circumstances - is there any chance of receiving the death penalty.

There isn't a dictator on earth that's afraid of receiving three hot meals a day and cable television for the rest of his life, when the alternative might be answering for genocide, torture and political repression at the end of a rope. Even merely being deposed and killed isn't regarded with quite the same horror. Nicolae Ceauşescu was tried in secret and shot, avoiding the indignity of hanging, and of having his victims testifying before him and making him confront his bloody hands.

Saddam's trial by free Iraqis represented exactly the sort of justice rulers like Saddam worked so hard to avoid, and I imagine that dictators across the world loosened their collars in discomfort when they heard the verdict. This is, quite literally, their worst case scenario - worse even than exile, prison, or being overthrown in a coup d'etat, or even dying in combat. There literally is nothing that scares them more than what Saddam is facing, and it's a fear they should certainly respect.

I don't know if the same day will ever come for Mugabe, Castro, or Omar al-Bashir, but Saddam's fate will give hope to the right people - the people currently being ground under the heel of dictators seeking to restore the justice they've been denied for too long.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Check. The former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, has been sentenced by a court in Baghdad to death by hanging for his role in orchestrating the massacre of Dujail in 1982.

Should his automatic appeal fail, Saddam's sentence will be carried out "within 30 days" after his appeal is exhausted. The appeal is scheduled to take place within the next 30 days as well, meaning, quite possibly, that the world may finally be rid of the Strongman of Tikrit once and for all before 2007.

The reaction in Iraq has been generally ecstatic. After all: what captive nation hasn't secretly dreamed of the day their tyrants are brought to heel by their terrified subjects? As usual, however, the European Union is sniffing about how uncivilized this hanging business is, and even one of Saddam's harshest critics is arguing for mercy.

Irony pervades Saddam's date with the hangman on a number of levels. Many of the European nations now opposing Saddam's future hanging showed some fondness for the noose themselves when dealing with the Germans who had terrorized their nations during the second world war. On another level, Saddam and the Ba'ath party were extremely fond of using public hangings as a means of maintaining control of the state. Now, of course, he's almost certainly going to feel what it's like when they tie the knot right behind his ear during the last minute of his wretched life.

Yet another level of irony is present here. For those people who don't know - or don't want to know - about the death penalty, hanging is considered a punishment for the lowest sorts of crimes committed by common criminals, like thieves, murderers and rapists. Saddam, of course, considers himself a military and political figure, and therefore, entitled to a more "honorable" execution by firing squad as befits a man of his stature. With any luck, he's already starting to feel the rope tighten around his neck, and the world will finally be rid of one of the 20th century's most bloodthirsty tyrants.