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Friday, 24 August 2007

THE CHARISMA OF DICTATORS BY TANONOKA J WHANDE!


 
THE CHARISMA OF DICTATORS
by
Tanonoka Joseph Whande
 
Someone said 'I have met the enemy and he is us.' How scary.
But we do these things to ourselves, don't we?
 
The world's love affair with dictators never seems to end. One would have thought that, as times move along, attitudes and tolerance to inhuman behavior would harden. But, alas, we are still at the mercy of murderous rulers who ignore the international community's restraining voice with impunity.
 
Worst among enemies of good governance is diplomacy. They call each other 'His Excellency' when the excellent people of their countries are being killed by dictators who, because of diplomacy, cannot be confronted by other concerned leaders, who, basically, are just cowards that prefer to look the other way while humankind cannibalises itself.
There should not be any doubt as to who people remember better. The villain or the Samaritan. The good are remembered as much as the bad but the bad ones always appear to hog more of the limelight.
 
Hitler overshadows decent luminaries and philanthropists and even discoverers of important medicines. There are people who think Pol Pot means 'skull' owing to the infamous killing fields of Kampuchea. We have Rwanda. Sudan. In this day and age, the world is still held spellbound by murderous dictators and seem helpless to do anything about them.
 
Unfortunately, in order for us to highlight the extra-ordinary exploits of well-meaning people, we are compelled to highlight the prowess of their adversaries and their cavalier exploits. While we talk about those who triumphed against 'evil', we are obligated to talk about those who advanced evil and almost succeeded.
 
To know good, one has to experience the bad.
 
We cannot talk about Nelson Mandela's triumphs without talking about apartheid, about Verwoerd, Vorster or Botha. Even for Botswana, to highlight the role played by their three dikgosi, we have to take note of the formidable odds they were up against.
 
Legends are legends because they were either extremely good or extremely bad. Good characters are only recognized when compared to the bad ones.
 
The world is full of legends.
 
Poor Haiti. Papa Doc Duvalier. Baby Doc Duvalier. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest, for God's sake.
 
Then there was Bokassa. Abacha. Pol Pot, who appears to have bequeathed his iniquities to Robert 'Pol Pot' Mugabe. Remember Pinochet, Mobutu and the stubborn dictators in Burma? Don't forget Israel's frequent changing of the guards, all of whom bent on decimating a certain section of their geographical immediacy.
 
But dictators blossom with support at home. Would Adolf Hitler have gone as far as he is said to have gone if he did not have the support of the locals?
 
Archives show so much violence in pre-independence South Africa with just about all of that violence being black on black: the oppressed fighting each other. Dictators thrive on internal support. Even the white oppressors in South Africa got as far as they did because of local support, from both blacks and whites.
 
What do records of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission show? How many 'guerillas' are recorded to have 'massacred', or just even abused white oppressors?
 
Outsiders never understand how one man can hold a whole nation spellbound, offering little resistance. When I was abroad, I was always at pains to explain how we, in Rhodesia and South Africa, could be kept under subjugation by a few white people. The phenomenon is real; it is true. Oppressed peoples behave like a dog hit by a car but still alive and determined to die at home.
 
In Rhodesia, as in South Africa, a few thousand white people kept millions of Africans under brutal repression for as long as they wished until the international community stepped in. Yes, there was a guerrilla war but Zimbabwe's independence was negotiated after the white minority government realised that if they did not compromise, they would lose everything. It was not an all out military victory that brought Zimbabwe's independence. Freedom fighters did not march into Harare. The international community can make things happen if they want which is why I do not understand SADC.
 
There are several situations that we ignore, at our own peril, of course. One is the fact that when people are really oppressed and repressed, they hardly protest. They comply more than they protest. There may be scattered protests here and there but the majority will 'mind their own business.' Real oppression offers no alternatives. Today, Zimbabwe is a classic example.
 
Unfortunately, the attitude of the neighbours or the surrounding countries also encourages or discourages what is going on in the troubled country. Zimbabwe, again, is a classic example where the neighbours, because of their inactivity and 'non-involvement in another country's affairs' are actually encouraging the killing of innocent people by a rabid and desperate dictator.
 
Anyway, it's only in those countries where the oppression is not total that you find some people making noise or protests. I, being Zimbabwean, wish we could have the kind of freedom that Batswana take for granted.
 
Secondly, no tyrant in whatever country or continent can survive without local support because local support is what matters the most. 'Local support' is internal support. No dictator can survive without it.  
 
 
"Paradoxically though, many dictatorships survive with the support of a significant swath of the populace," says Gerard Padro i Miquel, assistant professor of Political Economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. "In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, rulers such as Kenya's former President Daniel arap Moi maintained power by exploiting ethnic and regional differences via a policy of selective economic rewards and privileges. In effect, the deep ethnic divisions found in much of Africa are life insurance policies for dictators."
 
How long could Haiti's 'Papa Doc' Duvalier have lasted without local support? Idi Amin, brutal as history records, had plenty of local support. Even his fellow African presidents had the temerity to endorse him by electing him Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, a stupidity they just recently denied the slave trader, Omar al-Bashir, of Sudan.
 
 
Dictators appear to have a hypnotic charisma that draws people to them. We have seen it in history. Until Pinochet died, there were people who loved and admired him and who would have gladly died for him. Look at Gaddafi, Jean-B├ędel Bokassa; even Hitler and Pol Pot have, to this day, die-hard admirers.
 
Mobutu Sese Seko and Kamuzu Banda terrorized their nations yet there were thousands who supported them. My compatriots in Zimbabwe are no exception.
 
The thing is that regardless of how bad a situation is, there are always people who benefit from the status quo and they and their hangers-on will fight to maintain it. Alas, they will have 'state apparatus' to inflict their wishes on an unwilling population.
 
Generally, dictators maintain power through terror and the naked use of force applied by huge standing armies and police forces, who, amazingly, almost always obey the dictator.
 
Zimbabwe is such a painful experience. Violence and repression have replaced the constitution and the rule of law. Once touted as having the most literate labour force, one of the best ground forces, a very efficient and able police force, etc, today the entire nation is cowed by the dictator who, long ago, ceased to be an asset to the country and its peoples. No one is happy with him anymore. Police officers are being retrenched from their meager paying jobs in their thousands; teachers earn less than what a maid in Botswana gets, soldiers are removed from barracks and asked to work from home to avoid feeding them.
 
Transport has all but stopped and supermarkets are closing down by the day. And in that sea of misery, you find people who still support the man. This alone tells us that the support is based on more than money or rewards.
 
There are people who always believe in the philosophy espoused by dictators.
 
They are hypnotic, aren't they?
 
Dying for one's principle or belief is one thing but blowing oneself for the same is foul. One should not die for a principle. Because dictators don't have much time for sanity, one must choose to stay alive and suffer injustice than to die for it. Alive, one can fight for their principle. The difference means success and the prevailing of good.
 
We can't all just 'give up pondering the vagaries of the human race and its capacity for cruelty?'
 
The biggest tragedy is when humanity fails to learn from its history and mistakes, for we have been given ample time and experience to avoid evil.
 
I have met the enemy and he is us.
 
*Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Botswana-based Zimbabwean writer.
 
 


 

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