The destroyers of worlds

Almost every morning I await the news bulletins with a sense of foreboding: what have the world’s increasingly awful strongmen and their cronies destroyed over the past 24 hours? In America both the rule of law and respect for human rights seem to be disappearing in a wave of authoritarianism; where the thuggish new president of Brazil joins the ranks of angry old men who relish attacking minorities and encouraging extra-judicial murder, not to mention undermining decades of efforts to protect the natural world. Things don’t look much better on the other continents. It’s the old story of money and guns making the world go round…

Surveying the global scene in January 2019 reveals a considerable number of baddies in control of a large number of very large (populous) countries. The following list of 25 is incomplete, but gives an impression of what has been going on. The trends don’t look too good either, as few of these guys – all men of course – or their parties and movements look like transferring power in inclusive ways to freely elected citizens.

Algeria (pop. = 41 million), where an aging General Bouteflika struggles on in the wake of the nightmare legacy of a bloody independence struggle and a civil war (with over 100,000 dead).

Belarus or White Russia (population = 10 million), where the last European dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power since 1994!

Cambodia (pop. = 16 mill.), where Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power since 1985 and was foreign minister from 1979 when Pol Pot was overthrown by a Vietnamese invasion…

Cameroon (pop. = 24 million), where the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) led by President Paul Biya since 1982 (36 years in power) oversees a descent into civil strife.

China, People’s Republic of (population = 1,380,000,000), where the CP has ruled since 1949 and President Xi plans to rule forever…

Cuba (population = 12 mill.), where the CP rules – in the Castro family variety – since 1959…

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (population = 80 million), where President Joseph Kabila took over in 2001 from his assassinated father and has failed to stop civil unrest…

Egypt (pop. = 95 million), where in 2013 General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup, has executed many dissenters and was elected President in 2014.

Eritrea (population = 5 million), where Isaias Afwerki became president in 1993 at independence from Ethiopia and has “over-militarised” the country ever since…

Hungary (population = 10 million), an EU member state which has become known as an “illiberal democracy”, returning Victor Orban as Prime Minister for a third term from 2018.

Iran (pop. = 81 million), where a bunch of priests are in control with a revolutionary guard keeping an eye on dissenters (since 1979 when the corrupt US backed Shah was ousted…)

Kazakhstan (population = 19 million), where President Nazarbayev has been in power since the end of the USSR in 1991…

Nicaragua (pop. = 6 million), where the ex-revolutionary leader of the Sandinistas, Daniel Ortega demonstrates how power corrupts and who seems to enjoy terrorising the citizens.

North Korea (pop. = 26 million), ruled by the Kim family dynasty, a nasty nuclear power…

The Philippines (population = 107 million), where President Rodrigo Duterte in power since 2016 takes pride in extra-judicial killings in his war (of terror?) on drugs…

Russia (population = 144 mill.), where Vladimar Putin wins elections again and again and in effect won the latest (2016) US election too, although the facts about this are still disputed!

Saudi Arabia (pop = 34 mill.), under feudal authoritarian control by the dynastic House of Saud (Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the King’s son, is strongman and Minister of Defence).

Sudan (pop = 42 million), where General Omar al-Bashir has been ruling the roost and fighting in Darfur, against South Sudanese independence, etc. since a coup d’état in 1989.

Syria (population = 18 million), where Bashar al-Assad, son of a dictator, is the greatest symbol of 21st century misery so far and has forced millions to flee as far as frontiers allow.

Thailand (population = 70 million), where generals currently led by Prayut Chan-o-cha have been in control since the latest in a series of coups d’état in 2014.

Togo (population = 8 million), where in 2005 Faure Gnassingbé won presidential elections and thus took over from his father who had been in power for 38 years!

Turkey (pop = 82 million), a groggy democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan…

Uganda (pop = 45 mill.), where President Museveni has been in power since 1986, 32 years!

Venezuela (population = 32 million), a Latin American tragedy where thugs under President Nicolás Maduro suppress dissent and fix elections while the economy falls apart…

Viet Nam (population = 96 million), where the CP rules both north and south since 1975…

Thus, at least 2.5 billion people – around one third of the world’s population – suffer the trials and tribulations of ”unfreedom” (see, inter alia: www.amnesty.org). Even more strangely millions of people have voted for these despotic madmen in assorted rigged and biased elections!

But let me not be too pessimistic… There are some countries that seem to be beacons of light, with progressive and (moderately) enlightened politicians. Eight candidates for the “goodie” category might include: Canada, Costa Rica, Finland, Indonesia, Nepal, Portugal, Tunisia and Uruguay. I have been lucky enough to have visited all but the first and last on this little list and I’m keeping a close watch on the good guys in the hope that their ideas will defeat the destroyers of worlds!

PS An exception proves the rule? Elections were organized at the end of December in the DRC and after a lengthy count it would appear that an opposition candidate will take over from Kabila… So there’s good news from the Congo too!

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