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Iron-fisted rulers always meet similar fates

By Brian Chitemba

The bloody end of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was as brutal and ruthless as his 42-year iron rule of the oil rich North African country. However, Gaddafi is not the only dictator who met a violent end because history shows that iron-fisted rulers have met a similar fate, and in most cases, with the same brute force they used to assume power.

Muammar Gaddafi killed by rebels he called 'rats'
Muammar Gaddafi killed by rebels he called ‘rats’

Gaddafi is the victim of the Arab Spring, the popular uprisings which swept across Arab countries and forced out former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Ben Ali fled the country while the ailing Mubarak is currently facing trial on a battery of charges from embezzlement, and corruption to human rights violations.

Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, in power since 1978, is also presently fighting to remain in power as fierce protests against his rule continue to sweep across the country. While he has managed to fend off the protests, the protesters are likely to be bolstered by the successful struggle against Gaddafi to violently remove him from power.

Some despots in Africa and Europe have been executed in the past following popular uprisings by the masses whose freedoms have been denied through rampant oppression and gross human rights violations. Gaddafi seized power in a coup on September 1 1969 which overthrew King Idris Senussi. He then scrapped the Libyan constitution and introduced laws backing his political ideology he termed the Third International Theory.

He ruled Libya with an iron fist and in the process amassed extensive wealth, making him one of the richest people in the world.Apart from being one of the longest ruling dictators in Africa, he also displayed some eccentric ambitions, such as establishing a United States of Africa with him at the helm.

He also referred to himself as the “Brother Leader or King of Kings”, and in one of his many bizarre quotes, he said democracy meant permanent rule.But despite all the glitz and glamour he displayed in his 42-year rule, Gaddafi was summarily executed by a teenage rebel fighter last week after being flushed out of a drainage pipe he was found hiding in.

This was in stark contrast to the opulence he had surrounded himself with during his four-decade rule.Other well-known African dictators who suffered the same fate as the eccentric Gaddafi were former Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara, who was executed by an armed gang led by his former associate Blaise Compaore in 1987.

Compaore is the current president of Burkina Faso. Sankara had been helped to stage a coup by Gaddafi in 1983. One of the most notorious and longtime dictators Mobutu Sese Seko was also deposed as president of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mobutu had come to power after violently overthrowing Joseph Kasavubu from power in 1965. Mobutu was driven out of power by a rebel force led by Laurent Kabila and suffered a lonely and miserable death in Morocco in 1997. Mobutu was thought to have embezzled over US$5 billion from the DRC, which he ruled like his personal company. Interestingly, Kabila was also killed in cold blood by one of his bodyguards in 2001.

What seems to be a pattern is that most dictators fail to interpret the changing sentiments in their respective countries resulting in them being overthrown and killed or being forced into exile. Gaddafi had a chance to step aside in June following calls by the African Union, but he vowed to fight the rebels, describing them as rats.

While it is sad that dictators’ families disintegrate and die violently, political pundits say the autocrats lose it all when they treat their people inhumanely when they come to power.With Gaddafi now dead, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Nguema Mbasogo is now the longest serving leader in Africa having grabbed power in a 1979 coup.

Nguema survived a coup attempt in 2004 and he responded by executing those he perceived to be behind the move. Nguema  is followed by José Eduardo dos Santos who also came to power in 1979. President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 31 years, is third followed by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who was recently “re-elected” for a sixth term following 28 years at the helm. 

Political analyst Nyamutatanga Makombe said these long-serving leaders overstay their welcome partly because their top aides do not want them to step down.“These authoritarians may not know when to leave office because they don’t realise they have failed,” said Makombe. “Unlike former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere who gave in after accepting that he had failed.”

He said Gaddafi was a victim of the Arab uprisings and it was unfortunate that he had failed to read the changing political climate. National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) secretary-general Goodwin Phiri warned that dictators may hold on to power for long, but eventually people successfully resist them.

He said African leaders should emulate former South African president Nelson Mandela who stepped down after a five-year term despite having spent 27 years in jail. “The same people who fought colonialism can be prepared to fight against their fellow African leaders who don’t want to relinquish power,” Phiri said.

Phiri said where there was no respect for human rights, chances were high that the masses would rise against their government. “It’s clear that it is what the dictators like Gaddafi do that force people to slaughter their leaders. The issue is all about democracy,” he said.