Perpetuation of Dictators: What Factors Are Responsible?
By Ebou Gaye
It is common knowledge that many dictators succeed in perpetuating themselves or staying too long in power contrary to the wishes of their opponents and the earnest efforts made to depose them. This phenomenon leads many people to believe or argue that those dictators are intelligent, wise, brave and patriotic citizens who are loved by their compatriots. Hence, the question arises: What factors are responsible for the perpetuation of dictators in power? To answer this question, I would say that the factors responsible for entrenching or keeping dictators in power are many and varied, chief among them the ones enumerated and discussed below:
Some dictators behave as quacks or impostors. They always try to give the impression that they have supernatural or magical powers and are endowed with knowledge in everything. Some of them even claim to be medical doctors who have answers to all ailments. Ironically, they don’t cure themselves and their family members. They rather go to people they call their “enemies” and send their family members to them for medical treatment. These dictators go to the extent of pretending to communicate with demons and animals, or even give them instructions. To project themselves as courageous or brave, invincible leaders, they always castigate journalists, human rights activists and people regarded as democrats, telling those who care to listen to their rhetoric and vitriol that they fear no one on earth and that they don’t care about their critics or what people they term as their detractors and enemies say about them. They sometimes address experts/professionals as if they are giving them lectures in their own domains. They do this with the intention of fooling people into believing that they know better than those experts/professionals in their respective areas of expertise and specialization. Those dictators are so obsessed with awards and titles. They accumulate bogus accolades and titles to the extent of transforming themselves to objects ridicule and laughingstocks, and are thus regarded as buffoons globally. Some dictators display their statues or photos everywhere, particularly in public places and offices, with a view to demonstrating supremacy or power and keeping themselves in the hearts and minds of people.
It can be argued cogently that these dictators suffer from low self-esteem or inferiority complex. Nevertheless, they achieve desired results with these tricks in spite of the foolishness, absurdity, immaturity irrationality and irony which clearly manifest in them.
2. Politico-religious Gimmicks
Using religion for political gain is common among dictators. The dictators involved in these gimmicks try to portray themselves as faithful, pious people through their appearance, utterances and acts. They wear dresses, carry objects and use titles which are associated with religion or have religious connotations. Additionally, they give religious lectures and preach religious values which they conspicuously lack. They behave as if they have monopoly on God and that God showers His blessings to them only. They customarily mention God and religion in their speeches and claim to make certain decisions based on religious beliefs. Besides, they swear by the name of God so much so that people see that as a joke. These dictators fund religious projects and activities, and sponsor religious adherents to perform religious rites. They even organize religious ceremonies in some instances.
These dictators succeed in hoodwinking people with their politico-religious gimmicks. Many people, particularly religious fanatics and zealots, are easily carried away by such gimmicks. It is extremely difficult to dissuade them from supporting such dictators or convince them that they are self-centred and do more harm than good to humanity.
Intimidation can take different forms, such as threat, persecution and victimization. It is used as a mechanism to control people and transform them into obedient subjects. To intimidate people as a way of controlling them or making them do or behave as they wish, some dictators resort to issuing threats. Those dictators are fond of making utterances such as: “Anybody who does…will face the consequences.” “I will not allow anybody to …” “I will not compromise…” “You will be buried six feet deep if you…” “We will swim in a pool of blood if you dare…” “Know that you are playing with fire if you…” “They will die before…” “I can kill ten thousand people and go and sleep if I have to.” “You will be sacked if you…” “Don’t expect development if you don’t vote for me.”
Persecution and victimization are very common methods used by dictators to stifle dissent or make people subdue. This includes state sponsored terrorism in the form of arson attacks, abduction, torture, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention or incarceration and the like. Demoting and dismissing public servants at random for political reasons and bringing flimsy charges against opponents or perceived enemies constitute victimization.
Intimidation tactics prove to be effective. They work to a very large extent because some people lack resistance and resilience, and are reluctant to face the consequences of defying a dictator. However, it worthy to note that silence, indifference and inaction cannot solve a problem and that combatting dictatorship demands strength and quite a lot of sacrifice.
4. Personalization/Monopolization of Public Properties
Personalizing or monopolizing public properties facilitates the perpetuation of dictators in power, as it allows them to control their people. Thus, there is very little or no distinction between state properties and the properties of the leader in most dictatorial states. The leader is synonymous with the state. In other words, the leader is the state and the state is the leader. The leader uses state properties/resources according to his whims and caprices. He overshadows the government, and that leads to a situation where whatever good the government does is attributed to him as a person. It is the leader who finances government projects, sponsors state events, donates vehicles, equipment and materials to government institutions, gives scholarships to students, and supports the poor and the needy. The list is interminable. The state media is transformed into a propaganda tool and mouthpiece for the exclusive benefit of the leader. It is always used to glorify or mystify the leader and castigate, demonize or defame members of the opposition who are never given the opportunity to defend themselves or refute the blistering criticism launched against them on a daily basis. It is unconceivable that the opponents of the leader are allowed to use the state media for propaganda purposes.
Hence, the dictator is afforded the leverage to promote his agenda as he wishes, with his opponents and rivals put at a serious disadvantage.
Dictators usually remunerate people they believe are loyal to them and always ready to carry out their instructions without hesitation and eagerly do the dirty job for them, side-lining their colleagues who are more competent, qualified and deserving. They try to fool their compatriots by telling them that their decisions are based on merit. The incentives dictators use in this regard can take the form of appointment or promotion to high, prestigious and sensitive positions, elevation to high ranks, sponsorship for further education or training, salary increase, provision of luxury houses or vehicles, and the like. Most people in this category serve as willing collaborators for the simple reason that they know they are unqualified to man such positions of responsibility and enjoy the privileges associated with them under normal circumstances by virtue of their low educational/professional level or poor training.
The fact that dictators base remuneration on loyalty to them and disregard competency, qualification and loyalty to state shows that they are more interested in prolonging their stay in power than running the affairs of their countries smoothly for the benefit of their compatriots.
6. Religious/Professional/Intellectual Dishonesty
It is a pity that some religious leaders, professionals and people who are regarded as intellectuals contribute immensely in entrenching dictators, ignoring the fact that national interest supersedes personal or group interest. Their acts have tremendous impact, for they are influential members of society. These people are blinded by their lust for material resources, prestige or status, for which reason they reduce themselves to tools of dictators whose interest they put before national interest.
The religious leaders involved in this dirty game would sometimes accompany a dictator during political campaigns, make citations from the Holy Scriptures to defend his decisions and acts or repair his battered image, and serve as errand boys for him. They always heap praises on the dictator and bestow religious titles on him despite their full cognizance of his brutality and gross, blatant violations of the teachings of their religion.
Some professionals and people regarded as intellectuals use their expertise and knowledge to help dictators to control state properties/resources, embezzle public funds, suppress their people and frame, incriminate or eliminate innocent citizens perceived as enemies. They also shamelessly try to justify or defend the blunders, misdeeds or wrongdoings of dictators. Thus, it is not a surprise to see the constitution doctored or amended in favour of the leader every now and then in countries ruled by dictators. It is customary to publish letters, poems and books singing the praises of the leader in those countries.
These puppets, sycophants and opportunists are more dangerous than the dictators they help overstay in power. These unprincipled, unscrupulous people are insensitive to the sufferings of their compatriots. Through their nefarious, obnoxious acts, they totally betray the trust of the masses who expect them to serve as role models or use their knowledge and expertise to render serves in the interest of the general public. One nauseating, disgusting aspect of the issue is that some of those involved in this filthy game have the guts to say plainly that they serve dictators as marionettes in high positions so as to enrich their profiles. What a preposterous argument! Enriching their CVs at the expense of the masses! Where is decency? What about integrity and sincerity? Are those opportunists oblivious to the importance of these virtues and the devastating effects of putting the interest of a dictator before public interest? Every good, patriotic citizen should be willing to serve his/her country but it is unethical and improper to serve the interest of a dictator for personal gain.
It should be borne in mind that dictators have no permanent friends or enemies but permanent interest. They are always ready to bulldoze anyone they see as a threat to their existence or political interest, and never hesitate to weed out those who have outlived their usefulness to them, even their closest allies or associates. Hence, anybody can fall from grace to grass or vice versa at any time under a dictator. Those they treat as favourites and praise highly can be jettisoned or ejected all of a sudden and subjected to all sorts of brutalization or humiliation. By the same token, arch-enemies or arch-critics can be taken on board suddenly and treated as saints to the astonishment of those who do not understand how dictators operate. Hence, it is not anomalous or unusual to see people being recycled in a dictatorship. A dictator can discard an ally or associate and level very serious allegations against him, only to take a u-turn and recall him when he desperately needs his services. Dictators also liquidate or eliminate those who run dirty errands or do dirty jobs for them and those who know about their dirty deals or misdeeds. They do this to efface traces of evidence. This is exemplified by the innumerable deaths and disappearances under mysterious circumstances characterizing dictatorships. Thus, those enjoying the favour of dictators and serving their interest should watch. There is no guarantee that they will not fall victim like their predecessors or fallen colleagues one day. It is also worth noting that those notorious for doing dirty jobs for a dictator or serving his interest to the detriment of the masses may find it difficult to be accepted by members of society when they are booted out or dumped by the dictator, no matter how much they try to erase the stigma or wash themselves.
As can be seen from the foregoing elucidation, the above-mentioned factors have great effects and hence contribute a lot to the perpetuation of dictators in power and make it extremely hard to combat dictatorship. However, I hasten to note that the problem is not insurmountable as many consider it to be when it comes to the Gambian case. With determination, the effects can be nullified or neutralized through exposure, demystification, sensitization and agitation.
To those who advance arguments in favour of dictators, I respond thus: Dictators are neither intelligent nor wise. Their tactics and wicked deeds backfire sooner or later, leading to their downfall and disgrace. Dictators dig their own graves with their irrational, irresponsible utterances and cruel, despicable acts which provoke, agonize, antagonize and alienate people. We are all living witnesses to the tragic, wretched, miserable end of powerful dictators. Dictators are mentally retarded. How can one brutalize his compatriots for his selfish interest and expect comfortable life on earth and happy, dignified end? Brutalizing one’s compatriots for personal interest defies intelligence and wisdom. Any dictator who thinks that he can brutalize his people continuously and go scot-free or get away with it is living in a fool’s paradise. He is bound to perish the same way he makes people perish.
Dictators are not brave, nor do they have supernatural or magical powers as they want to make people believe. They are mere mortals and big cowards. If they are brave or have supernatural powers, why do they need tight security or escort? Why do they kill people secretly and deny it? Why do they back down or flee for their lives when the going gets tough? They pretend to be brave because they are always surrounded by guards armed to the teeth. Simple logic! Without guards, they would not dare to oppress or offend people. This is evidenced by the fact that those dictators who portray themselves as brave leaders were not known for heroism or bravery before they came to power. They were not courageous enough to treat people with rudeness or disrespect as they do while in power.
Dictators are insincere, unpatriotic citizens. They are immeasurably greedy and selfish. Even if they succeed in bringing development as they and their defenders and flatterers claim, that does not give them licence to kill people or deny them freedom and liberty which are fundamental, God-given rights. Development cannot be equated with human life, freedom and liberty. After all, the money spent to realize what they refer to as development comes from state coffers, not from their pockets. Besides, it is an open secret that dictators who claim to be patriotic and development-oriented steal astronomical sums of money which they spend lavishly on misplaced priorities. It can rightly be stated that the acts of dictators are geared more towards enriching themselves, catering for the needs of their families or defending their selfish political interest than developing their countries, even if some of the acts are beneficial to people in some cases. In summary, dictators care much more for themselves and their families than they care for their compatriots and countries. Otherwise, why would they brutalize or kill people as a means of clinging onto power while endeavoring to provide security, safety and comfort for themselves and their families and lead flamboyant lives? A leader who brutalizes or kills his compatriots to consolidate his power cannot rightly be called patriotic citizen. Such a leader can only be qualified as a sadist, a monster or a brute. Pure! It is sheer credulity and gullibility to believe that such a leader has the interest of his country and people at heart.
Dictators are not loved by their people, for human beings want freedom and liberty by their nature. The support dictators enjoy results mainly from opportunism and fear, not from love. This is substantiated by the fact that people rejoice and tear the photos of dictators or pull down their statues when they are ousted. That many supporters of dictators try to dissociate or distance themselves from them soon after their downfall further buttresses the point. The fact many people who defend dictators use pseudonyms or hide behind pennames shows clearly that they don’t love them or believe that they are patriots as they claim. These people are opportunists who just want to defend their interests by helping to keep such dictators in power, knowing fully well that they are defending a wrong cause. That people who have been victimized or brutalized by dictators can publicly sing their praises amply demonstrates the fact that dictators are feared, not loved. No right-thinking person would interpret the praises of a victim as love for his victimizer.
Dictators are tormentors and scourges. Therefore, they should be fought tooth and nail. Dictatorship is a form of slavery, and it is disheartening, disgraceful and shameful to be enslaved by one’s own compatriot. I urge all well-meaning, patriotic citizens to contribute their quota to the noble cause of combatting dictatorship.