1. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

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1. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

teodoro obiang nguema mbasogo

You probably haven’t heard of the president of Equatorial Guinea, so you’d likely be surprised to know that he is Africa’s longest serving leader (and dictator).  When he took control of the country in 1979, he did so at the expense of his own uncle, who himself was a dictator! In the years since, Obiang has overseen the development of Equatorial Guinea into a major producer and exporter of crude oil, though the revenues from the state’s lifeblood do not make their way to the majority of its people.  The President himself is believed to have a personal fortune of around $600 million; by contrast, the majority of his country’s people have no access to clean water.  Obiang’s rule is absolute, with state media having previously declared him to be omnipotent and going so far as to dub him the country’s ‘god’.  He has ignored his state’s constitution’s two-term limit on three occasions, and looks likely to leave office only upon death from the terminal prostate cancer he is believed to be suffering with.

2. Robert Mugabe

robert mugabe

Ruler of Zimbabwe since 1980, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party came to power in the wake of a civil war which ended white minority rule.  Aggressively pursuing land reform policies which have been labelled by some as racist due to their focus on reclaiming land and property owned by non-black Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s support largely comes from those who feel he is making amends for previous abuses in Africa by European colonists.  Many Zimbabweans desire for a democratic future for the country, however, something which came to a head in the 2008 presidential elections, when pro-democracy challenger Morgan Tsvangirai looked set to defeat Mugabe.  Among widespread allegations and reports of fraud, voter intimidation, and beatings and rapes conducted by ZANU-PF enforcers, Mugabe eventually ‘won’ a run-off election with 90% of the vote, despite only receiving 43% in the first round.  Due to turn 90 in early 2014, Zimbabwe’s political future is uncertain due to the ever-present risk of Mugabe’s death: while the country could find itself released from the grip of dictatorship, it is entirely possible that the ensuing power struggle between party loyalists and pro-democracy activists could turn ugly

3. Isaias Afewerki

isaias afewerki

With categorically the worst human rights record of any country on the planet (including such lauded states as North Korea, Iran and Burma), you could be forgiven for not having high hopes for Eritrea’s president.  A remarkably multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, the government nevertheless limits worship to three specific denominations of Christianity and one of Islam – anyone caught worshipping any other creed in secret is summarily arrested and imprisoned with no official charge or the right to a trial, with subsequent torture commonplace.  Afewerki has complete and total control over the Eritrean press, with not a single piece of privately-owned media in the entire country nor even a foreign correspondent to report events inside the country to the outside world.  Elections in Eritrea will not be on the cards for some time, with the president declaring them ‘polarising to society’ in 2008 and postponing them for ’30-40 years’.

4. Bashar al-Assad

bashar al-assad

The one dictator who has been more focused on by the rest of the world than Kim Jong-Un in recent years, the Syrian leader was not always perceived to be the murderous tyrant that he is.  A qualified eye doctor, when Assad came to power in 2000, he was seen as a potential reformer by both domestic and foreign observers, whose hopes for change in Syria were dashed by the harsh crackdowns he ordered against political opponents.  Upon the rise of anti-government rebels in the Arab Spring, Assad ordered the military to stamp out any dissent, something which contributed to the outbreak of full-blown civil war in 2011.  120,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict, with tens of thousands of political prisoners being held and tortured in prison, and Assad is believed to have authorised the use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons on his own people.

5. Vladimir Putin

vladimir putin

A rose by any other name is still a rose, and there’s only one name for a President with as much power over his government and country as Putin has.  For starters, his shameless promotion of himself as an uber-masculine hero type is the kind of thing you wouldn’t be surprised to see from the now-departed Gaddafi or Kim Jong-Il, but his political actions are bordering on Mugabe or Afewerki levels of corruption.  Initially serving as President for two terms between 2000 and 2008, he found that the pesky Russian constitution prevented him from serving a third. No problem here for Putin, when he could simply hand-pick his party’s candidate for President, Dmitry Medvedev, and become his ‘Prime Minister’ when his protégé was victorious – it is no secret that Medvedev was merely a puppet for Putin, as shown perfectly by the amendment made to the constitution to extend presidential terms to six years, allowing Putin to stand for a third term in 2012, which he won (quelle surprise!).  Criticism of Putin and his government is risky, to say the least, with journalists and demonstrators alike often targeted by police and other local authorities.

6. Alexander Lukashenko

alexander lukashenko

While some Eastern European republics have gone from strength to strength in the 20-some years following the fall of the Soviet Union, others haven’t quite progressed as far; Belarus is almost certainly the worst case.  Known informally as ‘daddy’, such is his authoritarian style of rule, Lukashenko has been President since 1994.  Some of the classic dictatorial hallmarks are present here, including vote-rigging and absurdly high re-election rates (93.5% in 2006) and intimidation and persecution of political opponents, with no fewer than seven opponents in the 2010 presidential elections arrested and two seriously beaten by police on the day of the election itself.  Even neighbouring Russia has been forced to distance itself from Lukashenko on occasion, such as when he remarked in 1995 that Germany attained its peak under the rule of Adolf Hitler.  Lukashenko’s absurd approach to governance and lawmaking is perhaps best summed up in his award of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for his introduction of legislation making it illegal to applaud in public.  Pretty funny… unless you live in Belarus, that is

7. Kim Jong-Un

kim jong-un

Finally, of course, we have the big one: so-called ‘Supreme Leader’ of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (you know something’s up when even the official country name tries to convince you it really is democratic).  So where do we begin? It’s almost too easy to find examples of the totalitarian control the North Korean government has over the state, from pursuing nuclear arms while its people starve to summarily executing its citizens for watching illegally imported television shows from South Korea.  While there was hope from observers that there might be some softening of domestic and foreign policies when the now 30-year-old Kim took charge following the death of Kim Il-Sung, his administration has seemingly continued to act with the same ruthlessness and aggression as his father’s.  Summary and public executions of dissidents, defectors and political opponents are common, as are the presence of prison camps for anyone deemed to be a threat to the establishment, and the capital city Pyongyang is itself a restricted zone, with living rights and access permitted to only the most loyal citizens.

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