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This 2003 photo shows a Marine covering the head of a statue of Saddam Hussein with the US flag in Baghdad, before pulling it down. (Ranzi Haidar, AFP File)
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Robert J. Traydon
The biographies of corrupt dictators rarely end with, “and he lived
happily ever after…” – Robert J. Traydon
When looking at the long list of
unsavoury dictators – and what eventually became of them – one has to wonder why
dictatorship still holds such appeal for so many of today’s leaders.
Reading up on the likes of Muammar
Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Mabutu Sese Seko, Jorge Rafael Videla, Juvénal
Habyarimana and Adolf Hitler, one quickly appreciates that being a corrupt dictator
seldom has a happy ending.
Libya: Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for
more than four decades from 1969 to 2011. During this tenure, it is estimated
that he amassed a staggering fortune of up to US$200 billion – easily making
him the wealthiest person in the world.
Unfortunately, not even this
amount of money could save him from his brutal demise. While fleeing Sirte, his
joint civilian-military convoy was attacked by NATO bombers, which killed at
least 53 people. Gaddafi and his cadres fled to a nearby house which was promptly
shelled by Misrata militia.
This forced him to take refuge
inside a drainage pipe lying on a construction site. A skirmish ensued during
which Gaddafi’s bodyguards and defence minister were killed, and he was
captured. The militia dragged him into the open where he was beaten savagely,
partially stripped and violated with a sharp implement – all the while being
filmed on a mobile phone.
His bleeding body was then loaded
into an ambulance and taken to Misrata where he was declared dead on arrival.
Gaddafi’s son and 66 other loyalists were found hours later, tied-up, abused
and dead – most likely as a result of extrajudicial execution.
Iraq: Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein was president of
Iraq from 1979 to 2003. During his reign of tyranny, it is estimated that up to
250 000 Iraqi nationals were killed in ruthless purges and genocides. In March
2003, a US-led coalition of forces invaded Iraq to neutralise supposed weapons
of mass destruction.
When Bagdad was captured in April,
Hussein’s monuments were desecrated and his Firdos Square statue torn down, but
his whereabouts were unknown. In July, his two sons and his 14-year-old
grandson were killed in combat by US forces. Only in December 2003 was Hussein
found – hiding in a dusty hole in the ground next to a farmhouse. He then remained
in prison for three years while standing trial for crimes against humanity and numerous
In November 2006, Hussein was
found guilty. A month later he was executed by hanging – an event also filmed
on a mobile phone.
Zaire: Mabutu Sese Seko
Mabutu Sese Seko was president of
Zaire from 1965 to 1997. Described as the ‘archetypal African dictator’, he is
believed to have embezzled up to US$15 billion during his tenure.
Afflicted with a profound weakness
for colonial-style indulgences, he built a private palace to the glory of
himself known as Gbadolite, and often referred to it as the ‘African Versailles’.
Astonishingly, the nearby airport’s
runway was extended to accommodate the Concorde, which Sese Seko regularly
chartered for extravagant shopping trips in Paris, and the import of French
champagne and caviar for his lavish dinner parties.
But alas, in May 1997, Mabutu was
forced to abandon his palace and flee Zaire as Kabila’s rebels closed in. He
went into temporary exile in Togo and just four months later, died a sad,
lonely and painful death in Rabat, Morocco. His glorious palace was sacked and
now lies in ruins – a fitting relic of his inglorious reign.
Argentina: Jorge Rafael Videla
Jorge Rafael Videla came to power
in a coup d'état and reigned as president of
Argentina from 1976 to 1981. After surviving three assassination attempts,
Videla carried out a ruthless campaign of torture and murder against his political
opponents and their family members in various undisclosed concentration camps. It
is estimated that up to 30 000 people disappeared while in custody during
In 1985, Videla was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced
to life imprisonment. He spent the next 30 years in and out of trial and prison
until his unceremonious death in a prison shower in 2013.
Rwanda: Juvénal Habyarimana
Juvénal Habyarimana also seized
power in a coup d'état to become president
of Rwanda from 1973 to 1994. He went by the nickname ‘Kinani’, which means
‘invincible’ and likely retained power for two decades through election
Widely known for his political
antics, people were ‘encouraged’ to sing and dance in euphoric adulation of
their president at various government rallies. But in 1994, Habyarimana's
private jet was shot down by a ground-to-air missile shortly after taking
off from the Kigali International Airport.
Both Habyarimana and the president of Burundi were
killed in the crash, causing ethnic tensions to flare up across the region and
eventually plunging Rwanda into a full-scale Hutu/Tutsi genocide which claimed
up to one million Rwandan lives in just five months.
Germany: Adolf Hitler
A list of remorseless dictators
would not be complete without Adolf Hitler, who led Germany between 1934 and 1945.
During this period, he set the stage for and started World War Two which lasted
six years and resulted in the death of an estimated 60 million people.
Not only this, he targeted
minority groups and proactively stirred up anti-Jewish sentiment across German
society. This escalated into all-out ethnic/racist victimisation which
eventually led to the horrific extermination of six million Jews and others in
But, as WW2 drew to an end and Russian
forces advanced on Berlin, Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself in his underground
bunker. His body – and that of his poisoned wife – were later taken outside by
SS guards, doused in petrol and set on fire.
The point of all this is…
Humanity can rest assured that
there are few stories which end with: ‘and the corrupt dictator lived happily
Most tyrants meet their end in
one of the following ways: violent death by mob beating; public trial and
execution; assassination; suicide; or forlorn demise in prison/exile.
It’s easy for citizens to feel a
sense of hopelessness when their leader begins to behave like a corrupt dictator,
but they should fear not – every tyrant meets his end, and generally it’s an
Some might argue that the opulent
lifestyles of corrupt dictators are worth the price they ultimately pay … but
others would disagree wholeheartedly.
One thing is abundantly clear
though: you become a corrupt dictator, not only at the peril of your country
and its people, but also at the peril of yourself, your family and your legacy.
- Robert J. Traydon is a part-time author and BSc graduate of
Mechanical Engineering. His writing explores a range of contentious
environmental, economic and political themes from a uniquely contrarian
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