Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All Aboard the Dictatorship

It turns out that I was wrong, Parade Magazine did publish their annual survey of the world's worst dictators this year. This is, of course, the first worst dictators survey of the Obama administration. The whole enterprise of ranking the world's worst tyrants in a general interest newspaper insert magazine seemed to make a modicum of sense during the Bush years. I can't say that I would be surprised if it is eventually revealed that the former President used the survey when making key foreign policy decisions. We'll see if this enterprise continues as the US hopefully returns to a more nuanced approach to foreign policy.

While much has changed in Washington, not much has changed in the annual dictator rankings. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe rocketed up to the top spot from sixth place last year. My money was on Sudan's Omar al-Bashir capturing the top spot on the strength of his recent ICC arrest warrant, but he had to settle for second place once again. The only newcomers to the top 10 list this year were Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, who moved from 11th place to 10th, and Turkmenistan's Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, who debuted on the list in 9th place this year.

Parade cited Zimbabwe's hyperinflation, cholera epidemic, and ZANU-PF thuggery as the reasons for Mugabe's rise to the top of the list. With the exception of the cholera epidemic, all of those things were true last year when Mugabe was deemed only the sixth-worst dictator in the world (and I'm guessing that Zimbabwe was hardly a public health success story even before the cholera epidemic). If anything, Mugabe improved his behavior in 2008 by agreeing in principle to a power-sharing government (though, as Parade correctly points out, he has not honored either the spirit or the letter of the agreement).

The inclusion of Berdymuhammedov is another head-scratcher. You may remember that he took over power in 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niazov, a fixture on any survey of the world's worst dictators. Berdymuhammedov has been in power for only a couple of years and while Turkmenistan has not become a beacon of peace and freedom in Central Asia, I can't imagine why he would be ranked higher than some of his neighbors, including Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov (11th place in this year's survey).

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