Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Even death cannot liberate them?

Over in the country of Africa, Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket.
Zimbabwe, one of southern Africa's most prosperous countries, held great promise. Its Victoria Falls was one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Its gushing Zambezi River boasted wildlife and pulsing rapids. Its lush soil was the envy of a continent. And, though landlocked, the country had modernized sensibly: it had a network of paved roads, four airports [and] a rigorous and inclusive education system.
The year was 1980.  Things started well with Robert Mugabe as the free country's president.  And then he apparently decided to kill the country!  Zimbabwe soon went from being the breadbasket to a basket-case.

As hard is it to believe and imagine, Mugabe continues to lead the country even at a ripe old age of 91.  But, he can't deceive his body and brain. A while ago, he fell.  And yesterday he read the wrong speech:
He gave the same one during his state-of-the-nation address on 25 August, when he was heckled by opposition MPs.
His spokesman told the state-run Herald paper the error was because of a mix-up in the president's secretarial office.
The guy is 91 years old.  Ninety-one!  I wonder whether he is the world's oldest dictator ever.

While Mugabe might be the oldest, he is not the only old fool in power:
There are 55 authoritarian leaders in power throughout the world. Eleven of these leaders are 69 years old or older, and they are in varying stages of declining health. Most of these aging dictators, such as Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos (73 years old), Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev (75 years old), and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (91 years old), have been in power for decades.
You are perhaps thinking, "all right, this means that when these old men die, finally those countries will experience democracy."  Well ...
Not only is it exceedingly rare for an autocrat’s death in office to result in democracy, but it also does not improve a country’s longer-term prospects for liberalization.
Now that you have read that sentence, you have perhaps already guessed the reason.
Leaders who come to power following the death of an autocrat and who seek to deviate from the status quo are likely to provoke resistance from the “old guard” — elements of the regime who maintain control over the levers of power and find it in their interest to limit changes in the new system.
So, what can we look forward to?
In its 2015 “Freedom in the World” report, Freedom House reported that the risk of a widespread democratic decline is higher now than at any time in the last 25 years. Unfortunately, our results show that the advanced age of 11 of the world’s autocrats offers little hope for reversing this trend. Instead of creating space for change, the deaths of these long-standing leaders will most likely leave in place the resilient autocratic systems they’ve created. Though most leadership transitions generate opportunities for political transformation in dictatorships, death in office is not among them. Death in office, it turns out, is a remarkably unremarkable event.
But, like I quoted in a previous post, stability is not a static phenomenon.  I suppose these dictators are a problem when they are alive and after they are dead!


Anne in Salem said...

I suppose if your life is good under the autocrat, you have no interest in change after he dies. Many of those who have good lives under the autocrat are in positions of power such that they can limit the changes. Seems like a self-sustaining system.

Don't many autocrats hand pick their successors before they die, a la Kim Jong Un? That alone would go a long way toward maintaining the status quo, wouldn't it?

Sriram Khé said...

Yes. Even when there is no hand-picked successor, well, "the establishment"--the old guard--that benefits from the status quo fights to preserve the status quo.

The good thing about a democratic setup is that over the years the system gets refined towards a better one. As much as I am upset with India's politics, it is of much better quality today than it was in 1977 or 1966. I chose those years for good reasons ;) There is, similarly, no doubt that politics and governance in the US is a lot more inclusive now compared to even the Willie Horton ad days!

Ramesh said...

It would be difficult to find a bigger disaster than Mugabe in this world. No other autocrat has ruined a country more than Mugabe - your heart really has to go to the Zimbabweans. Not even Chavez, or Nazarbayev can even remotely come close.

Having said that I am more optimistic about Zimbabwe's chances after Mugabe. The report you quote is only about democracy and not improvement in the lives of the people. There is one shining example to negate the title of your post - China. When Mao died (my candidate for the worst ever despot in the world ever after Hitler), the lives of the Chinese became immeasurably better even though democracy did not prevail. So its possible. Lets hope for the best for Zimbabwe.

Sriram Khé said...

Yeah, Mugabe is the scum of the scum. Unfortunately, as an atheist, I can't even wish him the worst in hell!!!

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