by Bogdan Sucilă
The temptation of power and the ability to exercise dominance over fellow members of one’s “tribe” has long been a vivid temptation for almost any member of the animal kingdom, humans included. For most of us, this a largely a grey-area subject, considering the unlikelihood of a situation where your average Joe / Jane will be put in a posture where he can decide the fates of others in a godlike manner. The investment of great decisional power upon an individual is often preceded by a lengthy period of grooming, be it training and tutorship offered by those from which the reins of power will be inherited (royal succession, passing on the leadership of a great corporation, etc.), or a slow but steady ascension on the hierarchical ladder that indirectly prepares the eventual ruler for his mission.
But as we all know, history (and fate) don’t always play by the books. Sometimes, a sum of favorable circumstances and fortunate decisions, maybe topped by a charismatic personality, may help a more-or-less common individual achieve great power in a relatively short period. These individuals are referred to as opportunists, and are generally looked down upon with scorn, either because of the self-proclaimed moral codes of society, or much more often simply because of envy from the less fortunate. Opportunists come in many shapes and sizes, most of them being either nouveau riche “businessmen”, or corrupt politicians. While the aforementioned are a rather common sight in Romanian society, they are not nearly as interesting as the category we are going to talk about today: dictators.
When hearing this word, most of us will almost instantly think of Ceaușescu, mainly due to our (fortunate) lack of other such figures in recent history. And while the “Genius of the Carpathians” had his fair share of insanity, the fellows on today’s list will probably make the attempt to induce your semi-illiterate wife into the New York Academy of Sciences or having a scepter built for yourself seem like perfectly normal behavior. So, without any further ado:
5) Francisco Macias Nguema – President of Equatorial Guinea (1968 – 1979)
The reason while this rather peculiar character was included in my list can be effectively resumed in two words: witch doctor. Grown in a very spiritual family, Nguema dabbled in witchcraft throughout his life, claiming that he possessed magical powers. His belief in them was so strong that he closed down the country’s hospitals and replaced standard medicine with shamanism and witch doctor practice. He also banned the use of lubricants in a power plant near the capital city, because he claimed that he could run the place using magic. Obviously, the city fell into complete darkness a few hours after that.
But hey, he wasn’t all that bad. Liberals might find him quite an inspiring politician, as he was very 420-friendly. So friendly, that he often indulged in consuming bhang, a local drink made from cannabis leaves, which helped him prepare for two of his favorite activities: dining with imaginary friends, and killing imaginary enemies.
4. Abdala Bucaram – brief (thank God) President of Ecuador (1996 – 1997)
Let’s leave his obvious Hitler mustache aside – I mean, come on, we’re more mature than that. Let’s instead focus on his attempt to bolster his musical career using his position as president. Apparently, besides being an incredibly corrupt politician who placed his friends and family in important governmental positions, he also was an avid pop singer. He released his most famous album, A Madman in Love, while still being in office. He also celebrated his election by offering his people this lovely performance:
He was eventually relieved of his office because of “mental incompatibility” (it took them a whole 6 months to figure this out), but not before managing to give $ 1 million to Diego Maradona to play a football game with him, and throwing a presidential banquet in honor of Lorena Bobbitt, a woman who famously chopped her husband’s penis off.
3. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier – President-for-Life of Haiti (1957 – 1971)
Before we start, I must make a small specification that will give you the proper mood to understand Papa Doc’s exploits a bit better. We must not forget that besides having to tackle the tremendously stressful position of President-for-Life, he also had to deal with his part-time job, that of being the self-proclaimed re-incarnation of the Voodoo spirit of death, Baron Samedi. So at least we can blame his over-crowded work schedule for his nervous behavior.
Besides classics such as making people recite a personalized version of the Lord’s Prayer with his name in it, he also ordered that all black dogs in Haiti be killed because he thought that one of his enemies was hiding in the form of a black dog. When the said enemy was finally caught and executed, he kept his skull around for Voodoo purposes. And if that wasn’t enough for you, he also claimed responsibility for the death of JFK, and sent a special agent to collect the air around the latter’s grave. Again, for Voodoo purposes.
2. Saparmurat Niyazov — President of Turkmenistan (1985 – 2006)
Despite looking like a fat swine who would indulge in eating caramelized babies while his population starved, Niyazov was actually much worse than that. Among the things he outlawed in his country, we can easily count make-up, beards, tobacco, and lip-synching.
While the latter actually sounds like a good idea, it is easily balanced by him publishing a book called Ruhnama (“The Book of the Soul”), which had to be memorized in order to get access to various state services, such as getting your driver’s licence. He also went to the effort of financing a space program so that he could send a copy for the aliens to read. Now, did I mention that he was illiterate?
Bonus point: Niyazov had an ice palace built for himself in the capital, which would actually be a quite impressive engineering feat, considering that Turkmenistan is a desert country, with temperatures going over 40 degrees Celsius in the summer.
1. President Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa (1966 -1979)
As you might have guessed, I have saved my personal favorite for last. Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a rather dull and uninteresting fellow at first glance, became president of Central Africa in 1966. Except for one or two fairly regular dictator stunts (feeding some of his political opponents to crocodiles, eating some himself etc.), his first years in power were quite uneventful. But then, in 1976, he got bored of his country being a mere republic, so he transformed it overnight into the Central Africa Empire.
Obviously, he had to adapt to this new change in regime, so he also left the presidential attire behind and donned the crown and cape to become Emperor Bokassa I. And what a crown and cape he donned! Modeled after that of Napoleon, his crowning ceremony was not only one of the weirdest single events in African history, but had also cost the country’s GDP for one year.
And to sweeten the memory of his reign and give the French army a good reason to oust him out 3 years later, Bokassa decided to personally beat a group of schoolchildren to death with his cane and cannibalize their remains because their parents refused to buy them a very expensive school uniform with the emperor’s face embroidered upon it. So next time you whine about being forced to wear satin pants as a pupil, appreciate the fact that you had your parents called over only to school, not to your funeral.