Best Practices for an Aspiring Tyrant
By Aite Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
By Kibur Ato Meles Zenawi (as Prof. Ephrem Isaac would address me)
Never mind how you got there – you are now at the helm of state power. You may have gotten there thorough the barrel of the gun or through popular elections which you have even lost. Or you may have used both methods at different times to acquire and retain power. You have no political philosophy. You are neither a democrat nor a nationalist albeit you make use of these labels when they serve your purpose of hoodwinking others. Come hail or high water, what matters to you the most is to hang onto state power for as long as you possibly can.
Here are a few rules of thumb and best practices in no particular order.
You are the Last and the Only Hope: Ensure that you do everything you can to propagate the belief that you are the last and the only hope for that country’s peace, development and stability. If you were to be dethroned (God forbid!), the country would plunge into chaos; ethnic strife will ensue; famine will devour the whole population of the country; and refugees will stream out of your country and become a burden on the international community. Nothing you do will get you more international support than selling this belief to the West. If you have to encourage ethnic strife in the country to make your point to the West, so be it! What are a few thousands of human lives to you anyway? Remember, you are working for a higher cause, which is to hang onto power at any cost. Remember, you are a tyrant.
Swear by Democracy: Be smart enough to be aware that democracy is the most accepted and supported form of government in the world today. While Tyranny is in the best interest of you and your group, it has its detractors. Condemn tyranny at every opportunity. Swear by democracy. Utilize every opportunity you get to pledge allegiance to democratic principles. In every communication you put out, claim that you are guided by democratic ideals. Even allow some form of legislative assembly. Pay lip services to democratic processes and periodic, free and fair elections. Never mind that you have been in power for almost two decades with no measurable progress toward a democratic governance, and that it will take a millennium to get there at the pace you are going, be quick to point out that democracy takes time to take root. After all, this is Africa! Keep repeating that for decades to come because there is nothing the West understands better. Always remember that, regardless of what they say in public, in private, the West does not believe Africa is ready for democratic governance.
You Are the Law: Rule of Law!? What law? You are the Law! Your rules are the rule of law. You are not subject to the law of the land, period! Other citizens are. Simply displeasing or annoying you, not to speak of challenging your authority should be grounds for punitive actions against your subjects. The police and the military are your indispensable tools in this regard. Make sure you gain and retain their complete control. Intimidate the judiciary. Because they depend on you for their livelihood; if you don’t pay their salaries, they have no way of raising their kids. That is your leverage over them. The few that defy you, force them into exile or arrest them. Make life miserable for them and their loved ones. Requirements of the rule of law like legal culpability, universality and impartiality of the law apply only to democracies; NOT to tyranny. Don’t forget to institute a rubber-stamp public legislature. The constitution? Forget the constitution! You are the constitution. If you are constrained from taking action by the constitution, your tyranny cannot survive.
Human Rights? What human rights? “Might makes right!” Arrest and harass the populace to instill fear in them. Repression is your best friend; repress them in any way you can. Murder them at your will if you suspect they think they have any rights. The rights are all yours, NOT theirs. Make sure you close down all independent human rights organizations in the country. The likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are good for nothing. So is ICRC. No matter how much they helped take your plight to the international community when you were at the receiving end of human rights abuses, they are now NOT to be listened to. They are sworn enemies of tyranny, and by extension, your foes. They smear your name in international circles.
Drive Them Out: Make sure you send the leaders of your opposition into exile where they are far removed from “poisoning” the minds of their constituents. There are many ways you can do this. If they are already outside the country, then charge them with some concocted outrages crimes in their absence; preferably, ones that carry maximum life imprisonment or capital punishment. That way you will intimidate them into remaining wherever they may be. If they dare to turn up in the country, then arrest them and make life miserable for them and their loved ones. To those who are in the country, make an offer of peaceful exit. If they dare turn down your “magnanimous” offer, arrest them and make life miserable for them and their loved ones as well. Drag them by their collars into your kangaroo courts; deny them bail and find excuses to prolong their suffering by making the court process excruciatingly slow. If and when they do get to courts, make sure the presiding judge, or judges are loyal to you, NOT to the constitution. In case the judge(s) show independence, remove them from the case. That way, they will return guilty verdict for which you will “pardon” the “convicts” to show your magnanimity to the entire world.
Silence Free Press: Suppress free speech; arrest and harass journalists. Free press is an obstacle to your free will of doing whatever you like (legal or otherwise) to stay in power. If there is one group of professionals you must always keep in check, it is this group of “trouble makers.” They reach far and wide in search of your sins to expose. Free press as the “fourth branch of government” and “a necessity to any democratic society” applies only to democracies – NOT to tyranny, which you are practicing. Clamp down on all their means of reaching the people and “poisoning” them with this idea that “the people have the right to know.” Newspapers, magazines, radio programs, and the Internet are not neutral in the power struggle between democracy and tyranny. In other words, they are either with you, or against you. If they are not with you, close them down; block them; do whatever needs to be done to stop them from informing the public.
“Sii Shoom Yaal Ballaa, Sii Shaar Yi Qocawaal”: What good is political power if it is not used for gaining and maintaining economic power? Create a business conglomerate like “Effort.” Amass as much wealth as you can while in power. Sell off state industries for next to nothing to your companies. Give all government contracts to your companies. You have worked hard to get to power, and now is your time to rip the benefits.
Prepare for the Inevitable: History tells us no regime lasted forever. The British and other powerful empires crumbled with time. It is only a matter of time, but yours will fall, too! When you do, you will fall harder. So, make sure you are prepared for when it happens. Stash away enough wealth for the rainy day that is sure to come. Find some country that will receive you in case you get lucky and escape the wrath of your subjects.