by Samira Sawlani 

Now let’s get one thing straight, holding on to power for decades on end is no easy feat, in fact it is downright exhausting, something all of you who judge and chastise leaders caught with their eyes closed at summits fail to understand.

Be assured that even in those moments they are working, dreaming of unlimited amounts of teargas, of stuffed ballot boxes and a world free of term limits (a curse upon the house of whoever came up with that concept).

kimjongil_sunglasses_gagaOften it is not sleep, but a state of intense concentration that one is in, ‘meditating’ upon what is being said (listening out for the words ‘aid’, ‘money’, ‘deals’, and what goodies the leader next door has recently obtained) or forming strategies on how to protect (a frankly) ungrateful populace from the agents of Satan that are human rights activists and foreigners who are keen to infect the minds of people with ideas of freedom of expression and democracy (reprehensible).

The path a long standing ruler has to tread is a rocky one (thank God for private planes). Yet there are the strong ones that make the sacrifice, spending their years in marble floored government accommodation and ruling over a nation of loyalists and imbeciles with a Rolex adorned iron fist.

If however, this is a career choice which sounds attractive then one would do well to familiarise themselves with lessons from ‘The Dictators Handbook’ () which can be found below.


Rule 1: Always have the army in your pocket.

1974 Niger, President Hamani Diori overthrown by Lieutenant-Colonel Seyni Kountouche.

For fourteen years Diori had been in power and just like that he was ousted.

1992 Sierra Leone, President Joseph Momoh becomes victim of a coup d’état carried out by 25 year old Captain Valentine Strasser.

The list of coups and attempted coups is lengthy; foolish leaders failing to adhere to the number one golden rule: ‘Always have the army in your pocket.’

First ensure that the head of the army is one of your BFFs; the Thelma to your Louise, the Chandler to your Joey, the matoke to your beans, the pounded yam to your egusi soup.

Secondly, strategically place friends and family members throughout the institution, heck throw your kids in too, just so junior army officers don’t go getting any ideas.

Senior army officers are a sensitive breed, so show them some love and remember in this case J-Lo was wrong because love does cost a thing, rather many things. A nice house or three, stake in a businesses or two, heck why not some some land too. No need to worry about your everyday soldiers, keep your seniors happy and they’ll keep the juniors terrified.

A Coup D’état is the most clichéd and least sexy way to go, save yourself the humiliation.


Rule 2: Make a fashion statement

Mobutu Sese Seko, DRC

Why fit in when you were born to standout? Asked Dr Seuss, why indeed.

As a leader you will be expected to attend events worldwide, regional summits, international summits, bilateral meetings, state dinners and so on.

The last thing you want to do is get lost in a sea of faces, in the shadow of that recently elected leader who is making headlines for his fight against corruption or the charismatic and handsome President across the border who recently spent state money on buying desks for schools instead of using it to purchase a property overlooking the Alps (Won’t be offering it to any of them to use considering how bad they make everyone else look)

To avoid this happening look no further than at leaders of the past; President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire had the leopard print hat, General Pinochet of Chile’s capes would leave both vampires and today’s fashionistas green with envy, while Idi Amin donned the military swag look.

Muammar Gadaffi did swathes of colour while Kim Jong Il of North Korea’s trademark fur hat meant he was held up as a fashion icon in his country.

Be it clothing, an accessory, or perhaps a handlebar moustache like that of Kaiser Wilhelm II, determine your signature style and work it.

World leaders of today such as President Museveni of Uganda and Kiir of South Sudan favour the hat, while in India one can now purchase what is known as the Modi waistcoat, named after a firm fashion favourite of the Prime Minister.

The louder the better, so grab that copy of Vogue and get shopping and don’t forget there is no spending limit, don’t worry about the people.. ‘let them wear rags’.


Rule 3: A dictator without a spouse(s) is like a deal without a kickback; useless.

President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines with First Lady Imelda

Your significant other should be involved in every aspect of running the country, he/she should be prepared to channel their inner Angelina Jolie/Mother Teresa by venturing out of the Presidential palace to hug kids, (best to leave the custom made, personalised Louis Vuitton handbags at home when going to do this) attend summits and of course educate women about abstaining from sex and dressing in a way which does not attract rapists.

In time you will want to ease your other half into having a bigger role, after all the country and all those in it are like your children, thus they require parenting.

Your spouse could represent you at meetings with business moguls, donors, mercenaries, investors and the like, ensuring that the funds required to build a new hospital in the Country (and that five storey house in London where you can stay when you fly out for your tri annual medical check-up) are secured.

Then in time, to really keep the romance alive, you may want to encourage them to run for MP, give them a state owned company to head or even a senior position in Government.

Then comes the ultimate act of love; groom them to take over when (if ever) you are tired or (God forbid) dead. Move over Kim and Kanye, this is what you call #relationshipgoals


Rule 4: The King is Second Only to God

Firstly you must BFF all religious leaders. Second, during every speech you give, throw in a few quotes from various religious texts, and third and most importantly remember the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.

President Jammeh of The Gambia
President Jammeh of The Gambia

The Divine Right of Kings states that a Monarch derives his right to rule directly from God, therefore he is not answerable to any earthly authority, and further any act to harm him is against the Will of God, thus punishable.

You are God’s representative on Earth, you must lead your flock down righteous paths, ensuring that they do not stray into lands of temptation, filled with money, power, corruption, sex, exploitation and the like. When it is time to run for another term or to lock up an opposition leader/activist or to shut down a newspaper, remind them that you are the chosen one, that God himself sent you this message (via the Minister of Foreign Affairs who received it from The Minister of State when they flew out to Spain last week to watch El-Clasico on taxpayers money).

Remind them that to disobey you will mean a one way ticket to hell, and that as God’s representative you have the power to fast-track their journey there or to create it here on earth.

One final note on God, remember to pray before you ‘eat’.


Rule 5: The Double Ds

No we are not talking lingerie, we are talking decoys and distractions. Has one of your ministers been exposed doing something dodgy? Is there a law you want to pass swiftly without too many people noticing? Bring into the arena an inconsequential yet excitement creating issue, one which will have people talking, debating and in a state of uproar. Take inspiration from Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity by suggesting a ban on mini-skirts or pornography, or say anyone caught ‘sexting’ may be charged for ruining the moral fabric of the Country. Have it become a huge discussion point, get your ministers to make controversial comments on it, ensure it becomes a major feature with state media. Then slowly watch those issues which you want silenced slowly fade away.

Another strategy is to replace one scandal with another, keep doing this and people will at some point lose track. Perfect example of this is related to corruption cases, news of missing money in the ministry of foreign affairs? A week later keep faith that reports of Government debt being through the roof will emerge, the following week your Minister for Education will be accused of using public money to buy every existing L’Oréal Lipstick in shade ‘Fashionista Pink’ so no one else will have it (Because she’s worth it). Just how will people keep track? But then why would you want them to?

Other successful strategies include having an MP suggest something like increasing MP allowances, cue public outrage, enter you, criticizing the idea and shutting it down. You become the hero, Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to feed the.. err ok we’ll leave it there.


Rule 6: Never lose an election

President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea; elected for a sixth term

Of course you will be the kind of leader that is worshipped by the populace. Every home, office, and public place will feature photos of you on the walls. When asked what they want to be when they grow up every child will automatically utter your name, when you are out in public people will line the streets in tears (not because the money set aside in last year’s budget to build proper footpaths seems to have disappeared) but because they are overwhelmed as you wave at them from your new $1.5 armoured limo complete with state of the art television, internet, music system and mini bar. (Barack Obama and his ‘Beast’ can go to hell). Based on this it is unlikely that you will ever need to rig an election, however, in these times of freedom of speech and democracy and all that nonsense, one can never be too careful.

The modern dictator must move with the times in both his thinking and his strategies. As the phenomena of biometric kits, electronic result transmission devices and the like become a feature of elections, you too must modernize your ways of rigging.

Begin by stifling the opposition and turn this up a notch the year before elections.

Send police to any political rallies and meetings being held by them to provoke tensions, ensure it gets a little messy, so distracted will people be with the drama that there will be no opportunity for the opposition to really focus on campaigning.

During these times the head of the electoral commission is your BFF, you could go the Equatorial Guinea where the Interior Minister was chair of the body which saw President Obiang Nguema extend his 37 years in power, if however you feel the need to create the illusion of an independent electoral process, bribes or threats directed at electoral chair are the way to go.

Finally, ghost voters, pre-ticked ballot papers and voter bribery are evergreen solutions while a man in Zimbabwe knows a man in China who should be able to hook you up with a special ballot paper which, when touched by ink will automatically create an X next to your name.


Rule 7: When in doubt blame the West

If you are aspiring to become a dictator of a non-Western Country then this rule applies to you. Have a law you want to pass which you feel the general public may not be a fan of? Feel like 1% of the  population is beginning to fall out of love with you? Inform the public that Western powers are criticizing said law, that the sovereignty of the country is at stake and that these outsiders are would be dictators.

Stand in front of your people, make sure you wear one of your nicely fitted Italian suits, those smart custom made shoes from France, that chunky Swiss watch on your wrist and as you speak into that microphone imported from Germany, tell them that you-yes you- will not allow the West to execute this new form of colonialism again. (There’s only space for one dictator in this town thank you very much!).

From banning homosexuality to making changes to the constitution; this often works a charm.

Similarly, any problems facing the Country? Money gone missing? Currency shortage? Protests? BLAME THE WEST!


Rule 8: It is better to be feared than loved

Forget all this man/woman of the people talk, while your natural charisma is likely to earn you fans, there will be many that will want to see your downfall for their own selfish gains.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Therefore members of the opposition, activists and general dissidents must be controlled and the best way to do this is to put in place a variety of laws which they can be accused of should they step out of line.

Whenever such a situation occurs feel free to choose from the following: The ‘Insulting or undermining a head of state’ law; be it school kids doodling on your photo a la President Nkurunziza of Burundi or someone making a joke about you on whatsapp, as experienced by President Mugabe, court and prison are the answer. You are not a joke, you are the chosen one.

A group of activists in Angola were seen reading ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ (just the title is nauseating) and were charged with rebelling against the government. Similarly any protest movement can be translated as a plot to overthrow the regime (the lack of gratitude on the part of humans is quite disgusting), ensure this law is in place and that there are consequences.

After all a little jail time never killed anyone, unless of course you are in Yahya Jammeh’s Gambia where as the man himself says ‘These things happen.’

Finally, and use this law sparingly, if it all gets too troublesome, throw in treason. Opposition leader keeps calling for action against you? Say it’s an attempt on your life and so a treasonable offense, the penalty? Death.

Another one bites the dust, voila.


Rule 9: Friends and Foes

Your friends: The army, the judiciary, the police, countries which make deals with you without demanding an impeccable human rights record (Hello Beijing) and leaders which are far harsher on their populace thus making you look good. Reward them by remembering that love don’t pay the bills.

Your foes: The opposition, the human rights and freedom activists brigade, the International Criminal Court, the West, the media, neighbouring leaders that do the democracy thing… phew with such a long stressful list is it any wonder you had to send a lackey out to buy some heartburn medicine and three new cars to keep up with King Mswati III of Swaziland.

The saying goes ‘Lay down your life for your friends, lay down the grave for your enemies’ in your case ensure both groups know there is only one option and it lays in the direction of the cemetery.


Rule 10: Final Tips

Remember, your most important purchase is and always will be teargas. The smell, the taste, the sensation must be linger over towns and cities particularly on the days people are possessed by some form of madness and take to the streets calling for freedom (they are free to breathe, you are giving them free oxygen now what more do they want?)

Second, in what will be a lengthy career you will come across those that will ask ‘when are you stepping down?’

Some optional answers

‘This is my last term’ (Famous proverb)

‘My party and the general public want me to stay what can I do?’

Or you could do a ‘President Mugabe’ who often responds with “Have you ever asked Queen Elizabeth this question?” and when once asked “when will you say goodbye to the people of Zimbabwe?” responded with “and where are they going?”

And the final rule? Never step down. Ever.

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Samira Sawlani is a writer/journalist specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa. A holder of an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Aside from journalism she has also worked in the emergency humanitarian relief and refugee care sector. Twitter: @samirasawlani

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4 thoughts on “The Dictators Handbook

  1. The West is their enemy? Don’t make me laugh…! Who is a bigger supporter of dictators that the U.S. and is based companies.


  2. Erdogan sentenced former Miss Turkey to fourteen months in prison because she told a joke about him on Facebook.


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