Why you should care
Because maybe you’ll think twice the next time you call your boss a dictator. (Or not.)
There are many dictators around the world who are well-known for their oppressive ruling of countries, such as Kim Jong Un. But there are many others that operate under the radar of the world media. They may not have a direct connection to the West or have a nuclear arsenal at their disposal, but their despotic actions need to be known. So we’ve decided to put together a list of the worst of the worst. Six rulers who have been profiled on OZY and are among the cruelest, most corrupt despots around today. They may hail from countries as different as Eritrea and Laos, but what they share is a shocking disregard for human rights and seemingly unfettered power to persecute their own.
You may not recognize the name, but this 77-year-old ruler of Uzbekistan has one of the most abysmal human rights records in the world today. For 24 years running, the Central Asian nation near the Caspian Sea has been terrorized by its own leader, who has killed thousands of unarmed protesters, forced children to work in slavelike conditions and imprisoned thousands for their religious beliefs. Karimov has even executed prisoners without a trial, according to our reporting, including boiling a couple to death. Read more here.
Since taking over Gambia in a 1994 coup, President Jammeh — or “His Excellency,” as he prefers to be called — has ruled the country with a lethal mix of fear, repression and murder. He’s been know to fire into crowds of peaceful protesters, has imprisoned people for suspected witchcraft and, at one depressive point, demanded homosexual persons leave the country within 24 hours or face the possibility of being beheaded. Read more here.
This 69-year-old has been the president of Eritrea since its 1991 independence, and yet not a single citizen has ever voted for him. And why would they? It’s been 24 years of crushing despotism, where torture is routine, prisons are overstuffed and everyone from the age of 15 to 70 is forced into indefinite military service. Not only that, but Afwerki’s administration has reportedly imprisoned thousands of people based on their political affiliations. Read more here.
This guy is far from being a noble individual. Mswati has used his concentrated power in Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in Africa, to feed his every despotic need. For one, he is reported to force young women to marry him whenever the spirit moves him (or about every two years), because polygamy is, no surprise, legal in Swaziland. He’s also not really interested in democracy or feeding the poor or finding jobs for the 23 percent of the population that is currently unemployed. This despot, who became king at 18, has a total of 15 wives and an indefinite number of luxury cars. He may cut a cartoonish figure, but his corrupt ways are no laughing matter. Read more here.
Condoleezza Rice has called him “Europe’s last dictator,” and he’s playing his role to the hilt. President of Belarus for more than two decades, Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet state with an iron fist that would make the Kremlin proud. He censors the press, sends human rights activists to labor camps and gets rid of political rivals, either by throwing them in jail or, in the case of his former prime minister and head of the opposition, making them disappear. Read more here.
The president of Laos may be 79 years old, wear spectacles and have thinning hair, but his mild appearance masks a tyrannical personality. Boasting a record of human rights violations as long as the Mekong River traversing this Southeast Asian country, Sayasone’s government owns all newspapers, TV stations and radio stations, effectively snuffing all free expression. And if anyone manages to rise above these restrictions, they’re bound to be imprisoned or even disappear. Read more here.