An intelligent dictator in my view point is as incandescently oxymoronic as an idiot savant, a fine mess, a little pregnant, or accurate rumors. The renaissance of oxymora in what concerns Ethiopia has not only been limited to the country’s “abundant poverty”. In fact, we have recently seen the impossible possibility of an “Amhara Weyane”. Indeed, some quarters have insisted on calling the tyrant in Addis Ababa intelligent in the face of a blatantly rigged election while at the same time insisting on calling Robert Mugabe a blundering fool. Confusingly incomprehensible.
This reminds me of the days when Idi Amin of Uganda was engineered by Britain and Israel to stage a coup against “Socialist” Milton Obote. An act the British media was quick to qualify and even praise as being “natively intelligent”. Of course, one has to understand diplomacy to know that “Native” was none but the code word for a “near-illiterate-brute-soldier-of-British-colonialism”. Caskie Stinnet couldn’t be more right when he said that “A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.”
Toe the line and your name will be affixed with a flattering adjective that translates into anything but what you think it is. The whole charade stems from two sources or motivations: The first one being that notorious racist prejudice which makes a coherent black person intelligent: “Surprise, surprise the Kaffir boy knows how to put words together!”. The second is perfectly illustrated by what a surprised Italian fascist officer once expressed in a famous Ethiopian poem: “I saw the blacks eating like human beings”.
On a number of occasions, some of my readers have expressed surprise at how I could explain the situation in my country and Africa as a whole and even think of debating with the “intelligent dictators” — who I have met many times — as I described the elegiac realism that personifies Ethiopia. But I assure them, without intending to be cruel, that the “intelligent dictator’s” actions were no different from that of a circus animal that masters its tricks to perfection. An English speaking “Kaffir” dancing to the tune of his master’s music. Intelligent!
Santiago Carrillo, the late leader of the Spanish CP once said: “to ask for Western type democracy in countries like Ethiopia and Vietnam is to bray at the moon”. The man from Spain was arguing that Ethiopians had to make do with their blood thirsty colonel Mengistu and his semblance of democracy while he, Carrillo, a pro-Soviet to boot, stood behind the Moscow backed tyrant. Sure, the days of Carrillo, Mengistu and the Soviets are over, but have the propaganda strategies that kept them glued to power been laid to rest? Lest we forget, these African depots were intelligent for their remarkable puppetry capabilities as instruments of neo-colonial domination. Mercenaries!
The sarcastic use of “Intelligent” by some, and our own reduced standards, should be questioned, especially when no one is comparing the “intelligent” Meles with the worst western joke of a leader. And while the tyrants are aware of what is going on, they have used this prejudice to their own advantage as expected. They wear their “Yes Bwana” smile as a permanent fixture, and do the “Yes Sir Master” dance to perfection. Repeat the buzz words that please the ears of the donors and, presto or voila, there appears an intelligent man. Just like Meles when he danced for Sarkozy and Obama to the detriment of Africa at Copenhagen!
Do they see intelligent Meles as crafty, devious, sneaky, able to hide his ignorance, an intriguer, cruel, or a docile puppet, no. In fact, they clapped and diplomatically branded him as intelligent when Meles begged for a political opposition lest he becomes corrupt with absolute power. A political opposition that is all but lurking in the shadows after the last so called democratic exercise. The dictator of Turkmenistan made no fuss over his hard earned political situation when he said: there are no opposition parties so how can I give them freedom?! “Smartly unintelligent”?
Albert Camus once called an intellectual an unsuccessful idiot, while the late Walter Rodney defined a dictator as “one who elevates himself above all other citizens and often makes claims to be closer to God than mere mortals. Emperors, kings and nobles of the feudal period easily became dictators because they could justify despotic acts on the grounds that royal power and authority were of sacred origin. In more modern versions of dictatorship, the absolute ruler has to fabricate an elaborate cult of the personality to prove that he is more intelligent, more potent and generally superior to any other human being. Idi Amin fancied himself not only as a physical giant but also as an intellectual giant. Besides, he boasted of a direct line to Allah. Eric Gairy, our Caribbean ex-dictator, dabbled in obeah and convinced himself that he was better than the world’s leading scientists and would personally solve the problem of unidentified flying objects. This is the stuff of which dictators are made”.
Back in 2008, TV personality Barbara Walters went to Damascus and called dictator Bashr Al Assad an intelligent and charming man. The friend of many African dictators, peanut farmer Jimmy carter, went to Korea and declared: “I find Kim Il Sung to be vigorous and intelligent”. During a visit to Addis Ababa, Cuba’s Castro met with the Ethiopian despot and publicly declared “Mengistu is an honest revolutionary!”. The same Mengistu, the mass killer, who once declared: “I hate hurting even a fly”. Talking about flies, El Salvador’s General Maximiliano Hernandez was once quoted as saying that “it is a greater crime to kill a fly than a man because men are resurrected while flies die forever”. From fly protector Hernandez to Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, apartheid surgeon Botha, kleptocratic Mobutu and the fiend Samuel Doe, America’s once admired and “intelligent” allies’ list is long. Not forgetting Nguema who said: “I am in permanent direct contact with God… the only man who can kill and will never go to hell”. Nguema who slaughtered thousands in Equatorial Guinea had once been a very intelligent man.
Meanwhile, as Washington, London, Berlin and the EU bankroll the “natively intelligent” Ethiopian, one western diplomat in Addis Abeba has gone on record expressing his utter admiration for Meles Zenawi’s talent to lie outright and in more than four directions at a time. Indeed, the man is so intelligent that he can rig elections, slaughter hundreds and still stay in power! A fine and intelligent mess!
But, the admired native intelligence of Idi Amin — His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire [CBE] in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular and King Of Scotland” — fast evaporated when he started to step on British and Western toes. He quickly became a savage monster, a blundering fool, a bloodthirsty vampire, a flesh eating cannibal…
The “demonization” of all those who refuse to toe the line of the West is swift, cruel and relentless. Gaddafi, Mugabe, Sadam, among others, have not been spared. The very people who praise Ba’athist dictator, Bakir par excellence, as intelligent would not be caught dead uttering one word of consideration as regards Sadam, for example, though he was a close ally of America at one time. Mengistu was considered crude and cruel because he was pro Soviet and not because he killed Ethiopians en masse. The same goes for the new darling of Washington, a.k.a Meles, who has been doing more, but discreetly and in earnest. Anyway, who cares when his political alliance and consideration dictate his international qualification?
The West, back in the mid forties, considered Mussolini civilized and laughed in the face of Ethiopians who were doing their best to defend their country from colonialism. The fascist was intelligent as was Hitler, with whom many American companies such as General Motors, DuPont, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Davis Oil co., Ford, ITT, Chase National Bank, etc did brisk business. For a while, Nazism was swept under the doormat for the sake of business opportunities. “Henry Ford was a good friend of Hitler and his book The International Jew inspired Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Fuehrer kept Ford’s picture in his office and Ford was one of the four foreigners to receive the German’s highest civilian award”, wrote one fact finder. The intelligent West also did business with and backed the intelligent regime of apartheid in South Africa.
It will come as no surprise to hear some throwing tantrums over the use of the word “intelligent” as a misnomer. But a closer look shows that we have rather failed to understand what “intelligent” means to some people. Being intelligent to some is indeed synonymous to a brutal tyrant, a cruel murderer, a corrupt embezzler, a deceitful liar, an election rigger, a Western puppet, a brother killer, a fluent idiot.
And if English is the required language, sycophantic Meles alongside those fly loving tyrants and their wives whose fingers are nimble and expert in all things klepto, Grace Mugabe par excellence, are indeed intelligent. If we considered intelligence as such, would we complain about our rulers? Those people who do not mind making our lives miserably painful, while they luxuriate in the bounty of complex oxymorons showered on them by the West. As Churchill said: “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.”
All is but trivia, one would say. But, trivia, it is when we only consider the Kaffir boy. I say it is an important trivia, because Meles Zenawi speaks very good English!