Curiously, two people have published lists of the world’s worst dictators this week. The New Statesman, a left-wing British weekly, offers up its top ten while David Wallechinsky provides his top 20. There are some unsurprising congruences: Kim Jong-il, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Hu Jintao, King Abdullah, Saparmurat Niyazov and Teodoro Obiang Nguema make both top tens.
But it’s the names missing from the New Statesman that I find surprising. No Mugabe, no al-Bashir of Sudan, no Than Shwe of Burma. Castro rolls in at number 15 in Wallechinsky’s list, but only gets a glancing mention in a sidebar on corruption in the New Statesman. These kinds of lists are clearly subjective and are really a frothy journalistic approach to a serious issue, but I suspect there are still people around the Statesman who feel a bit soft about Mugabe, given his role in toppling the odious Ian Smith regime. And for a lot of the political spectrum in Britain (not just the far left), Castro is admired for his anti-Americanism however screwed up and repressive his government may be.
And the Statesman’s seeming reluctance to include dictatorships of the “left” clearly had them struggling to fill out their list. Number nine is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai whose principal sins seem to be allowing a thriving commercial culture in the emirate. And number 10 is bizarrely Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay, who died a month ago and hasn’t been in charge of the country for 17 years.