Let’s consider the world from the point of view of an Arab dictator. Currently, there are three retirement options for any dictator: die in office and hope your sons take over, flee the country as the citizens storm the palace gates, or face trial and execution in a rebel court.
The first option is the goal of any dictator, but it rarely works out. Establishing a dynasty while enjoying the power and wealth is not a retirement strategy in the Arab world. Very few Arab leaders last more than 40 years in the Middle East—and that was before “Arab Spring” put bullseyes on their backs. Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was gunned down by an Islamic militant. Lebanese leaders last little longer than second lieutenants in Vietnam. Yemeni dictators are replaced about as often as vinyl siding in a sketchy neighborhood—about once every 25 years.
Option two is rarely used and rarely turns out well. Sudan’s dictator, Ja’far Numeri, fled to Saudi Arabia in 1989, where he joined Uganda’s onetime dictator Idi Amin. With comparatively little money, little freedom to leave the oil kingdom, and life entirely dependent on the goodwill of his hosts, both Numeri and Amin complained bitterly about their haven. While it is hard to work up much sympathy, the press statements of the former strongmen were certainly noticed by the current crop of tyrants.
Option three is to depend on rebel justice. This, too, is unappetizing to dictators. Egypt’s former strongman, Hosni Mubarak, on a hospital gurney, now waits for a hostile judge to decide his fate. Saddam Hussein fled, was captured, tried and executed by his enemies.
Given a Sophie’s choice between death or powerlessness, it is little wonder that most dictators cling to power. Why not make option two, fleeing to a neutral country, more attractive to them?
That would mean allowing them to keep some sizeable percentage of their loot hidden away in secret bank accounts and a reliable treaty mechanism that would make them immune to prosecution by both their former subjects and various international courts, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Issuing a literal “get out of jail free” card to dictators may well be seen as rewarding evil behavior. But it is not. It is simply a way to use a dictators’ own ill-gotten gains and desire for freedom to buy him out of waging a civil war that could cost tens of thousands of civilian casualties while sparing America’s war fighters and taxpayers the burden of removing him. Think of it as “greenmail” for totalitarians.
This idea needs work. But it is high time that we start thinking about a retirement plan for dictators that encourages them to flee, not fight. We cannot afford too many triumphs like the one convulsing Tripoli today.
.... Hata viji-Dikteta vya Bongo havina na pakukimbilia. Sana sana wanaendeleza usanii tu, one generation after another. Out One Thief, In Another Thief, OOTIAT