Somewhat provocatively, let's pose the question: Are good dictators better for a country (and the world) than bad elected presidents?
Traveling the world, mainly for business-related reasons, has gotten me thinking about country governments, infrastructure-building, and the world community. The United Nations has 193 members, which means almost all countries in the world are UN members (54 countries or territories, recognized as such, are not, including notable exceptions such as Taiwan, Kosovo, Vatican City, and Palestine).
On my most recent trip to Kenya and the meetings of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Investment Forum, there was a plethora of countries represented and numerous high-level officials. And, since the meeting was in Africa, most of the 55 countries in Africa and its 1.2 billion people were represented by officials. Africa has seen its share of “dictators” and elected leaders, and that begs the question of which is the best – it seems the answer should be easy, but is it?
But, before moving on, let’s explain that number, 55 countries! Fifty-four countries are members of the African Union. Fifty-four countries are also recognized by the United Nations as countries. Why do we then have 55 countries? The answer is that Morocco is a member of the United Nations but not recognized by the African Union. And, Western Sahara is a member of the African Union but not recognized by the United Nations.
Regardless, Africa represents a chunk of the world with its 1.2 billion people; has some 2,000 languages spoken across the continent (although a majority of countries in Africa are still speaking or influenced by English or French); and take up about 11.7 million square miles of the world’s area or about 20 percent of its land mass (Africa is the second largest continent and second most populous after Asia).
Now, while recognizing Africa and its people and size, this blog was not to highlight the issue of dictators versus elected officials in Africa, per se. European countries such Germany and Spain had similar issues not long ago, and some people in a Middle Eastern (and “pseudo-European”) country like Turkey are having thoughts in this vein with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the helm. The U.S. and President Obama’s Administration appear to (slightly) favor the elected-by-people regime of Erdogan over potential alternatives that may have resulted from the recent coup attempt.
This takes me to my discussions with new (and old) African and South American friends while in Nairobi, Kenya. These talks presented a unique dialogue and take on dictators versus elected officials. The argument for democratically elected officials should be obvious – people chose, freedom, and liberty, and so on. But, as presented to me, the argument for (positive) dictators was potentially compelling as well. The idea was that instead of having term limits of elected officials, and new ones coming in periodically, it may actually be better to have a long-term "dictator" who can develop a country’s infrastructure, prosperity, and competitiveness in world trade.
So, is a good dictator better than a bad elected president (the assumption is that the dictator is not another notorious evil character but someone who works for the good of a country in a positive way but is power-hungry enough to stay in office on his/her own accord as opposed to the people’s say)? Being from Sweden, democracy and equality are staples in my cultural mindset but there are compelling arguments for alternatives (perhaps)!