When it comes to nonsensical policies and deadly regimes, there’s still plenty of despots to be found in the world. Whether we are talking chemical warfare, inane mutterings or Christ-like self imaging, we have collected the top five controversial figures currently holding top offices around the world today.
1. Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe
Let’s start with the oldest state leader currently holding office. Now 90 years old and as sprightly as ever, Robert Mugabe burst onto the scene during a particularly inequitable time for Zimbabwe. Although Zimbabwe was comparatively wealthy to surrounding nations, the country had a bad habit of giving inordinate power to white farmers, while leaving black Zimbabweans with very little.
When Mugabe came to power, he exiled and murdered many of the white farmers, instituted laws regarding power sharing (every company must be majority owned by a black Zimbabwean) and gave the seized farm land to his fellow army officers. Although many were pleased with these first steps, the country stalled economically without its agricultural base. To dissolve any goodwill he still held as ‘a man of the people’, Mugabe went on to commit multiple human rights abuses against the exact same group he claimed to protect. Detentions, murder and suppression of opposition candidates became commonplace.
His outrageous speeches have garnered him headline after headline in the international media. Regarding race, he’s been quoted as saying, “The only man you can trust is a dead white man.” And on the subject of Jesus, he compares himself favorably, “I have died many times,” he once said, “that’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once.”
He’s also on record calling Britain an “uninhabitable country” filled with “small houses.” To be fair, the small flats of London may seem uninhabitable for a man who has more than one sprawling mansion in his name. And while much of Zimbabwe lives in slums, with some of the worst poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, he can enjoy fishing on his own private lake.
2. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – Equatorial Guinea
Overthrowing his own uncle in 1979 to take power of this small nation, Teodoro is one of the strangest politicians in recorded history. Although his first few years in office were rather humane, his governance quickly spiraled out of control with human right abuses and outlandish claims. Like many dictators before him, he started comparing himself favorably to God and began hanging his face on everything. T-shirts, buildings, and billboards all carried his smiling face.
In 1993, John E. Bennett, the US ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, was accused of witchcraft while visiting the graves of British soldiers. After numerous death threats, he fled the country and thus ended U.S. relations with Equatorial Guinea for years. Soon after, Teodoro declared himself treasurer and funneled billions of dollars into both his personal and familial bank accounts. He is also known for illegal detention, torture and murder.
However, this all pales in comparison to accusations that he eats the human flesh of his opponents to gain power. This report, issued by his opponents, are eerily similar to those levied against former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin.
3. Islam Karimov – Uzbekistan
With a name like Islam, you might expect some level of sympathy towards Uzbekistan’s Muslim community. However, this has been far from the case. First came the clamp downs on mosque construction in the country. Then, after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, they tightened down even further, removing political dissidents under the pretense of ‘Islamist terror.’ More than 7,000 people were incarcerated as ‘Wahhabis’ and acts of torture and execution became prevalent.
He is also said to be responsible for the Andijan Massacre, where 500 protesters were killed after being trapped in a city square by armored vehicles before being shot to death.
However, one of his most bizarre moves was the creation of GONGOs. Under his administration, NGOs working in the region came under far more scrutiny and risked being shut down altogether. To maintain the façade of doing the right thing, the Karimov administration created Government Organized Non Governmental Organizations (GONGOs) to help regulate internal aid. GONGOs, while widely criticized for being nonsensical, are still in use today.
4. Bashar al Assad – Syria
Bashar was never supposed to lead, rather he was supposed to be a simple eye doctor with a quiet life. However, when his brother Basel, who was next in line to succeed his father, died in a car accident, he was thrust into the political spotlight.
At first things went smoothly for Bashar. After the repressive regime of his father, many were relieved when he opened political salons, encouraging debate within the nation. However, it hardly took a year before these free speech salons began to close one by one. Soon clampdowns on freedom of the press and detention began to surface. Thousands of political activists went missing each year, and accusations of arbitrary arrests ran rampant.
After the revolution started in Syria, records of mass atrocities became apparent. Bashar filled up not one, but two soccer stadiums with political prisoners to quell any dissent in Damascus. Outside of Damascus, mass graves were discovered. And as the uprising rallied on, reports of chemical weapons and snipers were used.
Some of the most chilling reports, however, has come from his own army. Reports of snipers standing behind snipers, picking off any soldier who refused to fire on civilians, were widely distributed as members of his army defected. The recent bombing of a refugee camp in Jordan, which killed mostly women and children, has also been added to his long list of human rights abuses.
5. Kim Jong Un – North Korea
North Korea is known for its fanatical dictators, and it seems Kim Jong Un has properly lived up to his family’s reputation. The Supreme Leader of North Korea, he has been reported to be obsessed with basketball, computer games and Eric Clapton. When former NBA star Dennis Rodman went to visit him in North Korea, he described him as a “good hearted kid.” The facts seem to tell a different story.
With a penchant for nuclear bomb threats, and a bad habit of executing his family, Kim Jong Un is shaping up to be as dangerous as his predecessors. Executions, concentration camps and killing both defectors and smugglers is a common theme in North Korea. Never mind of course that those close to him are allowed the finer things in life, such as Dior bags and access to the internet. For the average resident of North Korea, all access to the outside world remains shut off. Consistently escalating tensions on the border to prove his military might has led to uneasy relations with his neighbors, and left many wondering if diplomacy is ever in the cards.
His family’s chef, Kenji Fujimoto, called Kim Jong Un a “chip off the old block” when compared to his father. But from an international standpoint, that’s hardly a compliment.