The Benevolent Dictator Theory

Idi Amin

Idi Amin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When people gather to discuss the future of Nigeria, the consensus is usually 2-pronged. The first is that the brand of democracy we have now clearly is not working. The second is that we are probably screwed if we don’t address our fundamental deficiencies. The third (yes, I know I said two) is that we need a benevolent dictator to set us right.

The mind that proposes a benevolent dictator has probably considered that  returning to military rule would not be a bad option, given how slowly we have moved since 1999. However, that is not a thought that we are allowed to entertain, as constitutional law jingoists insist on drumming it into our heads that “the worst civilian regime is better than the best military rule”.

I think we can agree that the evidence suggests to the contrary. The world’s oldest democracies are in the middle of economic decline (yes, there is the argument that boom and bust are cyclical) and oligarchies like China and the Sultanates and Emirates of the Middle East are prospering. -Ish. We could even throw a Cuba into the mix. Of course, it doesn’t help the argument that Oligarchies and constitutional monarchies (at least the ones referred to here) are totalitarian and slightly repressive but the economic and public administration metrics seem good.

This benevolent dictator matter though. He will be armed with his singularity of vision and purpose, ensure that his corrupt predecessors are forever prevented from returning to public office (many point to Jerry Rawlings and his purge), and not be impeded by the obstacles of democratic checks and balances in achieving the fullest impartation of his benevolence.

How would we choose him, given that choice already negates the concept of dictatorship? And if we don’t get to choose him, how do we determine the level of his benevolence; that he is in fact not malevolent? We might end up celebrating his ascension to power, like the Ugandans did Idi Amin, before realising that we’ve ended up with, well, an Idi Amin.

Further, philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau who gave us the theory of the separation of powers, identified (rightly, in my opinion) the pervasive, heady effect of having absolute power.  It corrupts absolutely. Not going to point fingers at anyone, relax Mr Mugabe.

Which brings me to the matter of the African dictator. This will probably be racist, in as far as a black man can demonstrate racism towards his own ethnic group, but I am thoroughly convinced that a [black] African benevolent dictator cannot stay so for very long. His culture, his family, his friends, his religious ministers, will ensure that he becomes parochial and nepotistic. And nepotism is a cancer – it cannot remain “little” – it will burgeon beyond the control of our benevolent dictator friend. And once our benevolent friend begins to exercise his absolute discretion and power in the favour of a select few…well, history is replete with examples of what happens next.

I usually argue in these discussions that the theory is a reflection of our laziness. We want the finished product without any fire of refinement whatsoever. We want to sit in our corners, minding our own business, tending to our own onions, while our “elected” representatives extort us, pilfer from the public purse, rob us blind and then, flash, bang, a saviour drops out of the sky and delivers us from all the evil. I don’t think this will happen. We are only to get out of this democracy what we put into it. Apathy will ensure that we are governed by the intellectual dregs of society. Abstinence will ensure that we remain infected by the malaise of corruption and maladministration. Indifference will only lead to continued daylight robbery under our very noses.

My riposte to the Benevolent Dictator Theory is the Democratically Aware and Engaged Citizen Theory. What say you?

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5 thoughts on “The Benevolent Dictator Theory

  1. “We want to sit in our corners… and then, flash, bang, a saviour drops out of the sky and delivers us from all the evil.” Guilty as charged.

    Cinderella is a fairy tale- there is no fairy Godmother, no golden carriage, no glass slipper, no prince. Just you and me, just you and me, the architects of our destiny.

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  2. Reblogged this on livelytwist and commented:
    You’ve done it and I’ve done it too—huddled with friends and turned a debate on which way Nigeria into a prayer meeting. The kind of prayer meeting where one person declares, “Only God can save Nigeria!” and the others inwardly chorus amen. Weep no more; the Messiah we’re hoping for could be closer than we think…

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  3. Livelytwist directed me here. This is a lovely piece 🙂 And I totally agree with you: we need to stop being waiting and start doing something.

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  4. Pingback: Did We Do Any Learning? [6] | livelytwist

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