The Fallacy of Dictatorial Benevolence ~ Alex Ndungu


As a young boy, I enjoyed attending rallies, or gatherings or stop-over, whatever the Presidential Press Service called these, ‘President Moi is in town occasions.’ I enjoyed watching his stuttering speeches and the almost uncountable newsreels his travels to various parts of the country generated. I specifically liked the part where President Moi, ‘would dip his hand in his court pockets or baskets within his presidential land-rovers and come out with crisp Kenya Shillings notes.’ At that moment in time he would either throw the crisp notes in the air where the melee that ensued had many fatally hurt or maimed, or he would point his ever straight pointing-finger to disparate members of the mammoth crowd, would go back a few wads of KSHs richer. I mean going to a President Moi’s rally meant there was a one in a thousandth chance that one would get a few shillings richer in his wallet.  Due to these seemingly benevolent acts, president Moi was referred to as a very generous president. At the height of Moi’s leadership, Kenya’s economic growth rate averaged in the negatives. Mr. Moi presided over what might be described as a soft dictatorship.

Enter Mr. Kibaki, a president with through all his foibles has presided over positive economic growth rates. Markedly different Kibaki does not dip his fingers in his court pockets and make ‘money rain’. He has been described in many quarters as a very stingy president. Yet at the heart of this comparative analysis is the question whether a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ is any good for a people, a nation, a state or anything for that matter.

 Scholars in various academic circles and perhaps other non-scholars flirted with the idea that Africa does not need democracy but rather a benign form of dictatorship that was widely referred to as ‘benevolent dictatorship’. They gave examples of Ghadaffi’s Libya, how he had brought prosperity to his people. How he the all knowing decided what was good and what was not for his people. The question that escapes the protagonist for these seemingly positive forms of dictatorship was at what cost, benevolent dictatorship?

Ghadaffi, in all his benevolence created a personal empire for himself and his family, he bought hotels from as far lands as Switzerland and Nairobi, he had some floored in gold. Here and there he threw in a few ‘calm your spirits’ freebies for his people while he continued expanding his lot with oil extracted from Libya’s bowels.

The proponents of ‘dictatorial benevolence’ propose that the paralysis that follows electoral democratization in Africa would be done away if ‘we all accepted’ the all knowing dictator to lord over us. That the ethnic upheavals amongst us might see pacification if we accepted the cup of peace from the ‘overbearing dictator.

Proponents of this brand of skewered governance however forget something that is at the very core of human existence; ‘freedom’. Give a man everything in life but freedom and he will still think that a better part of his-self is dead.  An examination of human history and development has had the search of freedom at its very core.  Technological advances have had freedom at their very core; sailing for example developed to help man extricate himself from unrelenting environments, if freedom were to be found in the lands beyond, then man was willing to risk the high seas for it. Most immigrants to the Americas from Europe were running away from one form of persecution or another. They were looking for lands where they would find self-expression.

Besides history only gives us few examples of the so called ‘benevolent dictators but is replete with the iron-fisted, predatorial type; Mobutu, Bokasa, the Du Valier’s and many others. These men had the chance to rule with generous spirits but they chose the path of brutality.

Africa does not need the so called wise and ‘benevolent dictators’ all we need is to strengthen our institutions, to gear our democracies in such a way that people have rights to decide their destinies. This is because choice, and the ability to make choices to a man is everything.  

Alex tells us that until a man has his freedom he feels like he has nothing irrespectiive of what he has