HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 4)

Welcome to part 4 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Damn, you also missed part 3? What’s up with that? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 4)

After Mummer Qaddafi died, it was time to name a new Longest Ruling Dictator.

Enter Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, who has not undertaken this burden lightly.

Obiang came to power in this tiny oil-rich nation in 1979 in a very original way: he ousted his uncle in a coup d’état. For some reason, six whole years passed before Obiang generously took full control of the national treasury in order to protect his civil servants from the terrible temptation of corruption.

Lucky for the people of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang and his family are immune from such temptation, likely because Obiang is in permanent contact with the Almighty, according to the very objective state-run radio station. That’s why everybody was totally cool with Obiang putting more than half a billion dollars of the country’s money into U.S. bank accounts controlled by him and his family.

You read that right: U.S. bank accounts. Not every dictator relies on numbered accounts in Switzerland. Indeed, Obiang’s son, also named Teodoro, adores the United States. He attended Pepperdine University and fell in love with Malibu, where he purchased a beachfront mansion so he would have a place to show off his Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a crystal-covered glove and crystal-covered socks, and to park his many Lamborghini after driving home from his private Gulfstream G-V jet.

Teodoro Obiang.png

Teodoro Obiang the Younger attempts an awkward moonwalk in his palace.

He also owned not one but two fifty-foot speedboats, each with a $2 million price tag, and one of which he had shipped to Hawaii for a vacation, where he promptly capsized it and had to pay $400,000 to salvage it. And just in case this evil-dictator’s-playboy-son-cliché wasn’t complete, Obiang Junior dated, of course, a Danish beauty queen.

(On a side note: that same beauty queen, Christina Mikkelsen, won the title Miss Denmark 2016 and will compete in the 2016 Miss Universe contest, which is supposed to be held in the Philippines, which has its own dictator angle in Rodrigo Duterte.)

According to a Department of Justice lawsuit, Obiang the Younger spent around $315 million on properties and luxury goods between 2004 and 2011. For some reason, the number crunchers at Justice couldn’t figure out how he had managed to do that when his official salary was only around $100,000 a year. But I say don’t castigate the guy. He should get kudos for working so hard, because it takes real effort to spend about $45 million a year on someone’s used socks.

Up next: How to go from Breadbasket to Hell in a Hand Basket.

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 3)

Welcome to part 3 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 3)

The Godfather of Africa’s dictators was easily Muammar Qaddafi, the yardstick by which everyone measured every other dictator. Other dictators became “the longest serving dictator after Qaddafi” because the guy ruled Libya for 42 years.

Much like U.S. politicians who like to remind voters they come from hard-working families with modest backgrounds and were raised castrating pigs, Qaddafi informed his people that his father was a Bedouin goat herder and thus he was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-goat-skin-boots kind of guy, a self-made autocrat who had successfully ousted a monarchy in a coup. After kicking out the king, he then insisted on being called King of Kings, which his people must have found hilariously ironic.

Like many sons of goat herders who become absolute rulers, Qaddafi was lavish. He started with crisp military uniforms laden down with more medals than Michael Phelps and later moved on to the colorful flowing robes of a Bedouin as he nurtured his pan-Africanist movement. He reinforced his Bedouin image by pitching a tent in capital cities across the globe during his international travel. He often parked a camel just outside for full desert effect. Never one to take his security lightly, the tent was bulletproof. The camel was not.

qaddafi-medals

Qaddafi had to earn his medals. Being King of Kings helped.

 

Also not bulletproof were the women in Qaddafi’s Amazonian Guard, badass female bodyguards in lipstick and heels who swore an oath of chastity and were officially known as the Revolutionary Nuns. He also had nurses, plenty of them and mostly from Ukraine, one of whom was described in a WikiLeaks cable as “a voluptuous blonde.”

But all the chaste love and Ukrainian caregiving couldn’t save Qaddafi, who also, unfortunately, was not bulletproof. He and his loyal companions discovered this in a drainpipe in Sirte, Libya, where rebels shot the King of Kings.

Fittingly, some reports state he died wearing a wig. While in retrospect it is easy to say that maybe he should have worried more about quashing a rebellion than taking time to place faux tresses on that big squishy head of his, cultivating an image of a spritely leader had always been part of his winning strategy (up to that point, at least).

Usually, he was very good about prioritizing his looks with other necessities. Once, in the middle of a procedure to pump his stomach fat into the wrinkles on his face, he got up to eat a hamburger, briefly setting aside his vanity to concentrate on his hunger.

qaddafi-hands-up

At the United Nations, Qaddafi makes an impassioned plea for hamburgers for everybody.

But on October 20, 2011, both he and his wig succumbed, finally giving someone else the chance to be Africa’s longest ruling dictator.

Next week: Africa’s Newest Longest Ruling Dictator

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 2)

As I mentioned last week, Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko never named himself President for Life, which worked out okay for him, because he died in exile.

In an embarrassing twist for Mobutu’s neighbor to the north, Central Africa Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa did name himself President for Life but came nowhere close to fulfilling that promise. Bokassa took control of the country in a coup d’état in 1966, overthrowing President David Dacko (who also happened to be his cousin), and declared himself President for Life in 1972.

Four years later, Bokassa toyed with the idea of being a great Islamic leader, converting to Islam in the hope of securing foreign aid from Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi (more on him later). In another demonstration of his humility, he took the name Saleh Eddine Ahmed Bokassa, after basically one of the most revered Muslim warriors in history.

But a few months later, he saw the light, the “light” being the fact that Qaddafi was not going to come through with the cash. He converted back to Catholicism and, like so many failures before him, turned to his backup plan: Crowning himself emperor.

In a chintzy move, Emperor Bokassa I spent only about one-third of Central Africa’s annual budget on the ceremony to crown himself emperor, leaving the other two-thirds for his regular travel to Paris, because who the hell wants to spend any time in a country that’s completely crumbling? The $20 million party nearly bankrupted the country, excuse me, empire, but Bokassa received financial help from France, which needed the uranium that was so abundant in Bokassa’s new fiefdom.

The ceremony lasted two days, with troops in fancy dress uniforms and a mini-Bokassa, the new emperor’s four-year-old son (from his sixth out of, like, 19 wives; people eventually stopped counting) and heir apparent, in a tiny white military uniform with gold trimmings, riding in a horse-drawn carriage. You can see it on YouTube. It’s actually quite adorable, this toddler tyrant who can’t get into the carriage on his own and who yawns while attendants fawn over him. The future of the empire was in strong but tiny white-gloved hands.

Bokassa spent much of the ceremony sitting on a two-ton solid gold eagle-shaped throne, a symbol that he was full of solid gold shit. And he wore an ornate, diamond-encrusted crown, made in Paris, of course.

bokassa

Even this bird wanted to get away from Bokassa.

But as any college exchange student knows, French lovers can be so fickle. They inevitably go back to their wife, even if you are atomically well endowed. The French government backed deposed President Dacko in a coup to oust Bokassa in 1979. To prove there were no hard feelings, they eventually allowed Bokassa to live in a chateau outside Paris before he chose to return to his homeland in 1986. He served some prison time in Central Africa but was ultimately released and died at home in the capital, Bangui, in 1996.

Oh, and rumors that Bokassa was a cannibal were never proven. The fact that I even have to mention this should worry you.

Next week: The Godfather of African Dictators

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 1)

Welcome to my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 1)

I love dictators.

Before you jump all over me and remind me in righteous tones about how horrible dictators are, I know: Dictators are just the worst. But I’ll remind you that, despite this, many of our freedom-loving governments have had no problem kissing up to dictators when it serves their national interest. I believe Henry Kissinger called that Realpolitik.

I will also point out that some countries thrived better under their dictators than they do now under all the freedom and democracy we have so generously spread. But I will leave that for the historians to debate and the politicians to distort. Because when it comes to dictators, I am a sucker for the cult of personality.

My favorite dictator, hands down, is Mobutu Sese Seko. For 32 years that went by like a blink for most of his adoring people, he ruled Congo, a country he renamed Zaire and that is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (side note: the word “Democratic” is often used rather loosely in naming countries; this is a good example).

A brief history of the Congo: At the end of the 19th century, Belgium’s King Leopold II was jealous that he didn’t have his own colony like his European neighbors, so he declared the Congo—which he had never actually seen in person and which he never did see in person (in fact, he never once went anywhere in Africa)—was his property. He then got all the other white people to agree to this arrangement.

He named it Congo Free State (again, “Free” was used rather loosely) and proceeded to use the country’s vast resources to stuff his own wallet while he did horrendous things to the Congolese people.

leopold-ii

Having beaten other European leaders in a beard-growing competition, Belgium’s King Leopold II won a colony in Africa.

Mobutu must have studied history, because after he took power in 1965 in a coup d’état, he pretty much did the same thing. Mobutu was extremely motivated to be the most solid personification of a kleptocracy ever. Using state funds, he built an elaborate Chinese pagoda in the most logical place imaginable: the middle of the African rainforest—an overgrown garden oasis in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, which must have really lowered construction costs. He then imported fish from China to fill the pond in the yard.

He also razed enough trees to be able to build an extra long runway to accommodate a Concorde, which he chartered from Air France and used for shopping trips to Paris, because really, how much time can one spend in one’s pagoda? It’s in the middle of an inhospitable rainforest, for fuck’s sake.

In case using state coffers as his own wasn’t enough to endear him to his people, Mobutu knew a strong name would certainly convince them to love him. So shortly after taking power, the former Josephe-Desire Mobutu changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko, which means, “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”

It’s a great name.

If you come across someone named Leopold, you’re probably in a sandbox and you want to throw mud at him. But the all-powerful warrior who leaves fire in his wake? I will follow this guy to hell and back. Which is kind of what Mobutu’s people did, except they made it to hell and the country pretty much stayed there for Mobutu’s entire rule.

In another wonderful parallel to Europeans who deeply understood their people’s needs, Mobutu’s first wife was named Marie Antoinette, making a fantastic companion for sipping pink Champagne in that jungle pagoda while asking her people why don’t they just eat if they’re so hungry?

After she died, Mobutu took his mistress as his second wife. That meant he needed a new mistress, and for that, he chose his new wife’s identical twin sister. That’s either really weird or incredibly genius. It’s kind of like wanting to spruce up your wardrobe but buying the same leopard-skin hat you already have so you never have to apologize to the first hat because you thought it was her all along.

One thing Mobutu didn’t manage to do, besides lift his country out of devastating poverty, was get himself named President for Life, which is too bad because he almost was. In May 1997, Laurent Kabila, with a little help from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, overthrew Mobutu in a new coup. Mobutu fled the country and died later that year in exile in Morocco.

mobutu

Mobutu tries to figure out if the person he is looking at is his wife or his mistress.

Next week: Which chintzy dictator skimped on his coronation?