Back in 1989, George Bush senior said in his inaugural
that “in man’s heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is
over.” He was right.

The death last week of Alfredo
, ex-dictator of Paraguay, was a reminder of a past era when petty
tyrants littered the world.

In 1978, the year the World Cup was held in
Argentina, Peter Chippindale and Ed Harriman were able to include 34
dictatorships in their compilation Juntas United (Quartet Books), and
there were many they had to leave out. (General Stroessner was immortalised on
the jacket as the dictator who “p-ssed on the aircraft wheel”.) Now in most of
the world dictatorship is the exception, and democracy the norm:
House reported
last year that 64% of countries are electoral democracies, the highest
proportion on record.

Absence of a dictator is not enough to make a
country free; some countries are run by an authoritarian collective leadership
(China, Vietnam), others by absolute monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Swaziland), while
others seem in more or less permanent disarray (Iraq, Somalia). But there is
something distinctive about the dictator, a species that dominated the history
of the 20th century but may now be facing extinction in the 21st.

has therefore put together a list of dictators still in power. No two lists are
likely to agree (compare Wikipedia’s list here),
since many cases are debatable. But these sixteen, ordered chronologically,
should be enough to get some debate going.

  • Fidel Castro, Cuba, since 1959
  • Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya, since 1969
  • Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea, since 1979
  • Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, since 1980
  • Lansana Conte, Guinea, since 1984
  • Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia, since 1987
  • Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, Sudan, since 1989
  • Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan, since 1991
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan, since 1991
  • Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan, since 1991
  • Than Shwe, Burma, since 1992
  • Isaias Afewerki, Eritrea, since 1993
  • Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus, since 1994
  • Kim Jong-il, North Korea, since 1994
  • Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan, since 1999
  • Bashar al-Assad, Syria, since 2000

A few ex-dictators linger
on in exile or retirement. Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chile’s Augusto
Pinochet, Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski, South Korea’s Chun Doo-hwan. Iraq’s
Saddam Hussein and Liberia’s Charles Taylor are on trial for their crimes, and
with any luck some others may join them.