Among the 10 dictatorship countries profiled, poverty is endemic. Poverty alleviation in these 10 dictatorship countries is in some cases associated with human rights abuses, violent crackdowns on the political opposition and indigenous people. In the last two decades, however, some of these countries have moved towards embracing democracy, which has brought an influx of government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign investment working to promulgate poverty alleviation.
The State of Poverty in 10 Dictatorship Countries
- Cambodia – In June of 2018, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was officially qualified as a military dictator by Human Rights Watch. Through an environment of fear, Cambodia has been littered with human rights abuses, crackdowns on the opposition, coercion and repression of the media. In September of 2018, the United Nations Development Program stated that 35 percent of all Cambodians are still poor regardless of the decline in the Multidimensional Poverty Index. In 2006, the Ministry of Planning established the IDPoor Programme to guide government services and NGOs to provide target services and assistance to the poorest households. As of December 2017, The IDPoor Programme has assisted 13 million people and has covered 90 percent of Cambodians.
- Cameroon – Current Prime Minister, Paul Biya, seized control of Cameroon from his fellow despotic predecessor in 1982. Biya has since ruled the central African country with an iron fist. In 2014, 37.5 percent of the people were living in poverty. However, a development NGO called Heifer Cameroon has been playing a positive role in alleviating the strains of poverty for Cameroon’s most poor and vulnerable communities. Heifer Cameroon has assisted 30,000 families by spurring job creation among the rural poor through focusing on the dairy industry along with other livestock.
- Eritrea – Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, took power after its independence and has since entrapped his citizens in a cloud of fear. Furthermore, the nation was rocked by internal war, drought and famine. According to estimates of The World Bank, 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. Despite these conditions, Eritrea has drastically improved its public health conditions. Indeed since its liberation, life expectancy has increased by 14 years to 63 years. And over 70 percent of the population now has access to clean water, compared to just 15 percent in 1993.
- Ethiopia – In 2000, Ethiopia had one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, but by 2011, the poverty rate had fallen by 14 percent. In 2018, Ethiopia became Africa’s fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan African region. However, some of the country’s development schemes have been wildly unpopular, such as the mass land-grab that is displacing Ethiopians so the government can lease out the land to foreign investors. On the other hand, some developments have actually made improvements in average household health, education and living standards.
- Madagascar – Madagascar has experienced a long period of political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was democratically elected in 2014. Rajaonarimampianina has prioritized recovering Madagascar’s relationship with foreign investment agencies, like The World Bank, IMF and The African Union. Unfortunately, in 2018, 75 percent of Madagascar’s population are still living under the poverty line.
- Myanmar – From 1966 to 2016, Myanmar existed under a military dictatorship that bore multiple wars spurred out of hatred and persecution of Rohingya Muslims and Christians. The crackdown and ethnic cleansing created a major refugee crisis. Today, Myanmar is reportedly inching towards democracy, but the military, headed by Gen. Than Shwe, still has major sway. In 2015, 35 percent of the population of Myanmar lived in poverty.
- Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime is often associated with maintaining peace and stability since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, critics of Kagame cite numerous human rights abuses and fear that the President is leading the country towards dictatorship. Still, Rwanda has taken major strides in addressing and decreasing the poverty rate. Between 2000 and 2010, the poverty rate declined by 23.8 percent. Recent economic growth within the country has been evenly distributed and pro-poor, with the majority of the Rwandan population benefiting from this economic growth.
- Sudan – President al-Bashir came to power in 1989 and reigned with a brutal dictatorship in Sudan until his exile in 2015. Poverty in Sudan is endemic. In 2018, 2.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid and 4.8 million were food insecure. Such high rates of poverty engender low literacy levels, crumbling infrastructure, little to no access to health services and high rates of food insecurity.
- Tunisia – President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali headed Tunisia’s dictatorship until 2011 when he was ousted by a people’s revolution. However, that stability was maintained by the military, which performed countless human rights abuses. However, poverty reduction strategies have rung successful as the poverty rate in Tunisia fell by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015.
- Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, who was the President of Zimbabwe for 37 years until 2017, had long been seen as a dictator and is attributed by The Economist as “ruining” Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and an infrastructure system in disrepair. Build Zimbabwe Alliance claims that 72 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. The main causes of poverty in Zimbabwe are the economic recession of 2008 and global warming’s impact on agriculture.
These 10 dictatorship countries have taken strides in increasing access to education, healthcare and economic growth. Such programs have been most successful in regards to pro-poor poverty reduction. The political outlook of some of these countries is improving, but there is still a lot of work needed to improve poverty in all of the countries listed.
– Sasha Kramer