The definition of “dictator” can be subjective and interpreted differently in different contexts. Definitions can range from “a person with unlimited governmental power” to “a ruler who has complete power in a country obtained by force and uses it unfairly or cruelly.”
However, it is evident that dictator-led countries are generally associated with severe poverty, repression and human rights abuses among the general population. Countries suffering under the rule of a dictatorship often experience rising mental illness rates, decreased health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and other problems.
Although the number of dictatorships have been decreasing, there are several dictators still in power today. This list details eight of the world’s current dictators and the poverty rates associated with each country.
- Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un is North Korea’s current dictator and the third generation Kim to rule the country, following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011. As Supreme Leader (many dictators do not call themselves dictators), he follows the political regimen of the Workers’ Party of Korea and has heavily focused on the country’s nuclear weapons program over the wellbeing of North Korean citizens. Forty percent of the nation, which is about 24 million people, lives below the poverty line.
- Pierre Nkurunziza
One of the most violent dictatorships has occurred in Burundi under the rule of Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel turned president. Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005 and was re-elected for a third term in 2015, has changed the country’s constitution to allow unlimited presidential terms. In May 2018, Burundi is headed for a constitutional referendum, which would extend Nkurunziza’s rule to 2034.Throughout Nkurunziza’s dictatorial regime, he has been known for purging ethnic Tutsi army officers, suppressing opposition and media and ordering murderous brutality committed against protesters of his extended rule. Additionally, Burundi has some of the highest rates of malnutrition among children under five anywhere in the world, seven million reported malaria cases in 2017 and a 64.6 percent poverty rate overall.
- Nicolás Maduro
Following Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s death, socialist Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013. Maduro has continued “chavismo,” the corrupt ideology of Chávez, which has destroyed the economy of Venezuela, causing drastic inflation, food and medicine shortages, high unemployment and economic reliance on oil. Venezuela’s poverty rate has spiked to 82 percent.
- Bashar Al-Assad
Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has been in power since his father, President Hafez Assad, died in 2000. The Syrian people were hopeful that he would bring about the economic and political reforms that Syrians had been calling for, but it never happened and Syrian’s economy has plummeted due to a civil war that broke out in 2011.Bashar al-Assad is responsible for hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths since the Arab Spring, and more than 82 percent of Syrians are living below the poverty line.
- Idriss Déby
Idriss Déby came to power in a military coup and has been ruling Chad since 1990. Déby has accelerated a bloody proxy war between Chad and Sudan throughout the 2000s and has been known to suppress opposition and the press. Chad has a 46.7 percent poverty rate, despite a surplus of oil, uranium and gold.
- Paul Kagame
Since coming to power as president of Rwanda in 2000, Kagame has actually reduced poverty. He has introduced free basic education, boosted trade and lowered maternal and child mortality by more than 50 percent.However, Kagame’s rule still comes with great restrictions on freedoms and widespread oppression, particularly regarding the government-appointed media and their efforts to shut down independent newspapers and radio stations. Rwanda’s poverty rate is currently at 39.1 percent.
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Erdoğan was the prime minister of Turkey from 2003-2014 until he became president in 2014. Erdoğan has suppressed opposition by closing universities and firing civil servants, and has urged the citizens of Turkey to conceive more children, while child and adolescent malnutrition, extreme lack of healthcare and inflation due to monthly increases in food prices have been greater concerns. Turkey’s poverty rate is at 21.9 percent.
- Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
In Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been ruling an authoritarian government since 1979. Freedom of association and assembly are harshly restricted under Mbasogo’s violent and oppressive rule, and essential healthcare and primary education improvements have been ignored. Mbasogo profits from billions of dollars of oil exports, but 76.8 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s population lives in poverty.
Although dictatorships are not as common now as they were in the past, the regimes of the world’s current dictators are still brutal, tyrannical, violent and repressive. The world’s most oppressed countries suffer under the autocratic rule of these current dictators, and there is still much progress to be made.
– Natalie Shaw