Tuesday, August 09, 2005

African Dictator Chic

As an immigrant from Uganda (a refugee from Idi Amin Dada's surreal Uganda-in-the-1970s), The Corsair has a particular white-hot disdain for African dictators, the soi-disant "Big Men of Africa." It's personal. They have cost the continent untold lives. And, worst of all, African dictators have no "chic." If power corrupts, then absolute power negates taste absolutely.


(image via timeinc)

The wonderful David Patrick Columbia and The Corsair had lunch at Michael's yesterday (Isaac Mizrahi, in a hurry, waved hello; as did Joan Parker of DeBeers), and the conversation touched on his inspired "Best Dressed List," which, apparently, has prompted a lot of email -- both pro and con -- to NySocialDiary.

So, The Corsair thought, what about these dictators? How does one acquire "African Dictator chic"? And, is there such a thing, if it even exists, desirable? Well, no, it's not; but we'll tell you about it anyway.

So ... you wanna be an African tyrant. here's what you'll need:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Perspiring Dictator Charles Taylor appeals to the tender cooling mercies of a moist towelette. (image via worldpress)

1) The African Dictator is in a perpetual state of sweat. Although Sophocles never included flopsweat in his stage directions, you can be pretty sure Oedipus Tyrannus carried with him a washcloth. And no -- not just because it is "Africa hott," but also because, quite frankly, the commonweal is looking, always, for an opportunity to go all (ironic finger quotes) "Caucescu" on your corrupt tyrannical ass. A little paranoia, the dictator knows, will wreak havoc on the sweat glands.


A scowling Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, and his trusty cane/scepter. (image via nationalmedia)

2) You must have a cane/scepter. That's crucial. It ought to have silver; all the better if the silver is mined from the natural resources of the dictators own impoverished country, and fashioned by a silversmith in Europe. Canes as symbols of African power and oppression of the uppity citizenry are hot. The Corsair does not quite know why, though. It may have something to do with a "colonial complex." African dictators tend to dress -- oddly -- after the manner of the Edwardian dandy, circa 1898.


(image via ccinemur.be)

3) The Belgian Chateaux. The Swiss (1970s) and Russian hookers (late 1990s-2000s) are a given, as is the Mercedes Benzes and the cases of Johnny Walker Blue delivered to friends of the regime, but an African dictator is not entirely complete without the requisite Belgian chateaux (Averted Gaze). The Belgian chateaux being, of course, only a shade more ostentatiously "classy" than the Portuguese Golf resort (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment).

Muammar el Gaddafi

(image via nndb)

4) Martial-style. It is never entirely inappropriate to let the hoi polloi, those unwashed uneducated masses, know just who is the Commander in Chief (Or, in the lamentable case of Idi Amin, "His Excellency, President for Life Field Marshall Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC. Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular"). Adopting an ostentatiously martial style projects an adolescent idealization of "strength" in the same way that the "over-teased hair" sported by Eastern European bureaucrats in the 1970s and Korean dictators of today do (Russell Crowe would understand the motivation).


(image via mabus)

5) Be Big. Megalomania is next to Godliness in the Dictator mindset. The effective African tyrant wears big colors -- Ghadaffi fears the color green, loves vermillion and pink. Everyone knows that dictators had ruinous, broken childhoods, like porn-stars. No psychologically healthy and well integrated adult personality would decide, on a whim, to take control of an emerging country's GDP and declare it to be, henceforth, his own checking account. Okay, aside from fucking Kissinger.

But The Corsair digresses. As a result of that early brokenness, the future autocrat -- whether in a destitute orphanage, or in some war-ravaged bush -- learned that "power" is achieved through throwing the biggest tantrum, stealing the most food, bullying the most boys and organizing them into his subordinates. This is essentially a regression into animal and not human behavior. And, if the future dictator is successful as a child in this endeavor, he will continue, through military channels, eventually taking over his jhost country -- or dying in the process -- and, ultimately, imploding in some megalomaniacal scheme to rule the region (Sadaam), or the world (Hitler). That's what the diplomatic strategy of containment was all about: containing the diseased regime, hastening its own collapse from internal contradiction.


Shady military general confers with thugocrat Mugabe. (image via worldpress)

6) Always Bring Things Back to Colonialism. Zimbabwe is like Sophocles' Thebes. The monsterous Robert Mugabe, currently a goddamned Sinophile (China is now, for all intents and purposes, the Anti-America, capitalizing on every diplomatic misstep of the Bush administration), he is expert at diverting attention from his horrific management of Zimbabwe by bringing up European colonialism and the post-colonial white farmers -- who, by The Corsair's reckoning are by no means squeaky-clean in all this (despite what the Tory British press says).

So, if you ask Mugabe, sweetly, what he is doing about that Oedipal plague, AIDS, which infects 1/3 of the country, he will talk of British colonialism (The Corsair sips his Campari and soda); if you ask why half of his country is impoverished, he brings up the white farmers (The Corsair sparks a Sobranie). It is a brilliantly evil game, played with serpentine precision, and if one's attention span is short, or if one is given to emotion, Mugabe will seduce you, making you forget that he is running Zimbabwe into the ground, and that he operates in the interests of his own wealth and continued power.


Fortuitous displays of Nigerian power. (image via gov.ru )

7) Pimp Hard. Dictators -- like the Nigerian junta -- convert the natural resources of a country into quick cash by selling the rights to corrupt corporations (and, in the process, cutting themselves a sweet slice of the action). The corporation gets, in turn, cheap labor, and the military of the country -- like the Nigerian junta -- as bodyguards. The corporation leaves, in due time, environmental havoc and unmarked mass graves. The gameplan is very simple, very "Oceans-11" -- hit it, then quit it; hopefully, make a cool billion, then move on to Monte Carlo before the next military junta take over and it all ends in the tragedy of Shakespearean succession. Cool de la?


Anonymous said...

I can't believe anonymous was here.


Anonymous said...

It's crazy to me how almost no news out of Africa makes it onto the nightly news. I remember a little blurb about the evicted white farmers a long time ago, and then there was the big "awareness raising" kerfluffle Live 8. Beyond that, it's pretty shameful how little the average shlub like me knows about the depth and breadth of the countries in Africa, and, of course, the rest of the non-white world.

Rod said...

Your site is fabulous, the coverage is awesome, and the writing extremely linear.


Anonymous said...

Stellar piece, but why aren't you wary fo De Beers' reps as well?

The Corsair said...

she was harmless. Thank you all for the comments. Cheers, R

Phelony Jones said...

Ron... very well put... I don't think I could have said this better myself. Beyond the AttentionFest known as Live 8 (i.e. attention to a couple of aging rock stars) the realities of these dictatorships are incredibly underreported and apparently not as sexy as multiple live broadcasts on AOL or visits by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The media is still diverting attention from the real problems - it makes me sick.

Mfalme Mwema - The Good King said...

Your piece is fascinating but really shallow. The true african dictator has deadlier dress sense and an overbearing sense of self that translates into their wardrobe and acceories. Most always have customized clothes with - not the fashion label, but their initials. Thus Daniel Arap Moi had DAM in script font on his shirt pockets and jackets. Most dictaors always wer two silver/platinum/gold watches on eaither wrists. not that they keep time better but shows a grandiose sense of their power. They also sit in public meetings and ceremonies in the biggest chair, with the most detailed sculpting, some sit on butterfly style huge sits, with eagles on national flags floating right above them (for photographic effects). Dont forget the cravat with the shiny kaunda suit, the golden canes and head dresses, but all of them share the simplest accesory - the sunglasses. They look realy macho from sida barre, idi amin, mobutu, taylor, et al. A dictator is a very complex animal that requires a university course (preferably a thesis) to truly understand his mannaerisms. But am still waiting for its hybrid - the engedered madam dictator