- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
For Foreign Policy‘s July/August 2010 issue, featuring our annual Failed States index, Ghanaian economist and writer George Ayittey put together a survey of the world’s dictators and tyrants — or “coconut heads” as he calls them. Suffice to say, 2011’s been a tough year for the coconuts.
Kim Jong Il (No. 1 on Ayittey’s list) has just died. Than Shwe (No. 3) resigned and his country is showing some promising signs of genuine liberalization. Muammar al-Qaddafi (No. 11) met his bloody end in Sirte. Hosni Mubarak (No. 15) was forced from power and is on trial. Add to that, the ongoing protests against Bashar al-Assad (No. 12), Hugo Chavez’s (No. 17) cancer diagnosis, and a grim year for Omar al-Bashir (No. 4) in which he saw his country literally break in two.
Even a few coconuts that didn’t make Ayittey’s list fell. There was Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who kicked off the year by fleeing to the Gulf. Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh — technically the world’s longest-serving ruler after the death of Qaddafi — has agreed to step down. Aspiring strongman Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire was forced from power as well.
Going through the rest of the list we see Robert Mugabe and Raul Castro, both in their 80s. The former will face another controversial election next year and the latter is attempting to keep a lid on things while opening up his country’s economy. Belarus’ Aleksandr Lukashenko is looking wobblier than he has in a long time. The past month has seen the most significant protests in recent memory in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.
This isn’t necessarily to say that the world’s become more democratic this year, none of these countries are exactly guaranteed a democratic future, and in some, the possibility seems pretty remote. But it’s been a terrible year for the world’s longtime strongmen — which is good news for everyone else.