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George Ayittey’s War on African Dictatorships

Alemayehu G. Mariam

George AyitteyGeorge Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist, and arguably one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” (a person of ideas who stands for things far larger than one’s academic discipline) worldwide who “are shaping the tenor of our time” has been at war with Africa’s tin pot dictators and their lackeys for at least two decades. In 1996, he told African intellectuals exactly what he thought of them: “Hordes of politicians, lecturers, professionals, lawyers, and doctors sell themselves off into prostitution and voluntary bondage to serve the dictates of military vagabonds with half their intelligence. And time and time again, after being raped, abused, and defiled, they are tossed out like rubbish — or worse. Yet more intellectual prostitutes stampede to take their places…”

No one tells the truth about Africa’s dictators or their Western sugar daddies better than Ayittey. Recently, he was in Oslo at the World Freedom Forum skewering African dictators and mapping out battle plans. He reminded his audience:

In the 1960s, we got rid of the white colonialists, but we did not dissemble the oppressive colonial state. We removed the white colonialist and replaced him by black neocolonialists, Swiss bank socialists, crocodile liberators, quack revolutionaries and briefcase bandits. Africans will tell you, we remove one cockroach and the next rat comes to do the same exact thing.

Africa’s “briefcase bandits” run full-fledged criminal enterprises. Sani Abacha of Nigeria amassed $5 billion, and the Swiss Supreme Court in 2005 declared the Abacha family a “criminal enterprise”. Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan has stashed away $7 billion while Hosni Mubarak is reputed to have piled a fortune of $40 billion. In comparison, Ayittey says, “The net worth of 43 U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama amounts to 2.5 billion.”

How Do You Fight and Win Against African Dictators?

Ayittey’s “law” of African dictatorship says African dictators cannot be defeated through “rah-rah street demonstrations alone.” To purge Africa from the scourge of dictatorships, Ayittey says three things are required:

First, it takes a coalition to organize and coordinate the activities of the various opposition groups. It is imperative that you have a small group of people– call them an elders’ council to coordinate the activities– [composed] of eminent and respectable personalities who have no political baggage. They must be able to reach out to all the opposition groups. We formed one in Ghana called the Alliance for Change… Second, you got to know the enemy, his modus operandi, his strengths and weaknesses… You find his weaknesses and exploit it…. All dictators [operate] by seiz[ing] the civil service, media, judiciary, security forces, election commission and control the bank. They pack these institutions with their cronies and subvert them to serve their interests. For a revolution to succeed, you have to wrest control of one of more of these institutions. Third, you have to get the sequence of reform correct…

Last year, there were ten elections in Africa. The dictators won all ten… Why? Because the opposition was divided. In Ethiopia, for example, there were 92 political parties running to challenge the dictator Meles Zenawi… It shouldn’t be this way. The council should bring all of the opposition into an alliance…

What Can Ethiopians Learn from Ayittey?

Is Ayittey right in his assertion that “dictator Meles Zenawi” keeps winning “elections” because the opposition is divided? Why is there not a “coalition to organize and coordinate the activities of the various Ethiopian opposition groups”? Is it possible to set up an “Ethiopian Alliance for Change”? What are the weaknesses of the dictator? These are questions that need to be discussed and debated by Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora.

Looking Through the Dictators’ Lenses

Ayittey is absolutely right in his prescriptions on how to remove dictators. In understanding the modus operandi of African dictators, one must necessarily go beyond an examination of the dictators’ actions, decision-making processes and command-and-control relationships and try to see the world through the dictators’ lenses. I believe it is equally important to have a sophisticated understanding of the mindset of African dictators, the motivations that drive them to commit unimaginable acts of cruelty, the perverted logic of their thought processes and why they cling to power when they are totally rejected by the people.

Analysis of the psychodynamics (mental, emotional, or motivational forces especially at the unconscious levels) of African dictators shows some act out of hate and others from greed and the need to dominate. Still others act from painful early childhood impressions which  “tend to coalesce into a natural view of the world”. They spend the rest of their lives trying to get even against those who may have slighted them. All of Africa’s dictators are sociopaths. They have no empathy (no emotional capacity for the suffering of others) towards others. They are devoid of ethical and moral standards. For them it is normal to lie, steal, cheat, kill, torture and violate the rights of others. It is vitally important to have a clear and objective understanding of the mindset of African dictators to anticipate their likely responses in a variety of situations and their tactical adaptations to actions taken against them by their pro-democracy opponents.

My view is that “if you have seen one African dictator, you have seen them all”. African dictators manifest three basic traits: 1) denial of reality, 2) narcissism and 3) paranoia (fear). African dictators have difficulty accepting reality, that is, the world as it objectively manifests itself. They see only what they want to see; and to avoid what they don’t want to see, they manufacture their own convenient world of illusions out of the whole cloth of their personal beliefs, opinions and fantasies. When they win elections, they win by 99.6 percent. When unemployment and inflation are skyrocketing, they see annual economic growth of 15 percent. When people are starving, they see “pockets of severe malnutrition”.  As they continue to abuse power without any legal restraints and convince themselves that they are above the law and accountable to no one but themselves, they transform their world of illusion into a world of delusion where they become both the “lone rangers” of the old American West and the sole custodians of the Holy Grail, with miraculous powers to save their nation.

African dictators are narcissistic. They believe they are the center of the universe and everything revolves around them. Because they are narcissistic, they are limited in their thinking, selective in their views, narrow in their vision, intolerant of dissent, solicitous of praise and adulation often surrounding themselves with yes-men, distrustful of everyone (except those in the small close group of people who feed them only the information they want to hear). They remain rigid and inflexible and their approach and attitude towards their opposition is never to compromise or negotiate. At best, they see their opposition as wayward children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Their mantra is: “It’s my way which is the only way, or the highway, ain’t no way or you-are-on-your-way-to-jail!” To their way of thinking, conciliation and reconciliation with their opposition is humiliation, and a deep wound on their pride.

African dictators rule by fear, yet they and their henchmen and cronies live in a state of fear. It is true that those who are feared by the people in turn fear the people who fear them. They are afraid of their own shadows. They are afraid of criticism, and most of all they are afraid of the truth. They interact only with those in their inner circle (the “state within the state”, the “knights of the roundtable”). They often find out that their trusted and loyal lackeys have little real understanding of the outside world or the complex domestic issues and problems. Even when there are a few in the inner circle who might have some sophisticated understanding, they are often afraid to tell the dictators the truth.

Coalition Against African Dictatorships

Unless pro-democracy elements understand the psychodynamics of African dictators, they will likely remain on the defensive and inherently reactive mode. The fact of the matter is that African dictators study and know their opposition better than the opposition knows itself. They know how their opponents think, at what price they can be bought and sold and that many of them would rather join them to rip off the people than fight them. As Ayittey observed, they know even Africa’s best and brightest can be bought and sold like those in the world’s oldest profession. African dictators are always making psychological assessments of their opposition. They know what to do to exploit the smallest disagreements among their opposition. They know the leadership of their opposition is fixated on strategies that will bring quick results and avoid tactics that will work but take longer time to produce results. They know their opposition cannot prevail because they do not have the youth on their side, or have the willingness, readiness and capacity to mobilize and engage the youth. African dictators know the meaning of the statement made by their patron saint: “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.”

Know Thyself, Not Just the Dictators

To defeat African dictators, pro-democracy forces must do a great deal of self-introspection. Why do many in the African opposition do things that will help dictators become stronger? Opposition infighting is the greatest source of strength to African dictators. Why can’t opposition leaders get along with each other if they are irrevocably committed to the causes of freedom, democracy and human rights? Often opposition leaders can’t see the forest for the trees. Why don’t opposition leaders actively work to build trust, cooperation and camaraderie across party, ideological, ethnic, religious lines?  Perhaps a code of conduct for opposition groups is needed to promote a culture of truth-telling, fair and ethical dealing, tolerance and loyalty to principles and causes than individuals regardless of their leadership role.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a commentary complaining about the disarray in the Ethiopian opposition and pleading with opposition elements to put the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights above partisan or individual interests.

Those genuinely in the opposition must accept responsibility for their inability to come together and articulate a vision for the country. They deserve blame for squandering valuable opportunities to build organizational alliances, develop alternative policies and train young leaders… But that is no excuse for not closing ranks against dictatorship now, and presenting a united front in support of democracy, freedom and human rights.

When we understand the dictators and ourselves, we can devise strategies and tactics to replace the “vampire African states” that Ayittey often speaks about with democratic governments that operate under the rule of law and with the consent of the people. Ayittey said, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” I say Africa remains under the boots of ruthless dictators because her best and brightest children are the shoe-shiners of the dictators. It is time to close ranks against African dictators.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and


10 thoughts on “George Ayittey’s War on African Dictatorships

  1. George Ayittey is a hypocrite. When Kofi Annan was stealing from the Iraqi food programme funds indirectly his son (Kojo Anan) siphoning from a favorite oil company given the chance to sell Iraqi oil, Mr. Ayittey was quiet and sometimes defending Kofi “Corrupted” Anan. I think, we all need to come clean here, I have respect to Mr. Ayittey’s opinion toward African dictators, but he defeats himself when he keeps quiet in times Ghanians do wrong, and should stop favoring fellow Ghanians. If one is to be considered a legitimate intellectual one has to be honest to oneself and others equally, and that honesty includes criticizing one’s friends and heros. I remain positive that someday Mr. Ayittey will come forth and volunteer his honest services to help Africa, but at the moment he should stay back, just a little back.

  2. I can attest Mr. George Ayittey is not alone in waging undeclared war against the African hyenas–Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) of Ethiopia, Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, Muhammad Gaddafi of Libya, and many other African dictators – but you, Mr. Al G. Mariam, Elias Kifle, and many other democracy lovers, like you, have been helping the oppositions for over twenty years to bring down those ruthless dictators and liberate your people, the African people; therefore, you deserve our admirations and heart-felt praises even though Dictator Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) is still laughing and counting his assets in billions while the Ethiopian people are suffering tremendously and having nothing in their pockets to count.

    Boldly declaring to the world the injustices, the cruelties, and the poverties the African people have been facing on daily basis under their corrupt leaderships of African dictators, Mr. George Ayittey is absolutely right in degrading them and calling them and their followers rubbish and prostitutes.

    Let me sincerely inform Mr. George Ayittey from the real democratic country of Ghana, the land of the great reformer, Kewanee Nkrumah, that, to get out of the mess Ethiopia is facing, we have had big and small organizations with various agenda: some of these agenda were crafted to strengthen the unity of Ethiopia; quite a few of the agenda were purposely diluted with the real ones in order to disintegrate the country so that some of the bigots can benefit from the province that would break away from the mother land. We have totally failed to bring the two agenda together, analyze them, dissect them, unify them, and finally apply them. Multitudes of agenda come from various organizations such as Medrek, CUD, UDJ, ONC, UEDF, CUDP, OLF, just to mention a few of them. In fact, we have some new ones – Ginbot 7, Tinsae, Beka. You see, we are not short of organizations but we are short of teachings in unifying our thoughts, our agenda and changing them into a powerful entity that would shake the foundation of the Woyanne government.

    You are able to bring democracy to your country Ghana, using one organization, if I am not wrong, called the Alliance of Change. We have tried to do the same thing under our leader Birtukan Mideksa whose organization was UDJ; however, Dictator Meles outwitted us, destroyed UDJ, put in Qaliti Jail our leader, Birtukan Mideksa, and from that time on our organization never recovered from its humiliating total defeat.

    We already know the enemy, his strengths and his weaknesses: the enemy of our country is Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi).

    His strengths are:

    1. His techniques of divide and rule
    2. His Tigrean Army
    3. His wife Jezebel (Azeb)
    4. His treasurer Al Amoudi
    5. His Soul Father Aba Paulos
    6. His unjustified war with Somalia to appease Washington

    7. His weapon and food providers – London and Washington
    8. The humble and obedient natures of the Ethiopian people

    His visible and predictable weaknesses are:

    1. He doesn’t like the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.
    2. He doesn’t like the Ethiopian Muslims.
    3. He doesn’t like the Amharas.
    4. He doesn’t like the Oromos.
    5. He doesn’t like the Ethiopian merchants.
    6. He doesn’t like the highly educated Ethiopians.
    7. He doesn’t like the city of Addis Ababa.
    8. He hates Gondar City more than any other Ethiopian cities, and that is why he transported tones and tons of Gondar’s soil to his home town, Mekelle.

    Since he hates almost everybody because he is a murderer, then “The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death” (Numbers 35:19). If Meles escapes the death penalty after he has killed so many people on day light, he will be just like the Biblical Cain, a fugitive, who complained to the Lord: “I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14). That is what will happen to fugitive Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) unless he returns all the money he has stolen from the Ethiopian peasants and confess his sins sincerely and immediately.

    In short, we know the strengths and the weaknesses of Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) but we are not yet sure where our own strengths and weaknesses are. Generally speaking, we are weak, divided, disorganized, and discouraged. Unless we find people like Mr. George Ayitte, Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam, and the chief editor Elias Kifle to always inspire us to be better organized, avoid our selfish motives, and come up with new ideas that pleas almost every Ethiopian citizen, we will not achieve our noble goal – the removal of Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) from his office he has unlawfully occupied for almost twenty years.

    Dear Mr. Ayittey, we have had eminent and respectable personalities such as Mesfin Welde Mariam, engineer Hailu, Birtukan Mideksa, Dr. Birhanu Nega, and many others, and all of them failed to win to their sides the media, the judiciary, the security forces, the clergies, the Imams, the Rabies, the university professors, the city bankers, the merchants, the taxi drivers, and even the high school students. Mr. Ayittey, you are right we should have brought our different oppositions into an alliance; it is the Allied Power that defeated the most powerful dictators, Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy. Indeed, the Dictator of Ethiopia, Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi), will not go away quietly unless we are united to attack him on all sides.

    What are the common factors that will unite us against our common enemy, Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi)? There are plenty of them:
    1. Meles has murdered so many Ethiopians.
    2. Meles has sent to jail without a court trial thousands of Ethiopians.
    3. Meles has sold our fertile land to the Arabs and to the Indians.
    4. Meles has made Ethiopia a landlocked country (without a port).
    5. Meles has stolen billions of Ethiopian money.
    6. Meles has enriched his own tribe at the expense of the other Ethiopian tribes.
    7. Meles has particularly enervated the Amhara and the Oromo people.
    8. Meles has driven out the legitimate Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church out of the country and has put in his place an illegitimate patriarch from his home town.
    9. Meles has diverted the foreign food aid into his own political advantages.
    10. Meles has rigged the voting ballots two times.

    All these inappropriate actions performed by Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) affect every Ethiopian citizen; therefore they are our common binding forces or factors that would unite us to dismantle the sophisticated power structures of the Woyanne government.

    Dear Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam, we know Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) is a liar, a thief, a killer, a swindler, a torturer, and a violator of the rights of others. If he were not the violator of the rights of others, he should not have invaded Somalia in 2006 and killed hundreds of innocent Somali citizens. If he were not a violator of other people’s rights, he should not have ordered his federal army to shoot to kill those peaceful Ethiopian demonstrators earlier in May 2005. It seems all African dictators are born from the same father and mother, graduated from the same school, taught by the same professors, and destined to end up, some in jail, some in exile, and some in Hague. Dictators never change, never go away easily, and never improve the lives of their people unless they are forced to do so by some mysterious powers from above.

  3. Gosh; don’t forget to make an extraordinary highlight on the interest or the power of the sugar daddies. Amongst all factors that provide life to dictators, the huge part of the strength comes from the support of the sweet daddies. Meles is nothing without sweet daddies support; as you already know, they dressed him up, filled his pocket and put him on power, period. Mengistu survived for several years because of the support of his sweet Daddies. So the main strength comes from the sweet daddies. Whatever said, to change sugar daddies muscle around, to bring an end to a dictator, assembling together under one united force is necessery and is the best weapon. Ethiopians have to come together to bring the tyrant down.

  4. There’s something much worse than just being intellectually subservient to tyranny, dear: a deliberate cultivation of ignorance among the youth in the name of “higher educatiopn”, who would at the end of the day, no doubt, be mere machines to oppression with no hint of intelligence, just like what’s going on in Ethiopia right now.

  5. The diabolical tugs that hailed from Tigray are still busy subjugating, maiming, and killing the rest of the country with impunity. They are a disgrace to humanity. The vengeance with which they execute their slaughter is unmatched.

    This week, the Woyane boss, unashamedly declared ‘Poverty will soon be history’. He got it wrong. He put the cart before the horse.

    Before Poverty will soon be history Meles Zenawi and his Woyane Tugs must be history.

  6. Yes, let’s at least say something on this. As Teddy pointed out above (#4) “intellectuals” promoting ignorance and stupidity in the Woyane universities [or CONCENTRATION CAMPS] are being awarded Fulbright scholarships exactly for doing that! Top grades and all sorts of superlatives are guaranteed for students [ albeit their sheep like ignorance], making no noise by way of opposing dictatorial government orders. Al Saif’s PhD was a point of quandaries only after the extent of impunity and vulgarity between western governments and Third World dictators was exposed through Arab popular revolutions. At the end of the day, who actually is winner or loser in this kind of bestiality? It is interesting to notice that even those who are in vantage points to observe the spectacle and with some clout to make noise are almost unanimously silent on this tragic issue. Popular revolution is the key; the rest seems to be just noise!

  7. Ethiopia should have been on the lead in the struggle against all forms of tyranny & slavery, given her proud past, in Sub-Sahara Africa. As a twisted fate, it’s now being taught and led by the ramshackle and shameful African recent past. Could this at least irritate ALL Ethiopians? Why don’t then consolidate your efforts?

  8. Comments 6 & 7 above sound like a “lone wolf” Abyssinian’s cries. Do the current generation of Ethiopians really know the character of their fathers? much less their forefathers? Pity to this tragic nation!! Segui il tuo courso e lascia dir les grande forca!!!

  9. Interesting to read comment #8. This apparent Italian fellow seems to see deep into the souls or the ghost of the deceased Abyssinians. I appreciate his interset or involvement or concern even to think about such earstwhile notions… or into that direction, which many arrogant westerners shy away from, these days, but probably he may as well tell us more about hidden secrets like where the murder weapons might have been stashed or some ideas on getting redress or seek justice from murderers. I mean murderers concocted by Italy itself.

  10. A note to Prof. Alemayehu: first, thank you, professor, for your efforts in tinkering with the various gambits in the struggle for liberation and enlightenment in Ethiopia. Genuine Ethiopians commend you and should respect you for that. I have an idea. The idea is that we need to be a bit more original in thoughts and in our actions and approaches to exorcise ignorance & mean-spiritedness from the mentality of younger generation Ethiopians( who are obviously poisoned in many various ways) as a whole both inside the country and in the Diaspora in our own unique ways. One such unique way may be that to assume there is NO government in Ethiopia,[ disregarding and ignoring Woyane tags with their foreign swindlers] and because there is not even basic law and order inside the country… to establish some kind of “government in exile” for inchoate leadership. I have no doubt as to the popular support such government could garner as it moves on…

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