Saddam was ‘better’ than Osama, Amin, Mobutu...

Sunday May 29 2011

The arrest on Thursday in Serbia of Ratko Mladic, the war crimes fugitive yet again proved an old truth — murderous generals, terrorists and dictators never end their lives happily. The Serbian army under the command of Mladic massacred more than 7,500 people in Srebrenica in 1995. He has eluded justice for the past 10 years.

This has been a good hunting seasons against the world’s bad guys. In early May, US special forces killed the much-sought Osama bin Laden (OBL), leader of the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda in his hideout in Pakistan.

In Tunisia, protestors chased the country’s strongman, Zine a-Abidine Ben Ali out of power. And in Egypt, demonstrators also ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship the same way. What happened to Ben Ali and Mubarak next was uncannily similar.

Both men apparently suffered power-withdrawal symptoms and fell very sick. Ben Ali is being sought by Tunisian authorities. Mubarak, his wife, and children have been charged with corruption. And, in Mubarak’s case, for ordering the killing of protestors.

Mubarak’s wife has stood by her man and fallen sick along with the husband. Ben Ali’s wife took a more pragmatic route; she gathered their treasures, and took off.

Dictators, especially Third World ones, rarely get to live their last days basking in their garden, surrounded by cheerful grandchildren, and welcoming neighbours. Uganda’s military tyrant Idi Amin died lonely and nearly destitute in Saudi Arabia. The original corrupt Big Man, DR Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko was ravaged by disease and deserted in his old days.


The Central African Republic’s cannibal “Emperor” Jean-Bedel Bokassa died isolated and a despised caricature. Cambodia’s Pol Pot, who dispatched over 7 million of his countrymen and women, died on a mat in the jungle.

I think all Africa’s despots; from Libya’s embattled Muammar Gaddafi, to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and nearly all Africa’s other presidents-for-life have gathered so much bad karma, they will end in a terrible place.

All this brings us back to two men, Iraq’s iron-man Saddam Hussein, and OBL.

Saddam was captured hiding in a foxhole in 2003. At that time, several American commentators wrote to say that proved that Saddam was a quack and worthless figure – compared to OBL. Why? Because Saddam was seized a few months after he went into hiding, and OBL had still eluded capture five years the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (supposedly because he enjoyed deeper loyalty than Saddam).

Now, we know better. Osama was enjoying the companionship of two wives, was surrounded by a couple of his many children, and whiled away his time pathetically watching videos of himself. Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo took refuge in the State House bunker with his wife and son.

Even Adolf Hitler committed suicide jointly with his wife Eva Braun in his bunker (she had been his mistress and he only married her the night before).

Saddam would probably not have fitted a wife and children in his foxhole, even if he wanted to. Whatever the case, among the bad guys, he seems to have been the most selfless, the one who forsook the warmth of a woman’s embrace and the distraction of TV in his bleakest hours. Surprise, surprise, Saddam, it turns out, was more “revolutionary” than OBL. We wait to see which of our dictators will equal him.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]