Memo to our fellow dictators: Are you the ruler of a dodgy republic? Any trouble with do-gooders? Jonathan Eyal passes on some timely advice

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The Independent Online
A STUDY commissioned by the Brussels-based Mobuto Foundation for International Solidarity, and just published by the Dessalines Barracks Press in Port-au- Prince, Haiti (price 100 gourdes) has come into my hands. Entitled How to Survive as a Dictator in the 1990s, it contains such useful insights, and such timely ones, that I have prevailed on the Independent to publish the most pertinent extracts.

The Problem for Brother Dictators

The end of the Cold War has rendered all dictators unsafe. In the name of a 'right' to democracy the sovereignty of our countries is violated, peace-keeping forces are introduced and 'humanitarian missions' launched. To make matters worse, the United Nations is now used as justification for such actions. We must assume that this organisation will continue to work against our interests, despite the fact that the UN Secretary General used to serve Egyptian leaders who enjoyed 99 per cent support in every unopposed election. Do not despair, however.

Not All is Bleak

The time of the dictators is far from over. Freedom House, the American think- tank - for so long the bane of our existence - has finally done something right: in its January report it admitted that the number of the globe's population living in totally free societies stands at 19 per cent, the lowest for almost two decades.

The major Western countries have no stomach for spreading democracy around the world. They have cut their military to the bone: Europe as such is unable to mount a major military operation on its own and America is unlikely to become much more active either. Since the end of Communism all those priests, do-gooders and CND supporters who argued that force solves nothing in the world are demanding instant military action, while all the generals who believed that weapons are the only answer to international disputes claim to be unable to stop a few bands of marauders in Bosnia. The result, happily, is stalemate.

What Should We Do Now?

Fear is the key. President Daniel arap Moi should be congratulated for ordering all his Kenyans to 'sing like parrots' and sing his tune.

Regrettably, however, the West's hunger for at least the trappings of democracy is such that it is wise to hold some elections. But there is nothing to fear either from their result or the presence of international observers. Romania's President Ion Iliescu, a candidate member in our fraternity, managed to obtain 1.5 million more votes than there were people on the electoral register in 1990.

But he's still there, and will shortly be received by Clinton in the White House. How is this achieved? First, publish some opinion polls in your officially controlled media indicating your inevitable victory. Fly in the international observers on the day of the election, show them a few happy peasants queuing to vote and surprise them with a result which is slightly lower than you originally predicted. Even if the busybodies discover misdemeanours, don't worry: no foreign ministry has ever bothered to act on their reports.

When Things Turn Tricky

Dictators unlucky enough to attract more media attention can always claim that their national circumstances are unique and that any attempt to impose a uniform standard of democracy amounts to cultural imperialism. Remember: the same do-gooders who believe in humanitarian intervention are also likely to assume that feeding your people is more important than talking to them.

Satellite television has led to more intrusion than we are used to, but it is still overwhelmingly in English, and mostly concerned with the affairs of OJ Simpson. Only 1 per cent of Americans watch CNN regularly anyway.

But even if a dictator is threatened by an invasion, there is plenty of scope for damage limitation. First, everything depends on the region. The West will do nothing in the former Soviet Union. Asian dictators need not fear much either: China will veto any UN resolution there. Nor are the dictators in the Middle East under much threat, provided they are prepared to put up with the occasional visit from Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

If you must invade your neighbour, do it in bits; do not take over a country completely, like Saddam Hussein has done. If you must kill people either do it quickly and massively like in Rwanda, or slowly and furtively like in the Sudan.

Do not generate many refugees and, if you do, be ready to negotiate their repatriation. Do accept other people's refugees, for this gives you a humanitarian veneer; Zaire showed the way.

Do involve international humanitarian organisations: that allows Western governments to claim they are doing something even when they are not and they may remove your obligation to feed your own people.

At every stage, claim that the alternative to your regime is an even worse one; if your opponents are Islamic fundamentalist, you are a lucky dictator.

But should the worst comes to the worst, remember those documents detailing your previous secret co-operation with the West. Threaten to publish those and you will usually be granted asylum somewhere.

Finally, a word of advice: prepare for your exile by depositing cash in East European banks, not Switzerland; the gnomes of Zurich are far too unreliable nowadays.

Jonathan Eyal is director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute, London.