After what’s been happening in Egypt, I thought I would draft a memo to dictators and authoritarian leaders around the world to give them some free and unsolicited advice.
Dear Mr Dictator/Authoritarian Leader
Recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and elsewhere must be giving you sleepless nights or making you feel terribly uneasy.
May I offer a few tips so that you don’t see similar eruptions in your own countries:
Do not suppress dissent
Allow your people sufficient avenues and outlets to express their frustrations, anger, complaints and criticism. You don’t want their anger and frustration to be pent up. Think of these avenues as built-in safety valves. In this respect, free media and a functioning Parliament have a big role to play. Don’t forget to free up the state-run media as well. Get rid of all repressive laws, especially detention without trial, and bring back democracy quickly before it’s too late. Liberate your people!
Improve the professionalism and integrity of the police and their understanding of human rights
This will in turn result in increased respect for the police among the general public. The police will then be seen as protectors of the people rather than brutal thugs of your hated regime for whom torture is the norm.
Strengthen the credibility and independence of institutions of governance
Restore your people’s faith in the judiciary, the anti-corruption agency, the election commission. Ensure that elections are credible and not rigged or gerrymandered.
Don’t stay too long
A couple of terms at the most. For goodness sake, don’t stay on… and on…. and on… for 15, 20, 30 years.
Don’t rely on superpowers to prop up your regime through military aid, for God’s sake, do not cooperate with their evil ‘rendition’ practices.
It’s better to leave gracefully before you have outlived your welcome than to stay on too long and risk being unceremoniously booted out.
Don’t try and set up a political dynasty and oh, cut the gravy train from your cronies and family members
If there’s one thing that disgusts most people, it’s when your spouse, family members and cronies try to project themselves or benefit from your position either through business deals or political positions.
Stamp out corruption and illicit financial outflows. Investigate these outflows and bring back the country’s stolen wealth.
Don’t be fooled by praise of your country’s economy
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by glowing figures for FDI and GDP growth rates and by praise by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF. Remember Egypt and Tunisia were regarded as economic miracles. The World Bank had only last year hailed Egypt as a “top global performer” for ‘Doing Business’. Egypt also had impressive FDI and GDP growth rates.
Instead, look at your Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality), the real poverty rate (based on a more realistic poverty line) and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
Don’t be fooled by the CPI-based inflation rate. The lower-income group are more seriously affected by higher food and transport costs. Look into improving food self-sufficiency and food security to reduce the impact of soaring global food prices. A hungry population makes for an easily dissatisfied populace.
Dump your neo-liberal policies
These tend to enrich a small minority and will aggravate the gap between the rich and the poor. Stop the privatisation of profits to cronies and the socialisation of losses. Quit providing subsidies to vested business interests while cutting subsidies to those who need them most.
Look into a more progressive tax system.
Restructure your economy to really benefit the vast majority of the people and reduce income inequalities through people-centred development rather than corporate-led development.
Set up strong social safety nets
Step up the provision of affordable education, housing, health care. Introduce a liveable minimum wage so that no worker needs to struggle to make ends meet. Strengthen workers’ right and allow more freedom for trade unions to protect the interests of the working class.
Forget about suppressing new media to control information flow
One way or another, the news will get out. When Egypt shut down the Internet, people could not use blogs, Facebook and twitter. But satellite television beamed the latest news from Liberation Square into their living rooms and filled in the gaps.
That’s it for now. Enough for you to chew on. Think about it.