To bolster claims that he was a closet reformer, “Baby Doc” Duvalier released some political prisoners when he took over in Haiti but he eventually fled the country 15 years later with the blood of thousands on his hands. Gamal Mubarak “has been the leading voice in favor of change within the government and the ruling party,” argued Lord Peter Benjamin Mandelson, British Labor Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hartlepool shortly before Egyptians successfully ousted the elder Mubarak and exposed the son’s corrupt, U.S. assisted dealings.
It’s not just these so called democratic dictators that fool outsider observers into equating youth with change. Meles Zenawi was only 36 when he became the president of Ethiopia in 1991. Widely viewed as a “reformer” by the West, Zenawi has been at the helm for the last 20 years, his rule marked by electoral fraud, considerable repression in parts of the country, and military intervention in Somalia. Yoweri Musaveni took over Uganda at the age of 47 and was widely heralded as part of a new generation of African democrats, but war and domestic oppression have characterized his long reign as well. Democracies are not immune from this particular political fallacy. Young voices for change (Tony Blair, Barack Obama) often align themselves with powerful economic and political interests (the military, the financial sector), and end up strengthening the very status quo they promised to change.
Newcomers like Nasheed however committed to change; at a personal level rarely have the institutional clout to make their mark. As they consolidate power, power in turn transforms them. Paradoxically, it’s often the old-timers who end up transforming the systems. The MDP top notch like Reeko Moosa, Maria and Ibrahim Hussein Zaki are the ones who hack apart the party, manipulate and dictate terms on Nasheed. Taking down a system is easier if you know the system’s weak points from the inside. And if you rise to the top of the system, you by definition have a base of support from which to operate.
Mikhail Gorbachev was an apparatchik of long standing, a true believer who ultimately restructured the Soviet Union out of existence. F.W. de Klerk was not only an architect of apartheid but widely considered one of the more conservative National Party members, until he changed his mind, his party, and along with Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, all of South Africa. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom too was widely believed to be a reformer, before he came into power. But while in power, he found that the status quo of the Maldivian Political system did not allow him to bring drastic changes. If he did then there would have been more chaos than now.
Instead he developed the youth with modern education in required spheres. After 30 years of a semi benevolent dictatorial rule he introduced an extremely good democratic system into Maldives. But unfortunately the so called reformers used the democratic platform and hijacked the whole system into a cult obsessed system. The jury is still out on Burmese President Thein Sein, but as a military man and junta leader who initiated some important reforms, he may well have set out on the same trajectory as Gorbachev and de Klerk. None of these figures, of course, did it by themselves.
We ridicule countries that operate cults of personality – North Korea, Uzbekistan – and pat ourselves on the back that we reserve such embarrassing displays of adulation for guys who throw balls, gals who star in reality shows, and teenagers who sing pop music. At least such idols don’t kill people. But alongside our celebration of celebrities, we also have a stealth personality cult: like the present MDP rallies that terrorize innocent Maldivians sleeping peaceful at night. We insist, overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that only individuals, not institutions, make history. We are constantly on the lookout for the heroic leader who can single-handedly transform the warp and weave of their society. When a movement is leaderless like the MDP movement or the leadership is dispersed as with so much of the Arab Spring, we’re not quite sure what to make of it.
We are trapped in the personality cult that our culture of individualism has created. So, when a transition takes place, as in North Korea, we ask all the wrong questions: who is Kim Jong Un, what are his politics, has his Swiss education influenced him, who are the individuals behind Kim Jong Un, will the young Kim transform his country? But to understand the future of North Korea, you must understand the key institutions in the society – the party, the military, and now the rising economic elite. Kim Jong Un’s possible love of fondue or American basketball is largely irrelevant. Just as the North Korean authorities are preparing the groundwork for the new leader’s personality cult, we unconsciously perform the rites of our own analytical personality cult by focusing on Kim Jong UN’s personal predilections.
We made the same mistake with Mohamed Nasheed when we assumed that his personality would shape the Maldivian system rather than the other way around. He proved to be a tyrant in disguise. “One-man rule and the perpetuation of party dynasties, monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of every man, woman and child on this planet. To all of this, the people say: enough!”
Let's not make the same mistake again. Mohamed Nasheed has developed a Cult personality, he has dragged a segment of our population into a civil war, just like in Sri Lanka when Rohan Wijeweera and the JVP movement, Che and Castro Movement. We must to surgically eliminate this new age worshipper,