Ever wondered how to become a dictator? Turns out that one thing travel teaches you is that not all democracies are truly democratic. The first example that undoubtedly comes to your mind right now is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) aka North Korea. There are a total of eight countries around the world with the word “democratic” in their official name but three of them are in fact dictatorships.
The other two are Laos (whose official name is “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Now file everything I just said away in the back of your brain under “useful useless information” because instead of those countries, today I want to talk to you about another: Sri Lanka. Yes, the country is a democracy, albeit one with a checkered past — but seriously now, what nation doesn’t have a checkered past? Apartheid in South Africa, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, and Germany, well…
Despite being a democracy, when I visited Sri Lanka for the first time last year I was able to witness firsthand the steps that the president had been taking over the last decade to turn this humble democracy into his own personal dictatorship.
It was there I learned…
How To Become A Dictator
1 Have the good fortune to be the elected president when the three decade long civil war that has been plaguing your country comes to an abrupt end. This first step is trickiest, but if you can pull it off then you are golden.
2 Now that the war is over, begin public works projects to highlight your greatness. Build new highways and repair the railroad tracks among the most populous cities, allowing tourism to gradually return.
3 Secretly (or not so secretly) ensure that the national airline and many of the popular hotels and resorts are owned by the military. Start charging top dollar ($30+ USD) entry fees at the popular tourist sites and rack in as much profit as possible off foreign visitors. As countless examples around the world show, the noble President-Dictator position is a very expensive one. Best to start stockpiling that money fast.
4 Begin a campaign of disinformation and propaganda highlighting your greatness to sway the uneducated masses. It doesn’t matter how little of what you say is true, just that you say it loudly enough and often enough that eventually the locals begin believe it. Or at the very least accept it.
5 Construct grandiose yet deserted four-lane highways and back in your home town. Along them strew dubious architectural achievements that now sit empty and unused (like the Hambantota International Convention Centre pictured above and below), as well as other infrastructure that there is no demand for, like a new seaport and airport.
6 Plaster your image on every lamppost and building in the country in an attempt to remind your subjects on a daily basis of how great you are.
7 Begin changing laws to make it easier for you to stay in power for the rest of your life.
8 When the next election does come around, use the military set up secret printing presses to print up thousands upon thousands of fake ballets that all vote for you — just in case you do not win the popular vote.
Thankfully this story has a happy ending. In January of 2015 the Sri Lankan presidential election took place — what many locals feared would be the last free election — and despite Mahinda Rajapaksa’s best efforts, he narrowly lost to Maithripala Sirisena.
Already the travel restrictions to Jaffna in the north have been lifted and many more positive improvements are expected under the new leadership. Things look promising for Sri Lanka and now is the time to visit!