Most of us have read about Adolf Hitler in our school textbooks. For many, Hitler and Nazi Germany was the introduction, the only example and culmination to the form of government known as dictatorship. Hitler’s regime has terribly stained dictatorship and exposed the dangers of the system, but Hitler wasn’t the only dictator that the world ever saw. There were dictators before Hitler and there are dictators still even today. The big question is, are all dictators inherently as bad as Hitler was?
Here are but three ‘benevolent’ dictators who you might not know much about but brought massive progress to their countries and changed them forever.
1. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey
While overtly religious Muslims see Ataturk as an enemy of Islam, there isn’t any confusion that what Turkey is today and the goodwill it has in the world is largely the consequence of his efforts.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire during the World War I, it was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who led the Turkish War of Independence against the allies who had occupied present day Turkey and formed the Republic of Turkey in 1923. He became the first President of it and held the position till his death in the year 1938.
One of his finest achievements was that he transformed the rigid Islamic former Ottoman Empire into a secular republic through legislation and by powerful and fearless public speeches against the Arabic system he believed wasn’t relevant anymore for the modern times. He looked away from the Middle East and remolded Turkey according to western philosophies, fashion and education. He even abolished the Arabic script.
He built thousands of new schools where modern education was prevalent, gave women equal rights socially and politically, established secularism in the truest sense by allowing its citizens to convert to other religions if they wanted. He even helped establish rival political parties so that after him the country didn’t end up in a mess like other countries under dictatorship. His efforts also changed the way many people view Islam.
2. ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’ Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso
Thomas Sankara, tired of corruption, poverty and French imperialism, seized the power of the West African country of ‘Upper Volta’ through a military rebellion and became the president of it and made the country one of Africa’s most progressive nations in just four years under him. He was just 33 years old when he became its president in the year 1983.
He renamed it Burkina Faso, meaning ‘Land of Upright Man’ and started transforming the country. He didn’t want to lead the country into debt and or under the influence of others and thus concentrated on self-sufficiency instead of foreign aid. He vaccinated 2.5 million children, laid roads and rails all over the country to tie it together without help from outside, abolished female genital mutilation, polygamy, forced marriages, sold off expensive cars of government officials and replaced them with cheap ones. Under him, wheat production of the country alone increased from 1700 kg per hectare in 1983 to 3800 kg per hectare in three years making the country self sufficient in food. He lowered the salaries of government officials including his own to meet the expenses of the country and the literacy rate increased to 73% from 13% during his regime. He promoted women to high government for the first time.
He was assassinated on October 15, 1987, at the age of 37 years but has remained a hero and symbol for a progressive, full of potential and imperialism free Africa even after 30 years of his death.
3. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore who governed over the tiny country for three decades. He is credited for transforming Singapore from a poverty stricken third world country to a global financial hub that it has become today in a single generation, much to the astonishment of the world.
Though he is accused of running the country in authoritarian way often, there is no doubt that he single-handedly made Singapore a financial powerhouse that have no natural resource of its own but still is one of the richest places on earth. He was a double-starred first class graduate barrister from Cambridge University and had a thorough grip over policies, politics and how to bring order in the country. He believed corruption starts from top and trickles down to bottom and made strict legislation that whoever is unable to explain his/her wealth is guilty of corruptions.
Under his regime, Singapore’s per capita GDP skyrocketed from USD 500 in 1965 to USD 14,500 in 1991, literacy rate improved from 52% in 1964 to 90% in 1990.
He was, nevertheless, also controversial at times and his policy of detention without trial was often criticized, but Lee believed it was necessary for the greater good of the country and to keep it in order.
He explained it in this way: “We have to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, whether they are religious extremists. If you don’t do that, the country would be in ruins.”