Daily Archives: January 21, 2011

Ben Ali was not so bad.


   I did not see the fall of Ben Ali coming. He could have toughed it out. He would have had to have ordered the security forces to be harder on the protestors. Would it be fair to call them rioters?

I think he has been condemned too readily. Yes, democracy was degraded. He never polled under 89%. There was probably cheating in his favour.

Free speech was fairly extensive. Tunisia’s economy grew. He had good relations with almost every country. Despite harbouring the PLO in the 1980s he did not get labelled a sponsor of terrorism by many in the West. That was a period when the PLO was widely regarded as a terrorist outfit. He clamped down on Islamists who wished to abolish freedom in Tunisia.

Tunisians were always free to leave.

France sees it is more important to keep in with the nouveau regime and therefore turned down his plea for asylum. Saudi Arabia took him in.

Ben Ali lived well but his lifestyle was not outrageous for a president.

Tourism flourished under him.

He fell because of the economic downturn. It is normally like that. He always had opponents. Many of them were locked up which I think was not warranted. But unemployment was too high. He did not do enough to repair the material condition of the people.

He was a reasonably good ruler. Let us not forget that. Many of those who damn him now should not deny that they hailed him once.


Jean-Claude Duvalier, what were you thinking?


       Jean-Claude Duvalier assumed the presidency of Haiti in 1971. He was then 19 years of age, the youngest president on the planet. Quite possibly he is the youngest president of all time. He assumed the cap of state because his father, Dr Francois Duvalier, had died. Dr Duvalier was known as Papa Doc. He was a medical doctor. He had spent some time training in the United States. Very unusually for his francophone country he spoke fluent English though with a mild accent.

Jean-Claude was known as Baby Doc. He ruled firmly, to say the least. The Tonton Macoutes was his security police force. I cannot say secret police as they made little attempt to be discrete. There role was to excise anti-Duvalier elements. This they did with little legal restraint.

I must give Baby Doc his due. Under him there was stability, slow economic growth (which is better than the freefall they had much of the time before and since), Communism was shunned, there was peace, the tourism industry began and he had a degree of heartfelt support. Yes, he was a dictator. Haiti had not had a ruler who was not a dictator. His country was full of illiterates and had been wracked by civil war many times before. Democracy did not seem viable. He lived well and it is probable that he filched money.

He was overthrown in 1986 and fled. He lived in France and had a life of luxury. I am unsure why France took him in – this did not endear him to his former people. Maybe they wanted him to spend his money there. Future tyrants would know to keep in with France so they would have a bolthole when their day of reckoning came.

Now he returns. As most people in old age he has lost much of his pigment.

Now a year after a horrendous earthquake he has returned to his native home. Not a few people grieve for relative who were unceremoniously killed by his militia. He was taken in for questioning. He may well stand trial. I think it was very unwise of him to return without a guarantee of immunity from prosecution.