Who is the despot most vile?

The unintended consequences of tackling two of the world's most hideous despots are difficult to stomach, but the world has little option but to take action

It has been a week in which two of the world’s worst despots have been vying for title most foul, and it makes you realise that if some politicians were insects, they would certainly be cockroaches—vile and repugnant but undoubted masters of survival.

So who could fit the bill? Perhaps without much thought a lengthy list could be compiled, but for the moment two suffice—Presidents Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Each has the blood of so many on his hands. Each has decided to continue on, oblivious to the human toll they have exacted from their own peoples. Each has drawn international opprobrium but couldn’t give a toss. As the world watches in horror, each of these men continues to perpetrate genocide with a gobsmacking level of arrogance. Mugabe has topped that off with his sickening display of grief at the funeral of the wife of the man he has used his goons to arrest, beat and intimidate…but more of that later.

With Bashir the International Criminal Court has stepped up its actions and issued a warrant for his arrest. Yet the unintended consequences of an attempt to bring him to justice for slaughter, rape, and inflicting desperate misery on hundreds of thousands of Sudanese and Darfuris will be to make their lives even more hellish.

Bashir’s defiant act in the face of the ICC was of course to kick out the international aid agencies he regards in the same light as the international court. With that goes the hope of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who depend on aid agencies for water, food and medicine. The unintended consequences are slow death by disease and starvation, and the smiling Bashir knows it.

At the heart of the ICC’s decision lies the moral imperative to avoid a 21st century case of appeasement. For this it must be praised. The consequences of the pre-WWII appeasement of Adolf Hitler linger in living memory. Just imagine how many lives might have been saved had the Allied Powers had the guts to stand up to Hitler rather than give in to their own war-weary peace at any cost, including the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia.

But now the ICC has shown its mojo and issued the first ever warrant for a sitting head of state. Where to from here to ensure any stride international justice has hit continues a forward momentum?

When the world thinks human catastrophe à la 2008/09 it thinks Darfur. Hell, even George Clooney is there. That must translate into a concerted effort to intercept Bashir at any opportunity. It could also give some nations (and yes, I am thinking the United States) the chance to dust off some of its well-honed abilities to interfere in the internal politics of regimes it has in the past disagreed with. Perhaps there could be some measure of atonement for targeting Bashir or encouraging those in the ranks immediately below him to turn on their master. Maybe administrations of the past were practicing in Nicaragua, Iran or Panama for just this moment.

And then there’s the odious smiling Mugabe, fresh from squandering precious GDP on his own 85th birthday celebrations. If the pictures that circulated the world’s papers of him chowing down on a huge piece of birthday cake were not vomit-inducing enough for most of us, his taking the lectern at the funeral of Susan Tsvangirai did the job.

Considering the history of the current Zimbabwean co-administration, it is difficult to believe the car accident that killed Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife and injured him was actually an accident, but given that it does at this stage appear to be so, is there not something implicitly wrong with Mugabe turning up to the funeral of a woman who must have despised him with every breath?

Perhaps Mugabe was in that Harare church to praise whoever his god is for his good fortune. The man he has been forced to share power with has been dealt a literal death blow—the loss of his beloved wife of 31 years.

Perhaps therein lies a lesson most ably taught the world by another African leader, Nelson Mandela. As Tsvangirai’s children urge him to look ahead rather than stop in grief there is a nod too for the ICC. Yes, Bashir’s actions are going to hurt. Deeply. Yes, Mugabe’s regime persecutes. Deeply. From all of this horror, however, come two hopes. Mugabe at 85 will some day die and that will be sooner rather than later. Bashir now has a price on his head, and while there are reports that his administration laughs that off, there is an undeniable international stigma of being a wanted, or hunted, despot.

The first to bring in either of the above will go down as 21st century heroes on behalf of all those who have died at their hands, or those of their goons. At times like these it is hoped there is actually truth in the saying that the world is a village, and close-knit villages demand accountability.