Will the next Pol Pot be Arab or African?

TO those too young to remember Pol Pot, here is a short biography: he was an Asian who had millions of his people killed, perhaps not for the fun of it, but for no real good reason.

One very crucial element in their favour was this: they were not armed.

Pol Pot’s massacre of innocents went down in history as The Killing Fields.

It all happened in Cambodia, which he called Kampuchea.

There were massive celebrations when he was vanquished and when he died.

In Africa and the Middle East today, there is a deadly likelihood of a monster in the shape of Pol Pot emerging – a so-called leader who will authorise the massacre of his own people because they refuse to do his bidding – or because they think he is a monster.

In Egypt, the young people triumphed before Hosni Mubarak had a chance to turn into one of those ancient pharaohs who took pleasure in butchering their own people.

Earlier, in Tunisia, young people too had triumphed against their dirty dictator, Ben Ali.

Nobody had the indecency to shout hooray when the news slipped out of Saudi Arabia, where he is sheltering, that he had gone into a coma, after a stroke.

It’s not difficult to imagine what wild celebrations there would be throughout Tunisia when he finally hands in his dinner pail.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there will be similar celebrations whenever one of the dictators embroiled in setting up their killing fields dies.

It may sound callous, but people will be entitled to display their relief and joy at the passing of one who brought death, misery and hunger on his own people – not because there was war, drought or famine – but because he wanted all the wealth of the country for himself and his family and his cronies.

For me, personally, there will be a poignant reminder of a meeting with a young man in Manama, the capital or Bahrain, one of the Gulf states embroiled in a revolution against tyranny.

In the 1970s, I was returning to Lusaka and had stopped over in Manama.

I went into the departure lounge and ordered a drink at the bar. I had bought a fashionable pair of dark glasses during my trip.

I left them on the bar, together with my drink and went off to relieve myself.

When I returned – the drink was there, but no dark glasses.

Foolishly, I asked the young man at the bar if he had seen my dark glasses.

He shook his head.

I was about to press the matter further, but one look at him and I stopped: I would get no help from him.

For many years since that incident, I have agonised over the incident.

Bahrain has oil: a small portion of the population is swimming in oil money. 

It’s the Sunni, who have lorded it over the majority Shiite for decades.

This young man, I have now concluded, was Sunni, working for a pittance at the airport.

He had nothing against me, personally.

But when I left my dark glasses on the bar, he saw a chance to make quick cash.

I doubt he wished to use the glasses to impress a girl who had turned him down before. 

Today, I suspect he was probably among those who marched in protest against the denial to the Sunnis of their legitimate rights to good education, jobs, food and freedom of speech.

I pray he was not one of those killed.

But I mourn for the others in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria and little Bahrain.

These were not terrorists, adherents of Al Qaeda – just ordinary citizens driven to desperation by the utter heartlessness of their leaders to respond to their pleas for a better life on this earth – even if there may be promises of better things in the Hereafter.

We may all have faith in the existence of a better life after this one. But while we are down here, we ought to be allowed a chance to have a decent existence.

If someone denies us that chance, we have every right to ask them why – as robustly as we can.

Comments are closed.