Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


"Strong Man"


"Strong Man" is an informal descriptive label for a political phenomenon associated with dictators or authoritarian leaders in the postcolonial developing world (but with possible applications to First-World democracies).

This phenomenon is associated with the "cult of personality," in which propaganda makes the personality or identity of the authoritarian leader is treated synonymously with that of the state or nation.

Postcolonial leaders earning these terms include

Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011), Libya

Hugo Chavez (1954- ), Venezuela

Kim Jong-Il (1942- ), North Korea

Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006), Chile

Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), Iraq

Fidel Castro (1926- ), Cuba

Daniel Arap Moi (1924- ), Kenya

Hosni Mubarak (1928- ), Egypt

Mobutu Sese Sako (1930-1997), Congo

Suharto (1921-2008), Indonesia

Idi Amin (1925-2003), Uganda

Robert Mugabe (1924- ), Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia)

(many other figures in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia might be added)


First-World figures include:

Josef Stalin (1878-1953), USSR

  • In postcolonial conditions the "Strong Man" sometimes comes to power as an entity for unifying an artificial nation's disparate tribes or peoples through violent repression.

  • Popular revolutions against the Strong Man's government may be unified by common hatred and vengeance against him, which may be difficult to sustain following ouster.

  • In postcolonial nations democracies and esp. their political parties often assume tribal identities that may lead to one-party rule.

  • Currently the Assad leadership in Syria, whose members are associated with the minority Alewite Muslim sect, is holding power partly because they have warned the country's minorities of dangers if the Sunni Muslim majority takes power.

from Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. 1961. Trans. Richard Philcox. NY: Grove, 2004.

113-14 But the looming threat results in a strengthening of authority and the emergence of a dictatorship. The leader with his militant past as a loyal patriot constitutes a screen between the people and the grasping bourgeoisie because he lends his support to the undertakings of this caste and turns a blind eye to its insolence, mediocrity, and fundamental immorality. He helps to curb the growing awareness of the people. He lends his support to this caste and hides its maneuvers from the people, thus becoming its most vital tool for mystifying and numbing the senses of the masses. Every time he addresses the people he recalls his life, which was often heroic, the battles waged and the victories won in the people’s name, thus conveying to the masses they should continue to place their trust in him. There are many examples of African patriots who have introduced into the cautious political struggle of their elders a bold, nationalistic style. These men came from the interior. Scandalizing the colonizer and shaming the nationalists in the capital, they proclaimed loud and clear their origins and spoke in the name of the black masses. These men who have praised the race, who were not ashamed of the past—its debasement and cannibalism—today find themselves, / alas, leading a team that turns its back on the interior and proclaims that the vocation of the people is to fall in line, always and forever.

          The leader pacifies the people. Years after independence, incapable of offering the people anything of substance, incapable of actually opening up their future, of launching the people into the task of nation building and hence their own development, the leader can be heard churning out the history of independence and recalling the united front of the liberation struggle. Refusing to break up the national bourgeoisie, the leader asks the people to plunge back into the past and drink in the epic that led to independence. The leader objectively places a curb on the people and desperately endeavors either to expel them from history or prevent them from setting foot in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader roused the people and promised them a radical heroic march forward. Today he repeatedly endeavors to lull them to sleep and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to take stock of the immense distance they have covered.




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