Bad year for the coconuts

For Foreign Policy's July/August 2010 issue, featuring our annual Failed States index, Ghanaian economist and writer George Ayittey put together a survey of the world's dictators and tyrants -- or "coconut heads" as he calls them. Suffice to say, 2011's been a tough year for the coconuts. 

Kim Jong Il (No. 1 on Ayittey's list) has just died. Than Shwe (No. 3) resigned and his country is showing some promising signs of genuine liberalization. Muammar al-Qaddafi (No. 11) met his bloody end in Sirte. Hosni Mubarak (No. 15) was forced from power and is on trial. Add to that, the ongoing protests against Bashar al-Assad (No. 12), Hugo Chavez's (No. 17) cancer diagnosis, and a grim year for Omar al-Bashir (No. 4) in which he saw his country literally break in two.

Even a few coconuts that didn't make Ayittey's list fell. There was Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who kicked off the year by fleeing to the Gulf. Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh -- technically the world's longest-serving ruler after the death of Qaddafi -- has agreed to step down. Aspiring strongman Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D'Ivoire was forced from power as well.   

Going through the rest of the list we see Robert Mugabe and Raul Castro, both in their 80s. The former will face another controversial election next year and the latter is attempting to keep a lid on things while opening up his country's economy. Belarus' Aleksandr Lukashenko is looking wobblier than he has in a long time. The past month has seen the most significant protests in recent memory in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.  

This isn't necessarily to say that the world's become more democratic this year, none of these countries are exactly guaranteed a democratic future, and in some, the possibility seems pretty remote. But it's been a terrible year for the world's longtime strongmen -- which is good news for everyone else. 


What do we know about Kim Jong Un?

With Kim Jong Il having departed this world for the land of pizza pies and Hennessy -- or something -- attention now turns to his son and presumed successor Kim Jong Un. Like his dad, Jong Un's background is largely shrouded in mystery. But here are a few things we know, or think we do: 

Ken Gause wrote for FP in 2009, "According to Kim Jong Il's former personal chef, Kim Jong-un was born in 1983 or 1984 to Kim's third wife, Ko Hyong-hui, and is allegedly his father's favorite son."

Jong Un was reportedly designated successor after his older bloger Kim Jong Nam embarassed the family with an ill-fated trip to Disneyland in 2001.

His health is questionable: There are reports that he inherited his father's diabetes and he was injured in a car crash in 2008. 

He was reportedly educated in Switzerland at the prestigious International School of Berne.

He shares his dad's fondness for James Bond movies and Michael Jordan and former schoolmates remember him being mainly obsessed with basketball in his youth. 

He's thought to speak English, German, and French. 

His father began grooming him only three years ago -- not much time for a 20-something to prepare to lead a troubled country. 

During his time in the North Korean government, he's been personally linked to two disastrous initiatives -- a 2009 currency reevalution that wiped out the life savings of many North Korean citizens and led to rare protests, and a 2010 artillery assault on a South Korean military installation.

According to official propaganda, he is "a military talent who has genius wisdom and policy" and "resembles our great general (Kim Jong Il) so much in appearance." His official nickname is "Brilliant Comrade". (His father was "Dear Leader" and his grandfather was "Great Leader."