What is the Strongman Syndrome?

Strongmen have been around, and, sorry to say, have been a staple for centuries, if not millennia.

What is the Strongman Syndrome?
Saddam Hussein on Iraqi Currency. Photo by Rob / Unsplash

The Strongman Syndrome is part of what I would like to refer to as ‘Strongmanism.’

Who is a Strongman?

In normal circumstances, a strongman is an athlete who undertakes feats of strength: a Rambo-like figure who has muscles and all that. However, in the current pandemic and the current political climate globally, the strongmen I am talking about are leaders who rule through exercising violence, threats, or force.

Strongmen in Leadership in Governance

These are individuals who are essentially dictators who lead governments, states, and nations in authoritarian ways. The strongman is an individual who, despite having the responsibility to lead others with candor, justice, dignity, and openness, chooses to do what they want regardless of the consequences of their actions.

The Oppression that is Propagated by Strongmen

Strongmen have been around, and, sorry to say, have been a staple for centuries, if not millennia. The twentieth century became particularly proliferated with such leaders who, out of their evil or whatever forces, desires, or interests, had led the world to near ruin.

The civilization of humanity has led us to where we are today, and as free and unoppressed people, we may take advantage of our freedom and what it means. To be free is to live, get educated, work, and worship in one’s own home country or nation. When one can do neither nor all of these, they are not free and can are termed to have become oppressed.

What is Oppression and How Does It Relate to the Strongman Syndrome?

Oppression is a strong word and speaks of the horror that is the revocation, usurpation, or repudiation of one’s human rights and freedoms. Oppression is persecution and happens when an entity such as a government fails to do what it got mandated to do. The mandate entails protecting its citizens and allowing them their rights and freedoms, as envisaged in the law of the land or the constitution.

What is Strongmanism?

Subjugation is also part of oppression, and leaders who are strongmen politicians are inherently oppressors. In looking at and studying what strongmen do and why they do it, there are clear patterns that indicate the origins, causes, or underpinnings of ‘strongmanism.’

Who are Strongmen?

Strongmen are mostly individuals who are motivated by money, power, or a false sense of entitlement. These individuals masquerade their intent as just, honest and good while seeking their positions of power and, after being elected, will slowly show their true colors. Thank God we live in a time where democracy is alive and where the concept itself is appreciated and understood as what it can be and what it should be, fairness, equality, choice, and justice for all.

The Strongman Syndrome and Hunger for Power

Strongmen do all they can and will do absolutely anything to get into a position of power and stay there. To identify a strongman, one needs to look at the various patterns of undemocratic governments. Additionally, the various ways that elections get conducted. When a particular government or the activities surrounding an election spell doom for the people or when election time is inherently a perilous time, the government of the day is most probably authoritarian and led by a strongman.

Strongmen and their Clampdown on Dissent

Strongmen clamp down on dissent heavily and will not hesitate to use the machinery of government to essentially stamp out any individual or entity that criticizes them and what they stand for. In normal circumstances and when pragmatic leaders lead governments, any dissent is frowned upon but tolerated. Such governments are egalitarian, and everyone has the right and freedom to express their views regardless of whether those views directly criticize the government of the day.

Examples of Global Leaders Suffering from the Strongman Syndrome

Governments that will quickly and strongly suppress dissent and use violence, threats, or force, are authoritarian, dictatorial, and led by strongmen. Excellent examples include China under Xi, the U.S. under Trump, the Philippines under Duterte, Russia under Putin, and Belarus under Lukashenko, among many others. To varying extents, these and other governments have done all they can to clamp down on dissent. They have used government machinery, including the police and military, to persecute their own citizens.

Alexey Navalny and How the Russian Government Poisoned Him with a Novichok Agent

An excellent example is what happened to Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and a prominent critic of the Kremlin. He got poisoned using a Novichok nerve agent. You can imagine the pain and shock he suffered when his nervous system could no longer communicate with his organs.

The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey

Other cases of dissent clampdown include the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by suspected Saudi government agents. In the current state of things, dissidents need to be very keen on their situational awareness and personal security.

How Strongmen Have Faired in their COVID-19 Handling

Strongmen have no esteem for anyone who goes against their interests or opposes their styles of ruling or their activities. In almost all instances where a strongman leads a nation, corruption is rife, and the authoritarian government does little to curb it. They plunder public coffers and curtail any meaningful legal consequences that they are likely to face. They virtually steal from the people and use the power given to them by the people to avoid any legal action and consequences, as seen in boys and power.

How Strongmen are Surrounded by Fanatics

When you look closely, you realize that strongmen become surrounded by fanatics and people who will do anything for them, and who are at the strongman’s beck and call. In the current pandemic, strongmen have failed miserably in dealing with COVID-19. In numerous instances, they instigated lockdown too late and, even in some cases, did not put in place any lockdown measures.

How Strongmen Such as Bolsonaro Propagated Vaccine Misinformation

Strongmen, such as Bolsonaro in Brasil, denied the existence of the virus altogether. Compared to women leaders, strongmen pale in comparison in terms of leadership and the handling and response to COVID-19. They are also swift to speak carelessly and without regard for the consequences of the words they utter.

Trump and the Strongman Syndrome: How Trump Endorses Conspiracy Theories

Some, like Trump, have appeared to endorse conspiracy theories and criticize institutions they lead, such as intelligence services and the military. You can imagine what that does to the brave men and women who serve in the military voluntarily, negating the need for conscription.

We appreciate all those who have served, and we hold them in high esteem for their valor and heroism. Those who have given their lives for our country and especially those who fought for independence here in Kenya, such as the Mau Mau, are heroes who will forever get celebrated and appreciated for the sacrifices they made.

Bullying as a Symptom of the Strongman Syndrome

Strongmen are bullies and do all they can to force their opponents into submission. They are individuals who dominate their locales and nations and rule with an iron fist. These individuals are ruthless and will do anything to maintain their power, influence, and social status. Thinking about strongmen imparts a lot of bitterness and a certain resentment that entails disappointment and anger due to being mistreated. I think of the people of Hong Kong and the various ways they are coping with the introduction and enforcement of the National Security Law.

The Hong Kong Protests and the Chinese Government's Clamp Down on Protestors Using the National Security Law

The people of Hong Kong spent a significant chunk of last year protesting against the Chinese central government. The government effectively went back on a promise to wait until 2047 to revoke the autonomous status and governance of Hong Kong.

China is a beautiful nation and has good people, and, unfortunately, modern China suffers such authoritarian leadership and crippling censorship. Such clampdown has negatively influenced technology and innovation and exacerbated the technology and trade war between China and the United States. The two superpowers should find ways to instigate effective conflict resolution.

The Denial of Democratic Rights Due to the Strongman Syndrome

Here in Kenya, a lot of what has been going on indicates very strongly that there is a continual denial of democratic rights. There are numerous characteristics of a dictatorship and an authoritarian government. These include police brutality, widespread corruption, and an election cycle that entails the risk of culminating in an all-out civil war. We all pain for our country, and as a young nation, we have a long way to go to become a democratic and well-led nation.

The Madness and Strongmanism in Kenyan Politics

Kenyan politics is like a battlefield full of madmen and women who are baying for each other’s blood. There is a kind of senseless bickering and proliferation of fanaticism. Kenya is a nation where some people believe that they are entitled to leadership and that their communities are the only ones that can lead the country. A lot of tribal politics in Kenya has meant that leaders have developed a class of their own, ‘the political class’ that is completely out of touch with the reality of ordinary citizens.

The Kenyan Government's Record of Breeding Corruption

The current government has had a track record of breeding corruption and failing to deliver on the promise of a prosperous Kenya. The leaders of our country seem too oblivious to the plight of the ordinary Kenyan to realize that we are sick and tired of this debauchery. The current government needs to line up, act, and perform as it should, to ensure there will not be civil unrest.

The Strongman Syndrome and Why Strongmen Refuse to Resign Even When Found Culpable of Fraud and Corruption

An excellent example is leaders voluntarily stepping down from their positions of leadership when implicated in legal matters. It is such a shame to have sitting governors who have become accused of corruption and impunity. We are not animals in the jungle, and we should get treated as respectable human beings. We are also not simpletons for the government and politicians to act as if we are when they loot day in, day out, and then play politics. Our lives are at stake, and sin will haunt anyone who steals from the people.

Inequality: The Widening Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

When there is inequality in a nation, the social structure of that nation crumbles. Excellent examples include the United States and South Africa. When the gap between the rich and poor widens, there is a sense of elected officials being out of touch with the people and their problems. Most often, the upper class is very much insensitive to the needs of the lower class, and there is a demarcation in all spheres of life.

Elected Leaders' Plunder of Resources

Consequently, the leaders who get elected enter this class and will either plunder to satisfy the insatiable desire to be rich or be completely incognizant of the needs of ordinary citizens. In the United States, minorities, including the African American community, are impoverished and live as second-class citizens. When an individual has to work three jobs to feed their family and is still racially discriminated against, all these wrongs will fester and blow up into what we see today in protests.

Do you take part in protests?

How Inequality and Capitalism Collude to Keep the Poor Poor and the Rich Rich

When there is inequality, the economy and the engine that is capitalism work to enrich the rich even more and to make the poor even poorer. It cascades to a point where the poor cannot afford food or housing while at the same time, the rich are only gobbling up more wealth.

Growing Inequality in South Africa

South Africa is another case in point where on one side, you have rich white people with thousands of acres of land and, on the other hand, black natives who live in slums under squalid conditions. Couple that with a strongman and authoritarian government, and all these things boil over into all-out civil unrest and, unfortunately, xenophobia.

Gun Violence in America

It is regrettable that in America, a lack of adequate gun laws has meant that the country has seen a lot of gun violence in recent years. In periods like the current civil unrest and Black Lives Matter protests, gun violence takes a whole new turn for the worst when protestors collide with armed counter-protesters. You can imagine protesting and coming up against individuals of an opposing view wielding military-grade weapons. I don’t think any of us can imagine what such trauma would do to an individual and their mental health.


A lot of people already have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and the current unrest will only lead to more cases of PTSD. It calls for cognitive-behavioral therapy and other forms of therapy as a way of fighting anxiety, to heal the nation and the underlying issues that have led to mass protests. A lot of what is ailing the world today is authoritarian leadership and essentially, countries that become led by strongmen that undertake political corruption.

The Power and Influence of Strongmen

Strongmen become incentivized to partake in corruption as the position of leadership allows them so much power and influence that they are likely to give in to greed and shamelessly plunder the nation’s resources. It is so disheartening to see and hear that, in the current pandemic and as the world seeks a COVID-19 vaccine, there are government or government officials who have stolen budgetary allocations, grants, and donations geared towards mitigating COVID-19.

The Corrupt Nature of the Strongman Syndrome

Such action is part of blatant government corruption. They have completely disregarded donor instructions and risked funding for several and crucial humanitarian projects. It is so shocking that people would be so inhumane and allow evil to overcome them. As a Christian, I believe that everybody will pay for their individual sins and that on judgment day, the punishment will be equal to the sin.

Why Strongmen Eventually Die and Why Death is Important as a Cure to the Strongman Syndrome

Looking at the bigger picture, no wonder one cannot live forever so as not to be too good or too bad. No one should have unlimited power, and the very nature of life and death is the universe’s way to ensure balance. The world in 2020 is suffering a lot of poor leadership, and it is deplorable that the Twenty-first century is turning out to be a century where the world is still suffering dictatorship and the strongman syndrome.  

We all need prayer and to pray for our nation and other nations that are oppressed by dictatorial governments. It is very discouraging, especially for young Africans who are doing their best to make something of themselves and hustle. Corruption is almost a twisted form of black tax. It goes against the very tenets of Authentic Africa. Talking politics has also continually become very arduous.

Capitalism and Its Incentivization of Corruption

None of us created capitalism, and its incentivization of corruption and the embezzlement of taxpayers’ money is unfortunate. As the global community, we have become brainwashed by notions of getting rich quickly and wanting to lead out-of-this-world lifestyles. There is also the role that social media and the accessibility of information have played in this. More and more of us are buying in to the notion of an exuberant lifestyle.

How Capitalism Propagates Greed

We want to live beyond our means and partake in extremes. Most people will tell you that they want to own a Ferrari, but few will tell you how much it is worth. Even fewer will be at that moment, working as hard as you would expect a business magnate to work. Those who live such lifestyles are either industry leaders or people and families with generational wealth. There is no need for one to pressure oneself into wanting such lifestyles.

The Strongman Syndrome and Greed: The Dangers of Greed for Elected Leaders

Elected officials should also not be carried away by greed and wanting to create generational wealth through persecuting citizens by partaking in plunder, embezzlement, corruption, and impunity. When leaders become so greedy that they steal from the electorate, they are so caught between their actions and avoiding reprimand that they become aloof to the needs of the people.

Those who persecute others and commit crimes against humanity should be prosecuted under International Law regardless of their influence, positions of power, or social status. For there to be social justice, strongmen have to step aside and allow the youth to take over and elect responsible, qualified, capable, and dignified leaders.