01 Cowardly war criminals
General Ratko Mladic
In a mountain in Montenegro, an army base near Belgrade, or perhaps a bunker in Bosnia, the world’s most wanted war criminal is still hiding after more than 13 years on the run. Until now, General Ratko Mladic, charged in 1995 with genocide and being the mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre in which up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, has been protected by a network of former army comrades. And as long as he remains at large, he will continue to be talked about far more than he deserves. We’d like to see him captured and tried, like his one-time political master Radovan Karadzic. And then we’d like to see him fade rapidly into oblivion. Most of Serbia probably would too. Once he emerges from the woodwork, Serbia will be one big step closer to EU membership.
The game’s up, Ratko. Now be a patriot – turn yourself in and do your country a favour.
02 Caucasus hotheads
Mikheil Saakashvili & Ramzan Kadyrov
Liberal democracy has never had a foothold in the Caucasus, and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has negated his candidacy to be the first man to succeed with a democratic project in the region. His attack on South Ossetia and the humiliation of his country by Russia will be added ammunition for the Georgian opposition, who believe he was an autocrat all along and want him out of government. Already the splintered opposition, which maintained a tactful silence while Russian troops were on Georgian soil, is stirring. While there are no truly inspirational figures so far, the country is crying out for someone with a cooler head, who could keep Georgia on the modernising track but avoid completely alienating Moscow.
On the other side of the mountain range in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov never had any democratic pretentions. Ironically, the 32-year-old has achieved much of what the 1990s Chechen separatists wanted, including de facto autonomy, reconstruction, and a Chechen language renaissance – and he’s done it with Moscow’s money. But his poor human rights record and sense of hubris make him a liability. The September assassination in Moscow of a powerful opponent has led many in Moscow to wonder if they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew with the appointment of the ruthless Kadyrov.
The Georgian conflict was also a disaster for Russia. Watch it become more willing to use diplomacy to settle its disputes
03 West African despots
Yahya Jammeh & Teodoro Obiang
Yahya Jammeh thinks Aids experts are “idiots”. The cure for Aids, he says, is a treatment involving herbs, nuts and a banana. But Jammeh is no ordinary quack. He is The Gambia’s president and is insisting that the country’s 20,000 HIV sufferers should shun anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) for his “cure”. Jammeh, 41, took power in a military coup in 1994. The three elections held since then have been derided as undemocratic. When UN representative Fadzai Gwaradzimba questioned his stance on ARVs, Jammeh gave her 48 hours to leave. In May he announced laws on homosexuality that would be “stricter than those in Iran” and vowed to behead any lesbians or gays found left in the country. Jammeh is not the only despot ruling a West African state. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo leads oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. While Jammeh sees himself as a healer, Obiang is more destructive, with one of the most reviled torture networks in the world.
It’s time to cancel that Gambia holiday.
04 Car crashes
G Richard Wagoner
Christmas is cancelled at US car giant General Motors (GM) this year, as funding for any new products has been put on hold. For the past few years, GM has been prefixed by the word “beleaguered” following declining sales and mass redundancies and traumatic ventures into financial services. G Richard Wagoner, president for a decade, took the decision to cancel the company’s EV1 electric car programme in 2003. The forthcoming Chevy Volt hybrid brings belated hope, but only if GM survives long enough to build it. GM is asking the government for a $10bn-15bn bailout, in the wake of $130bn losses and a share price collapse.
A solution will begin with a design revolution.
05 Dull leaders
Although UK prime minister Gordon Brown may have ended the year on a personal high after apparently saving singlehandedly the world’s financial machine, we are still left wondering: wasn’t he one of those who got us in to this fine mess? But more than that, Brown’s just not good for the UK’s national brand. The Sarkozy-Kouchner show may not be to everyone’s taste, but the duo have at least made France seem fresh and relevant. The UK needs a touch of that magic, a brand ambassador. It almost makes you pine for Mr Blair. And it certainly makes Britons look at President elect Obama with envious eyes.
Obama will leave many leaders feeling insignificant.