What are the worst dictatorships in the world? This is a very difficult question to answer, particularly if you add the question “what is a dictatorship”?. And of course there are many metrics to gauge this.
One metric we can though use is that of the Press Freedom Index which every year publishes a list of the worst dictatorships in the world. Many of the countries will probably not surprise you all that much, but some will and others you will most likely have not heard of.
What is a dictatorship?
Again this is a matter of opinion. Communist states, of which there are still at least five, claim people’s democracy, while also calling themselves “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. Other states still have “elections”, although many are considered fraudulent, while other have but one name on the ballot.
And then you have absolute monarchies, mostly in the Middle East with not even a veneer of democracy.
Overall and for this article at least we will say a dictatorship is from the western perspective of any state that does not have pluralistic multi-party, well at least party elections.
Press Freedom Index
The press freedom index is an annual ranking of press freedom by country and it reflects the amount of press freedom journalists have. The list is compiled by Reporters Without Borders who are keen to add that the list measures press freedom rather than quality of journalism.
Can you use press freedom to measure the worst dictatorships in the world? Yes and no. Using this metric is far from perfect, but it is one of the few ways in which freedoms are ranked. And for us at least this is better than other optics, such as economic freedom, which would lead to places like Hong Kong coming above Scandinavian countries.
As for problems with this list, well a country such as Singapore will score highly, despite being a one-party state and for communist states the situation is more complicated still.
To read about Socialist Countries click here.
Theoretically at leat all socialist states are run by the people, therefore the press is run by and for the people. This means that communist countries technically at least for this list would fall extremely lowly.
Of course at YPT we take a neutral stance on these things…
What is the most democratic country on earth?
OK, so before we hot the low-end lets see what the most free country in the world is when it comes to the press. And before you say America, you are wrong. Despite claiming to be the greatest country on earth, it ranks number 1 for military spending and incarnations rather than any good metric.
According to the index Norway is the freest country on earth with the USA coming in at 44th, one below Taiwan, or the Republic China as you might know it.
What is the worst dictatorship in the world?
OK, so take a guess and led me guess your guess. Yep you are wrong. According to the press freedom index Eritrea comes in at last place in 179th, with North Korea ranking at 178th, although these two have occupied the bottom spots for many years.
North Korea of course is a socialist country, while Eritrea also considers itself a revolutionary state, as well with one party in power and almost in perpetual war with Ethiopia.
To read if North Korea is communist click here
The rest of the bottom five worst dictatorships in the world are made up of Turkmenistan, Syria and quite surprisingly for us at least, Somalia.
Worst dictatorships in the world – where does Cuba rank?
With the way the US talks about Cuba you would expect it to be among the bottom here, but as someone who has spent a lot of time here I can attest that the situation on the ground is very different.
So, where does Cuba rank? 167 out of 179, just above Vietnam and just below Sudan….
Worst dictatorships in the world – The one you haven’t heard of
At 161 (179) sits Equatorial Guinea, an oil rich state that while controversial seemingly almost no one talks about. Some have called it the North Korea of Africa, but press freedom wise at least it is not at the bottom of Africa.
Equatorial Guinea sits above Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, making these the five worst dictatorships in Africa.
The worst dictatorships in the Middle-East
Some of the lowest levels of press freedom and many other freedoms belong to countries in the Middle-East. At the bottom of the list is Iran at 175th, preceded by Yemen at 171, but it is here that is gets interesting.
Bahrain then pops up at 173 above Saudi Arabia at 161. Completing the 5 we have Palestine at 146th.
To read about Reporters Without Borders click here.
Worst dictatorships in the world – worst in Europe
So, which country has the least press freedom in Europe? OK, so I will throw in a curve ball here, it is maybe not who you think. It is in fact Belarus at 156, but what might shock you is that it is just behind Azerbaijan.
Russia it might surprise you comes in at just 148, above Mexico, Turkey AND even one ahead of Singapore. War notwithstanding it really is worth taking these things into account when it comes to the news.
Surprisingly high entries!
Namibia comes in at 19th in the world making it the most free in Africa and indeed one of the freest in the world, sharing the spot with both Canada and Belgium. This is despite fact that they have only had one party in power since independence. Not only that but they even have a politician called Adolf Hitler! Namibia has more press freedom than the UK!
Fo me at least the next big shock comes in at 42, with this particular country showing how subjective this list can be. At 42nd spot is Papua New Guinea. Technically a functioning democracy, but in reality one of the most dangerous countries on earth.
To read about if it’s safe to travel to Papua New Guinea click here.
And where does Cambodia come?
Of particular interest to me when talking about the worst dictatorships in the world and indeed press freedom is Cambodia, because not only do I live and work here, but do so as a journalist.
According to the list Cambodia comes in at 143rd, just below Oman, but above both the Philippines AND Singapore……
To read my article on Next Step FC click here.
So, what can we learn from this list? Partly we can learn that it is very subjective and that democracy can at times be an abstract concept. We can also learn that many of the countries that are touted as being great by the west are not as democratic as we make out, while other “bad” countries similarly are not all that bad….