I'm not sure why but it seemed a crucial aspect of being a dictator in the latter half of the 20th century to wear designer sunglasses at all times. I'm not sure if it's a wink and a nod to how filthy rich these guys get by embezzling the guts out of their already-strained public coffers, or if there's some sort of inter-dictator sunglass competition going on. It may just be that they can't stand to view the glare of their starving populaces unless their eyes are shielded by thousands of dollars worth of Prada and Hennessy. Until some sociologists dedicate themselves to sunglasses research, we'll just have to decide on our own. To kickstart the scholarly debate, I've rounded up my top eight shades-wearing dictators from recent history.
8. Robert Mugabe
Mugabe is mostly known for his various pairs of gold eyeglasses, and for good reason. When he puts on sunglasses he really seems to fall short. He's got some sort of obsession with frames that tilt out to side that gives off a vibe somewhere between '50s poodle skirt and Cruella Deville. Lack of sartorial sense aside, Mugabe's the type of evil bastard who has sanctioned military violence to hold onto the presidency of Zimbabwe, topped Parade's list of The World's Worst Dictators, or at one point had his presidential opponent's wife burned alive.
7. Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu was the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, previously known as Zaire, from 1965 until right before his exile and death in 1997. Like Mugabe, he wasn't known much for sunglasses wearing. But he beats out Mugabe on this list thanks to the killer chunky frames he used and his undying obsession with wearing animal print everywhere. Mobutu was a key figure in the bloody Congo Crisis that wrested Zaire from Belgian rule, and spent the next thirty years putting himself in power (with the help of the CIA) and isolating himself there by publicly killing threats to his rule. He embezzled around $5 billion from his country over his reign and was ranked the most corrupt leader in Africa over the past two decades. Even stranger, he's often a central character in advanced fee fraud email scams.
6. Fidel Castro
Fidel's got a phenomenal body of work in the fresh eyewear game, but it seems as he gets on in his years he's slowly morphed from fiery freedom fighter/misguided dictator into a 16 year old Matrix acolyte at a LAN party. Let's just put it this way: This isn't exactly great advertising for living out your years wrapped in the communist dream.
5. Gnassingbe Eyadema
I really can't tell if Eyadema was rocking the clip-on shades or just needed to add some gold bling to his plastic black frames. Eyadema was the ruler of Togo for 38 years, winning numerous uncontested elections and rigging the rest. Also, possibly due to his flashy eyewear, he had his own personality cult "including, but not limited to, an entourage of 1,000 dancing women who sang and danced in praise of him; portraits which adorned most stores; a bronze statue in the capital city, Lomé; $20 wristwatches with his portrait, which disappeared and re-appeared every fifteen seconds; and even a comic book that depicted him as a superhero with powers of invulnerability and super strength."
4. Yasser Arafat
What people don't realize when they misappropriate the word "hipster" is that it was originally coined by Arafat to encompass the individual elements of his style: military, tribal and nouveau riche all in one. Fashion aside, Arafat left an extremely controversial legacy. He did have one irrefutably dictatorial touch: he was massively corrupt, having amassed over a billion dollars in stashed wealth during his reign at the expense of continually-degrading Palestinian economic conditions.
3. Laurent Nkunda
One of the younger gents on our list, Nkunda prefers to be called The Chairman—a fitting title considering I'm not so sure he's not a cyborg. While not a dictator per se he's a product of the horrors of the Congo, having alternately been a general in the Armed Forces of the DRC and a rebel warlord. He's been a defender of the Tutsi ethnic minority (who had/have been systematically hacked to pieces by machete-wielding Hutu armies), which has caused some to come to his defense. But, like anyone involved in the unspeakable horrors Congolese conflicts, his small army has been accused of rape, murder and pillaging.
2. Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi, man, that cat had style. 42 years he held the reigns of Libya with his droopy eyes covered by a plethora of high-dollar shades. He mostly stuck with the frameless J-Lo style or the futuristic Eurogoggles he's rocking here. Shades were a key element of him styling himself "the Brother Leader" even as he turned Libya into what the UN once called a "pariah state." A fond member of the Sunglasses Indoors set, there's no word on whether or not he was rocking eyewear when he was found and killed hiding in a hole.
1. Kim Jong Il
Who else did you expect? Kim – film lover, author, sports fan, world's greatest golfer, and self-proclaimed "Internet expert" – was said not to consume foreign goods out of devotion to the motherland. There were a few exceptions of course. At one point he was Hennessey's largest worldwide customer for ten years running. His obsession with porn director Ray Bans and 1970s lounge wear is only rivaled by the late Al Davis. He's also obsessed with putting his sunglasses to use outdoors and in, as evidenced by the much-circulated collection of photos of him just looking at things. Of course, he pays for all of that by terrorizing and brainwashing an isolated, starving citizenry tasked with either working for actual peanuts to produce wealth for their leader or spending generations in prison camps being tortured into doing the same thing for free.
Bonus Non-Dictator: Jim Jones
Jim Jones is the epitome of a man who utilized sunglasses to turn himself into a mysterious god-like figure. By hiding his eyes quasi-permanently, Jones elevated himself into a sort of evil living icon that made people swoon (by dying). Jones is the guy who started the Peoples Temple cult in '50s Indiana before moving the whole group out into the middle of nowhere in Guyana. In November, 1978, 909 Temple members committed suicide as a group in what is one of the largest and most famous mass suicides/murders in history.
Special thanks to Courtney Nicholas for making the Mobutu Sese Seko GIF.