Home / Applying Theory in Practice / Discussion and Commentary / Comparing Individual and Institutional Tyranny


The Gambian elections happened last week, the results of which were the ousting of easily one of the most unpopular presidents in the country’s history. Known for his suppression of human rights and blatant free speech violations, the reviled despot attempted to place a communications embargo on the country to maintain his office. However, public opinion was so turned against his favor that even blocking communications didn’t prevent him from losing office. Kets de Vries (2005) addresses this phenomenon in his book Lessons on Leadership By Terror – namely that despotic and paranoid rulers will exercise extreme measures to keep their tyrannical rule intact. Unfortunately for President Jammeh, he was so disliked that not even  a communications embargo could intimidate Gambia into submission.

Gambian citizens were quick to rise up and decry the despotic practices of the former President Jammeh. However, the impulse of the individual to rise up against despotic practices seems to be less apparent when the overreach is at the organizational level as opposed to the individual level. Earlier this week, the FBI was granted the ability to hack into any person’s computer or phone in what some politicians are calling one of the most egregious mistakes in surveillance policy to ever occur. Why is it that an individual despotic tyrant evokes such a strong reaction out of the people he or she oppresses, but when that despotic power is wielded by an institution (one might argue that since it affects larger swaths of people that it is a more unilateral abuse of power) it is met with a collective shrug? One could argue that the appeal to faceless authority makes it harder for people on an individual level to rise up and speak against it as compared to the evils perpetrated by one individual personality. When comparing Jammeh’s communications embargo to what the FBI is now capable of doing with their newfound power, there are some interesting implications when it comes to acceptance of free speech suppression at the individual level.


Lanyon, C. (2016). The FBI Just Gained Sweeping New Hacking Powers. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/11/the-fbi-just-gained-sweeping-new-hacking-powers.html

BBC News .(2016). Gambia’s Jammeh loses to Adama Barrow in shock election result. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38183906

Kets de Vries, Manfred F. R. (2005). Lessons on leadership by terror: Finding Shaka Zulu in the attic. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.





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