In May 1991 I rode a rebel tank through the gates of the palace in Addis Ababa during the final battle of the civil war and forced an entry into the inner sanctum of the ousted Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. I sat in his big red leather chair with its hanm1er and sickle embossed on the back and rifled through his private desk, where I found in the top right-hand drawer some contraceptives stashed by the Great Man. No single leader has been responsible for so much death and misery in Africa as Mengistu. Yet instead of facing the firing squad, he was spirited into exile by the Americans as the guest of his friend and fellow supporter of ‘liberation movements’, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Some time later a contact gave me what he promised was Mengistu’s telephone number in Harare. I thought I could make a story out of it, but although I rang countless times, nobody ever answered. Riccardo Orizio had better luck. One day, after several tries, Mengistu, the ‘Red Negus’ himself, said ‘hello’.
Orizio wants us to see how the mighty are fallen in this extremely readable series of ‘encounters’ with ousted tyrants. ‘How does a one-time dictator, whom the history books describe as ruthless, immoral and power-crazed, grow old? What does he tell his children and grandchildren about himself? What does he