North Korea’s strongman Kim Jong-il, dubbed the “dear leader”, highly valued by many at home but loathed as evil away from home has died at the age of 69, state media made it known in the early hours of Monday.
The state’s propaganda KCNA news agency has expectedly declared Kim’s young son and heir apparent as the “great successor”, making it almost certainly clear that the suspected infighting view held among Western powers, between ruling politburo’s generals has lost some relevance.
The announcers also urged the nation and its people and the military to unite behind the heir and to “faithfully revere” the young Kim Jong-un.
Our man in neighbouring South Korea, but with strong reliable contacts in North Korean, Dennis Mwambala had earlier told Politico that the North Korean leader suffered a heart attack on Saturday, and KCNA confirmed Mwambala’s report adding that the heart attack was due to what they described as physical and mental overtax. KCNA reported that the mercurial leader was on his trademark train travelling to give “field guidance” to workers, when death occurred.
Video’s of a frail Kim had made rounds on the Internet after a reported stroke in 2008 but the dictator had since been reported as having fully recovered, and his passing on Monday took many by surprise.
In perhaps what looked like a sign of a looming end of an era, Kim had already started to prepare Kim Jong-un to be in charge of a nation talked of being in ruins though very few outside its borders can reliably claim knowledge what exactly is taking place there. In the clearest of moves, he appointed his son a general last year and augmented his profile with roles that could only be entrusted with very high-ranking officials loyal to the dead leader.
Politico’s Dennis Mwambala says Kim Jong-un comes at a time when there is rising scepticism about the Pyongyang administration and he may have to adopt a style slightly different from his father’s own to avoid a backlash. The sceptics are said to be benefiting from the regime’s failure to deliver even the most basic of economic needs while regimenting the country to unprecedented levels. Corporal punishments are not uncommon here and an estimated 200, 000 people are languishing in prison camps.
Unknown thousands have been brutally killed or are feared dead and in less than a year ago the UN Special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea described the situation there as “sui generis”, adding: “Simply put, there are many instances of human rights violations which are both harrowing and horrific.”
But according to the Associated Press, ordinary men and women on the streets of restricted state’s capital Pyongyang burst into tears as they learnt of Kim’s death.
Basing on information from his North Korean contacts, Politico’s Mwambala said the situation there is certainly bad but may not be unbearable by all the country’s 24 million people as reported in Western media; and that it is true that the politburo’s leader had wielded support through grass-root cadres whose main job is to spread propaganda and instil fear.
During the announcement of Kim’s death a tearful ‘all black-dressed’ newsreader told viewers: “It is the biggest loss for the party … and it is our people and nation’s biggest sadness,” She pushed for the nation to “change our sadness to strength and overcome our difficulties”.
North Korea has long been a source of international concern following its nuclear and missiles ambitions and there will be some nervousness about potential instability and the implications of the change in leadership.
From Washington, DP USA’s leader Deogratius Kawunde told Politico that South Korean top military brass had declared an emergency alert following Kim’s death and that although in the corridors of Capitol Hill politicians did not show any gnashing of teeth about Kim’s death, there was a degree of unease among all he talked to about the change of leadership in North Korea.
The White House said Barack Obama was monitoring reports of the death.
“We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” a spokesman added.
While not many analysts can predict the kind of leader the Kim Jon-un will be, Politico’s Francis Busi, a Masters student at the University of Cape Town with an ardent curiosity about the politics of dynasties, predicts that Pyongyang under young Kim will be different and was likely to start on a new journey of reaching out to the International Community and try to get out of isolation but compromises on the South may take years to reach.
“Certainly the doubts about how easy it will be for younger man – thought to be in his late 20s – to uphold the Communist dynasty founded by his grandfather Kim II-sung, who died in 1994, will linger on but Kim will seek to talk peace with the US especially that cynicism about him and his regime will be relentless”, he said
The younger Kim’s name led a long list of officials on the older Kim’s funeral committee, clearly indicating he will lead it. KCNA said the funeral will take place in Pyongyang on 28 December, with the mourning period lasting until 29 December.
The North Korean dictator’s last public appearance was reported by the state news agency on Thursday. He reportedly visited a supermarket and music centre, accompanied by his son.
The news of his passing is likely to be a particular shock in North Korea – where Kim has been revered as much as he has been denigrated by the outside world – because his death comes days before the commencement of 2012.
The government has long promoted next year at the point at which the country would achieve development and prosperity. For years it has been struggling with food shortages and an economy in crisis and the regime will do everything to consolidate Kim Jong-un as the most ingenuous, flawless leader. Political cynicism will be the one for the regime to beat though.