The Power Hoarders: Top Longest-Serving Presidents in Africa and their ‘Autocratic’ Regime

Daniel Whyte
20% Complete
 14-Apr-2019

Among others, African countries have had a history of dictatorship, long autocratic rule where leaders obsessed with power held on to it for several years refusing to let go until they were ousted which was by various means.

However, this practice of holding on to power for longer terms which runs through several years perhaps 20, 30 or even 40, is still in place in the contemporary Africa.

For instance, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was among the current longest serving rulers in Africa until recently that he was ousted by a military coup d’etat after various large scale protests by citizens.

Before the incidence of his expulsion, Omar who came into power after a staging a coup in June 1989 had spent a total of 29 years as leader in Sudan.

Meanwhile, the African Union Charter on Democracy which came into force in 2012, was designed to guard against undemocratic governance, usher in good governance, democracy and security, which several African countries have adopted and agreed to uphold the terms, with the hope of erasing Africa’s image as a continent of ignorance, poverty, disease, misrule and corruption.

However, not all African leaders were willing to give into these democratic reforms and have continued to resist these terms year after year, overstaying their welcome and undermining the noble intentions of the AU’s founders to repair leadership in Africa. This piece shows Africa’s current power hoarders who have still refused to give up the office till today.

In December 2018, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed a bill into law which eliminated presidential age limit from the constitution. The 1995 Constitution in Uganda previously prohibited anyone younger than 35 or older than 75 from serving as president. This is the second time Yoweri has amended the constitution giving him the leeway to occupy the country’s highest office. A similar amendment was done in 2005 which eventually increased his time in office.

Most of the long-serving African leaders are shielded and backed by the constitution which can however be uttered at their discretion. Unfortunately, the same constitution which gives them the leverage to hang on to power fails to make provision for a mechanism to guarantee the smooth transfer of power. This has however given some of the leaders the reason to believe that the nation may plunge into chaos given their departure. Hence they believe that staying in power is for the interest of the nation.

Below are the names of the current longest-serving leaders in Africa:

Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro Obiang is the president of Equatorial Guinea. He is currently the longest serving president who is non-royal having been serving for 39 years.

Obiang who is 76 years old came into power in 1979 after ousting his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in an August 1979 military coup.

He is the 2nd president of the oil producing country. However, his long years of leadership has been characterised by accusations that bordered on corruption, abuse of power among others.

Paul Biya, Cameroon

Paul Biya is the second longest serving president in Africa with 36 years of service.

Biya who is 85 years of age is the incumbent president of Cameroon. He became president in November, 1982.

Like Obiang, he is the 2nd president of Cameroon and he is seemingly the oldest in the list of the longest serving presidents.

While initially serving as prime minister, Biya succeeded the then Cameroonian President, Ahmadou Ahidjo, after his surprising resignation 1982.

He won the 1992 presidential election with 40% of the single ballot vote and was reelected by wide margins in 1997, 2004, 2011 and 2018, although these elections have been trailed with allegations of fraud and irregularities.

Having won the 2018 election marred largely by low voter turnout, President Biya began another seven year term as president.

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda

Next in the line of longest serving African leaders is the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni who has been ruling for 33 years.

Museveni who is 74 years came into power in January 1986 after a victory in the war that ousted the notorious and brutal dictator, Idi Amin, and was elected for a fifth term in February 2016.

Idriss Deby, Chad

President Idriss Deby assumed power in 1990, giving him nearly 28 years in power.

He seized power as the head of a rebellion against President Hissène Habré in December 1990 and emerged the victor for a controversial fifth term in April 2016.

Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea

Isaias Afwerki is the first president of Eritrea and he has been the president since independence in 1993 till date making it 25 years of being power.

He was the leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) which victory ended the Eritrean War of Independence which was 30 years then.

Denis Sassou Nguesso, Congo-Brazzaville

Although, president Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville has spent a total of 34 years in office as president, he didn’t spend the 34 years in one go.

He first served as president from 1979 to 1992 and then returned in 1997 at the end of a civil war.He assumed office on 25th of October, 1997. In March 2016, he was reelected and he could run for office again when his term elapses.

Currently, he has been president for 21 years at a stretch from 1997.

The Standing Record of Longest Rule

Among the past African leaders with the record of longest rule was Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who tops the list with 44 years of leadership before he was ousted in 1974.

Next on the list was the dictatorial Muammar Gaddafi of Libya who ruled for 42 years before he was killed in 2011.

Also, Omar Bongo of Gabon ruled the country for 41 years until his death in 2009.

Among others, there were Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola who stepped down in September 2017 after ruling for 38 years; Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years before he died in 2005 and was succeeded by his son, Faure Gnassingbe, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who was forced to evacuate office in 2017 after ruling the country for 37 years.

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