Africa’s longest-serving presidents

Africa’s longest-serving presidents

The death of Gabon President Omar Bongo on Monday, robbed the continent of its longest serving head of state. Having been at the helm for 42 years, Bongo’s was closely followed by Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who now assumes the front position with his 40 years’ rule.
Below, are brief biographies on Africa’s current longest-serving heads of state.

Col.  Muammar Gaddafi (Libya, 40 years)

Col. Muammar Gaddafi (Libya, 40 years)

Gaddafi, 65, seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969 and oversaw the rapid development of his poverty-stricken country. Previously known for little more than oil wells and deserts and regarded as an international outcast by the West, Libya pledged to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programmes, drawing praise from Washington and London. He is known for his trademark female bodyguards and is the brain behind the push for a United States of Africa, a dream for a single continental government that has met stiff resistance from several other African heads of state, including President Museveni, who backs the idea of strengthening regional groupings like Ecowas, EAC and Comesa.

In August last year, his son and heir-apparent, Seif al-Islam, threw the spanner into the works when he declared he was no longer interested in taking over from his father as leader of Libya. Al-Islam,  39, who had been the brain behind several reforms in the country, was apparently frustrated by the state’s bureaucracy.

Eduardo Dos Santos, (Angola, 30 years)

Eduardo Dos Santos, (Angola, 30 years)

Dos Santos, 65, assumed the presidency of the mineral-rich country in 1979, after the death of the country’s founding president Agostinho Neto. His MPLA forces were engaged in a civil war against UNITA led by Jonas Savimbi, a reflection of the Cold War crisis, the former backed by capitalists and the latter communists. The country experienced brief peace in 1992 when Savimbi decided to cease fire and took part in multi-party elections that Dos Santos won narrowly. Savimbi took to the bush again and was killed in 2002, bringing the rebellion to a halt. Whereas the always-smiling son of a stonemason has indicated that he will leave power “soon”, no one has an idea when that will be.
Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe, 29 years)
He’s perhaps the most berated of African leaders. Mugabe, 83, became Zimbabwe’s prime minister in 1980 after independence elections, when he was hailed as a model African democrat. 
The former Marxist guerrilla, who pushed out the minority white rule under Ian Smith’s UDI party,  has held fast to power despite a deep political and financial crisis that threatened to ruin the country he fought so hard to free.

Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe, 29 years)

His land reclamation policies, that saw many white farmers lose their farms to blacks, was widely condemned and they pushed the once bread-basket of Africa into a hunger-stricken country with runaway inflation, which stood at 7 982 per cent last September.
After disputed elections last year, where Mugabe was accused of rigging, he was pushed into sharing power with the rival Movement for Democratic Change under Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he named Prime Minister.

Hosni Mubarak (Egypt, 28 years)
Mubarak, 79,  became president of the Arab world’s most populous country after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat by Muslim militants angered by his foreign policy and domestic repression.
In 2005, Mubarak was sworn in as president for a fifth six-year term. Married to Suzanne, with two sons Alaa and Gamal, Mubarak has survived six assassination attempts.

Hosni Mubarak (Egypt, 28 years)

He has also been accused of widespread corruption with his sons owning large stakes in major companies in the country.Analysts believe he’s grooming his son, Gamal to take over from his as president. He has also made it hard for opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to operate, having confiscated property of their funders and jailed many of the leaders, using the pretext of a draconian Emergency Law.
Accused of being very warm to the West, he, this year, banned the Cairo Anti-War Conference, a pressure group that criticises his lack of action against Israel. Last week, he played host to US President Barack Obama, who delivered a speech to the Muslim world from Cairo.

Paul Biya, (Cameroon, 27 years)
Biya, 74, took over in 1982 from President Ahmadou Ahidjo and won re-election for another seven-year term in October 2004. 
He holds a diploma in International Relations from a Paris institute. He is married to Chantal, 30 years his junior, who like Grace Mugabe, has a penchant for fashion. She startled the world recently during the Pope’s vist to Cameroon when she wore a head gear designed like a rosary.

Paul Biya, (Cameroon, 27 years)

After being re-elected in 2004, Biya was barred by the constitution from running again after his mandatory two-term limit, ending in 2011. However, in a New Year address last year, he indicated his desire to have the constitution amended to remove the limits. This was greeted by protests in February but in April last year, the National Assembly voted to have the term limits removed.
He is known to be aloof, usually locking up himself in his Etoudi Palace. He spends most of his time in Switzerland and the joke in Yaounde is that it is easier to meet him in Geneva than Cameroon.
While in Switzerland, he spends time at the prestigious five-star Hotel Intercontinetal.
He made it to David Wallechinsky’s book Tyrants, the world’s 20 worst living dictators, together with Mugabe, recently-murdered Teodoro Obiang od Equatorial Guinea and King Mswati.

Denis Sassou Nguesso,  (Congo Republic, 30 years)
Sassou Nguesso, 64,  seized power in a 1979 coup, but then lost the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992 to scientist Pascal Lissouba.
 In 1997, government forces attacked his home in Mpila, near the capital, Brazaville, attempting to arrest two of his supporters accused of violence. Instead, fighting broke out between the soldiers and his supporters called the Cobras. This culminated into a civil war and in October of the same year, with help of Angola, Nguesso captured power.

Denis Sassou Nguesso, (Congo Republic, 30 years)

He them embarked on a ‘democratic’ path, holding elections in 2002, which he won with over 90 per cent of the vote. His rivals were barred from campaigning.
In 2007, journalists published accounts showing  his spending habits. On one five-night stay in April 2008 in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria, his suite cost 12,000 pounds (about Shs36m)  a night. While attending a UN summit in New York in September 2006, his enourage, including his family, occupied 44 rooms in the same hotel, raking up a 130,000 pound bill. The bill included two bottles of Cristal champagne charged at 400 pounds (Shs1.2m).
He and fallen colleague Omar Bongo (Bongo married Nguesso’s daughter) are being investigated by French Police on claims that they used millions of public funds to acquire property in France.

Yoweri Museveni, (Uganda, 23 years)
The 63-year-old declared himself president in January 1986 when he seized Kampala on April 26 after a five-year guerrilla struggle.

Yoweri Museveni, (Uganda, 23 years)

Museveni banned multi-party politics shortly afterwards. Under his Movement System, he ruled the country in virtually a single-party arrangement until 2005, when he was compelled to free the political space.
He has twice faced his former bush war physician, Dr Kizza Besigye, in presidential elections that were declared unfair and not free by the Supreme Court.
In 2005, faced with the possibility of bowing out of power courtesy of a constitutional two-term limit, he “facilitated” MPs from his ruling NRM party with Shs5 million each to change the law. This was done opening him to the possibility of ruling until he’s 75, the maximum age limit for a president, according to the law.

King Makhosetive Mswati III, (Swaziland, 22 years) He is 39 but has ruled the tiny South African chiefdom for 22 years. He is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and was crowned in April 1987.

King Makhosetive Mswati III, (Swaziland, 22 years)

Political parties had been banned in landlocked Swaziland since 1973. The king introduced a new constitution in 2006, but the ban on political parties remained and the king had kept control over the legislature in a country, plagued by food shortages and one of the world’s highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates.  Every year, a parade of young virgins is conducted, from which Mswati picks a new bride.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia, 22 years)

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia, 22 years)

Ben Ali, 71, had overseen successful economic reforms and crushed an Islamic fundamentalist opposition since he came to power 22 years ago in 1987. Supporters of Ben Ali had predicted he would seek another mandate when his latest term ends in 2009. Commentators said he could take credit for making Tunisia the healthiest and best educated nation in north Africa.

Compiled by Don Wanyama with sourcing from Reuters and Wikipedia


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