10 Longest-Reigning African Dictators

In Africa, good governance is growing in demand. Citizens are insisting that their leaders honor constitutionally mandated presidential terms. Philanthropic and business leader Mo Ibrahim and his foundation reward good governance with millions of dollars, incentivizing leaders in the process to step down once their terms are complete. In Nigeria’s recent election, former President Goodluck Jonathan received kudos for handing over power peacefully following his defeat by Muhammadu Buhari.

Of the world’s 30 dictators who have most successfully held onto power, 14 are in Africa. These are 10 of the longest-reigning African dictators.


1. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea, 35 years, 8 months

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been ruling the tiny, oil-rich West African nation since overthrowing his uncle Marcias in August, 1979, in a bloody palace coup. And While Equatorial Guinea has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, it ranks quite poorly on the U.N. Human Development Index with the majority of the population lacking basic necessities like clean drinking water.


2. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Angola, 35 years, 8 months

Seizing power after the natural death of his predecessor, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos lags just one month behind the No. 1 dictator on this list, and he comes with an equally unsavory human rights record. According the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer and the seventh-largest supplier to the U.S.. The country is also the world’s fourth-largest producer of rough diamonds. Yet despite these plentiful resources, the people of Angola not directly related to the president remain desperately poor with 68 percent of the population living below the poverty line and life expectancy topping out at 41 years.


3. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, 34 years, 5 months

Mugabe has been running Zimbabwe since the country gained independence in 1980 – first as prime minister and then from 1987 as president. Despite his age -nearly 90 – Mugabe has vowed he will not step down from his post.

President Paul Biya Photo: Cameroon Tribune

4. Paul Biya, Cameroon, 32 years, 7 months

Cameroon’s president took over from President Ahmadou Ahidjo in November 1982 and has been in power of the oil-rich nation in Central Africa ever since.


5. Denis Sassou Nguesso, Republic of the Congo, 31 years, 2 months

If he hadn’t lost control of the Congo for five years in 1992, Sassou Nguesso would be at the very top of this list. He first seized power of the country in a February 1979 coup, but lost the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992. After a 1997 civil war, however, he was back in control and was re-elected in 2004 for another seven-year term.


6. King Mswati III, Swaziland, 29 years, 1 month

Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch has been ruling his landlocked country since he was crowed King in April 1986 at the age of 18. At the time he was the world’s youngest ruling monarch.

Presidents Kenyatta (Kenya), Museveni (Uganda) and-Kagame (Rwanda)

Presidents Kenyatta (Kenya), Museveni (Uganda) and Kagame (Rwanda)

7. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, 29 years, 4 months

Yoweri Museveni seized power in January 1986 following a five-year guerrilla war and declared himself Uganda’s president. Shortly after taking power he banned multiparty politics, although he re-introduced the system again in 1996. Not that it particularly mattered, as Museveni won a fourth term in office in 2011 despite third-time opponent Kizza Besigye’s cries of foul play.


9035553866_0946798c4b_o Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso president, Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

8. Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso, 26 years, 1 month

Blaise Compaoré ran Burkina Faso after deposing his predecessor Thomas Sankara in an October 1987 coup. Subsequently he won “landslide victories” (contested by the opposition) in the presidential polls – taking 80 percent of the vote in 2010. Although a law in Burkino Faso was passed in 2005 prohibiting presidents from serving more than two terms, Compaoré said he didn’t have to abide by it as his country’s constitutional court ruled it could not be applied retroactively. Then he changed his mind, or had it changed for him. Compaoré resigned on Oct. 31, 2014.


9. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan, 25 years, 11 months

In June 1989, Bashir overthrew the democratically elected civilian government and appointed himself president in a bloodless coup. Since he took office his country has been in a state of civil war with more than 1 million reported dead. In March 2009, the International Criminal Court in the Hague issued an arrest warrant for Bashir — a first for a sitting head of state — for genocide and crimes against humanity.



10. Idriss Déby Itno, Chad, 24 years 3 months

Déby seized control of Chad during a rebellion against then-President Hissène Habré in December 1990. He has since managed to survive a number of attempts to overthrow him.





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