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Africa’s leaders and hunger for power

By Staff Reporter

  • President Mugabe is currently Africa’s oldest leader and has been in office since 1980.
Rank Name Country Office Tenure Began Length of Tenure
1. Paul Biya  Cameroon Prime Minister, then President 30 June 1975 39 years, 48 days
2. Mohamed Abdelaziz  Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic General Secretary and President 30 August 1976 37 years, 352 days
3. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo  Equatorial Guinea President[1] 3 August 1979 35 years, 14 days
4. José Eduardo dos Santos  Angola President 10 September 1979 34 years, 341 days
5. Robert Mugabe  Zimbabwe Prime Minister, then President 18 April 1980 34 years, 121 days
6. Ali Khamenei  Iran President, then Supreme Leader 13 October 1981 32 years, 308 days
7. Hun Sen  Cambodia Prime Minister[2] 14 January 1985 29 years, 215 days
8. Yoweri Museveni  Uganda President 29 January 1986 28 years, 200 days
9. Blaise Compaoré  Burkina Faso President[3] 15 October 1987 26 years, 306 days
10. Nursultan Nazarbayev  Kazakhstan First Secretary, then President 22 June 1989 25 years, 56 days
11. Islam Karimov  Uzbekistan First Secretary, then President 23 June 1989 25 years, 55 days
12. Omar al-Bashir  Sudan President[4] 30 June 1989 25 years, 48 days
13. Idriss Déby  Chad President[5] 2 December 1990 23 years, 258 days
14. Isaias Afwerki  Eritrea President[6] 27 April 1991 23 years, 112 days
15. Emomalii Rahmon  Tajikistan President[7] 19 November 1992 21 years, 271 days
16. Alexander Lukashenko  Belarus President 20 July 1994 20 years, 28 days
17. Yahya Jammeh  The Gambia President[8] 22 July 1994 20 years, 26 days
18. Denzil Douglas  Saint Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister 7 July 1995 19 years, 41 days
19. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson  Iceland President 1 August 1996 18 years, 16 days
20. Denis Sassou Nguesso  Republic of the Congo President[9] 25 October 1997 16 years, 296 days
21. Kim Yong-nam  North Korea Chairman of the Presidium
of the Supreme People’s Assembly[10]
5 September 1998 15 years, 346 days
22. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi  Samoa Prime Minister 23 November 1998 15 years, 267 days
23. Abdelaziz Bouteflika  Algeria President 27 April 1999 15 years, 112 days
24. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh  Djibouti President 8 May 1999 15 years, 101 days
25. Vladimir Putin  Russia President[11] 9 August 1999 15 years, 8 days
26. Sam Hinds  Guyana Prime Minister[12] 11 August 1999 15 years, 6 days
27. Paul Kagame  Rwanda President 24 March 2000 14 years, 146 days
28. Bashar al-Assad  Syria President 17 July 2000 14 years, 31 days
29. Joseph Kabila  Democratic Republic of the Congo President 17 January 2001 13 years, 212 days
30. José Maria Neves  Cabo Verde Prime Minister 1 February 2001 13 years, 197 days
31. Ralph Gonsalves  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister 29 March 2001 13 years, 141 days
32. Hamid Karzai  Afghanistan President[13] 22 December 2001 12 years, 238 days
33. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  Turkey Prime Minister 14 March 2003 11 years, 156 days
34. Filip Vujanović  Montenegro President[14] 22 May 2003 11 years, 87 days
35. Anote Tong  Kiribati President 10 July 2003 11 years, 38 days
36. Ilham Aliyev  Azerbaijan Prime Minister, then President[15] 4 August 2003 11 years, 13 days
37. Artur Rasizade  Azerbaijan Prime Minister[16] 6 August 2003 11 years, 11 days
38. Abdelkader Taleb Omar  Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Prime Minister 29 October 2003 10 years, 292 days
39. Shavkat Mirziyoyev  Uzbekistan Prime Minister 11 December 2003 10 years, 249 days
40. Roosevelt Skerrit  Dominica Prime Minister 8 January 2004 10 years, 221 days
41. Mahinda Rajapaksa  Sri Lanka Prime Minister, then President[17] 6 April 2004 10 years, 133 days
42. James Michel  Seychelles President 14 April 2004 10 years, 125 days
43. Heinz Fischer  Austria President 8 July 2004 10 years, 40 days
44. Lee Hsien Loong  Singapore Prime Minister 12 August 2004 10 years, 5 days
45. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono  Indonesia President 20 October 2004 9 years, 301 days
46. Traian Băsescu  Romania President[18] 20 December 2004 9 years, 240 days
47. Mahmoud Abbas  Palestine President[19] 15 January 2005 9 years, 214 days
48. Armando Guebuza  Mozambique President[20] 2 February 2005 9 years, 196 days
49. Karolos Papoulias  Greece President 12 March 2005 9 years, 158 days
50. Hifikepunye Pohamba  Namibia President 21 March 2005 9 years, 149 days

(List credit- Wikipedia and

Term limits in African constitutions are in danger of being unravelled
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda, speaks during the United Nations General Assembly September 23, 2009 at UN headquarters in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

In 1947, Congress passed the 22nd amendment limiting the number of elected terms a US president can serve to two. The legislation consolidated a tradition broken only once – by Franklyn D Roosevelt during the second world war – since George Washington had set the precedent by standing down in 1797.

In a growing number of sub-Saharan African nations, the reverse trend is in danger of taking root, posing a quandary for Washington.

The US, alongside African pro-democracy activists, played a significant part in securing the inclusion of term limits in African constitutions in the aftermath of the cold war, when the west started abandoning its client regimes. Term limits, together with the reinstatement of multi-party politics, proved central to the political reforms that brought a dark period of dictatorship to a close.

Two decades on, there are signs of constitutional tinkering to allow a host of African heads of state to prolong their rule.

The danger is that the US, and other western powers, will address this potentially destabilising trend in a selective way, defending the principle in countries with less favoured leaders, and keeping quiet when it comes to preferred African allies – particularly those who have proved reliable on the security front.

At the same time, the phenomenon risks exposing the limits of US leverage. On a continent as orientated towards Beijing and other emerging powers as it is to western democracies, some African leaders may no longer feel the need for Washington’s endorsement.

Yoweri Museveni of Uganda blazed the trail. Shortly after taking power in 1986 he wrote that “the problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power”. In an infamous volte face in 2005, he secured a change to the constitution allowing himself a third term. He is now, at the age of 71, serving a fourth.

Mr Museveni continues to enjoy US support as a linchpin of east African stability. But his continued stay in power has otherwise been marked by creeping authoritarianism and corruption.

Cameroon’s octogenarian autocrat, Paul Biya, in power since 1982, has followed a similar route. Now there is speculation that the presidents of Burkina Faso, Burundi, and Togo are also preparing to.

But it is in Rwanda and its giant neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo that the quandary is likely to be most pronounced. The US has been vocally pressing Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to adhere to the law and step down at elections in 2016 amid talk of a referendum on the issue.

If one or two African leaders are able to alter their constitutions in order to give themselves unlimited terms of office it will set a precedent– Johnny Carson, former US assistant secretary of state for Africa

“We’re a country with term limits. We live by them . . . and we encourage other countries to adhere to their constitution,” US secretary of state John Kerry said after failing to win any assurances from Mr Kabila on the matter at the US-Africa summit earlier this month.

Mr Kabila has struggled to stamp his authority on the vast failing state he presides over and has few international allies who see the continuation of his rule as a recipe for peace.

Attitudes to Paul Kagame of Rwanda are far more mixed. He has been the dominant political force in his country since the genocide in 1994 and has strong backing from a highly influential group of US and European business and political leaders – known as the Friends of Rwanda. They laud the role he has played in stabilising his tiny state and fostering development and tend to overlook the darker sides.

In recent months, Mr Kagame has become increasingly ambivalent about his plans post-2017 when his second seven-year term ends. Were he to change the constitution and stand again, he would almost certainly enjoy some international support.

Some African political institutions have proved sufficiently robust to see off third-term ambitions – notably in Nigeria and Mozambique. The risk of the dominoes beginning to fall is, however, rising.

“If one or two African leaders are able to alter their constitutions in order to give themselves unlimited terms of office it will set a precedent,” says Johnny Carson, US assistant secretary of state for Africa until last year. “[This will] effectively undermine the continuing growth of democracy and constitutionalism across Africa and probably usher in a new era of the big man.”

-Financial Times


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