In the ever-shifting landscape of African politics, a select few leaders have defied the norm, standing as pillars of longevity. This article delves into the narratives of the Top 10 Longest-Serving African Presidents, exploring the factors behind their enduring tenures and the profound impact on their nations. From visionary strides to allegations of authoritarianism, this brief analysis examines the complex tapestry of leadership, questioning the nature of power, democracy, and the delicate balance between stability and change on the continent.
Join us in unraveling the enigma of Africa’s longest serving presidents who are still in power to this day.
1. Teodoro Obiang – Equatorial Guinea (44 years)
Currently holding the title of the longest-serving president in Africa, he serves as both the second and incumbent president of Equatorial Guinea, a position he has maintained since August 1979. Notably, he surpasses all records as the longest-serving president, not only in Africa but in the entire history of any country. Rising to power through a coup on August 3, 1979, Obiang has steered the nation for an unparalleled 44 years, solidifying his status as Africa’s longest-serving leader.
2. Paul Biya – Cameroon (41 years)
Biya took power in Cameroon on November 6, 1982, when then-President Ahidjo suddenly resigned. Legally designated as the successor, Biya inherited the presidency, though some believe Ahidjo intended him as a temporary leader. This surprise move, influenced by the law and Ahidjo’s choice, marked the start of Biya’s long and controversial reign. Cameroon has witnessed significant infrastructural advancements under Biya’s leadership, including roads, ports, and schools. This has improved accessibility and connectivity in the country. However, Biya’s regime has been plagued by accusations of corruption and human rights violations. Transparency International considers Cameroon to be highly corrupt, and there have been documented cases of arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture.
Sassou-Nguesso joined the military 1960 and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming President in 1979 after a coup d’état. After loosing power in the 1992 presidential election, Sassou-Nguesso returned to power in 1997 after a civil war. He has since been re-elected multiple times, most recently in 2021, despite accusations of fraud and human rights abuses. He has been accused of human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and the disappearances of political opponents. Sassou-Nguesso is a controversial figure, both inside and outside Congo. His supporters point to his role in bringing stability and development to the country, while his critics accuse him of being an authoritarian leader who has enriched himself and his family at the expense of the Congolese people.
4. Yoweri Museveni – Uganda (37 years)
Museveni rose to power in Uganda in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war against the corrupt government of Milton Obote. Initially popular for bringing peace, his rule has become increasingly controversial, marked by allegations of corruption, human rights abuses, and suppression of dissent. While supporters credit him with economic development and HIV/AIDS control, critics worry about the erosion of democracy and his removal of term limits.
5. Isaias Afwerki – Eritrea (30 years)
Isaias Afwerki initial ascent to power occurred in 1993, following his leadership in the country’s independence movement against Ethiopia. For three decades, Isaias Afwerki has held the presidency in Eritrea. An Eritrean independence hero, built the nation after a long war but now faces criticism for his increasingly authoritarian rule, human rights abuses, and strained regional relations. His legacy remains complex, marked by both achievements and concerns for the future. Since then, Afwerki has secured re-election twice, marking a notable tenure in Eritrean politics.
6. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh – Djibouti (24 years)
Currently serving as the President of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh assumed office in 1999 and brokered a permanent peace agreement ending the decade-long civil war in Djibouti. That solidified his position as one of the most enduring leaders in Africa. Commonly known by his initials, IOG, he has maintained a longstanding presence at the helm of Djibouti’s leadership. However, concerns about political and human rights issues remain unaddressed, raising questions about the country’s future trajectory.
7. Paul Kagame – Rwanda (23 years)
Taking office in the year 2000, Paul Kagame currently serves as the fourth president of Rwanda, ranking as one of the longest-serving president in Africa. Despite assuming a de facto leadership role in 1994, with a focus on military, foreign affairs, and national security, Kagame officially pursued the presidency when the then-president Bizimungu resigned. His inauguration as president took place in April 2000. Kagame’s legacy remains contested. While his supporters praise his leadership in rebuilding Rwanda and driving economic progress, critics fear his growing authoritarianism and human rights violations. Understanding Kagame’s rule requires acknowledging both sides of the complex equation.
8. Faure Gnassingbé – Togo (18 years)
Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé Eyadéma, a Togolese politician, has held the presidential office in Togo since 2005. Prior to taking on the presidency, he served as the Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications, appointed by his father, President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, during the period from 2003 to 2005. Gnassingbé’s current term extends until 2025, but the future of his rule and Togo’s political landscape remain uncertain. The continued concerns about democratic practices, human rights violations, and inequality pose significant challenges that will need to be addressed to ensure stability and progress for the country.
9. Alassane Ouattara – Ivory Coast (13 years)
10. Salva Kiir Mayardit – South Sudan (12 years)
Salva Kiir Mayardit, also known as Salva Kiir, ascended to the presidency of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. Kiir played a pivotal role in the long struggle for South Sudanese independence from Sudan, culminating in the 2011 referendum and the birth of a new nation. Prior to this milestone, he held the position of President of the Government of Southern Sudan and served as the First Vice President of Sudan from 2005 to 2011. South Sudan’s history since independence has been marred by a brutal civil war that erupted in 2013, displacing millions of people and causing a humanitarian crisis. Kiir’s leadership has been criticized for its role in fueling the conflict and failing to find a lasting peace agreement.
Mswati III – King of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) – Since 1986
Mohammed VI – King of Morocco – Since 1999
(The leaders above were not included on the list and cannot be technically referred to as presidents because their countries operate a monarchy system)
In reflecting upon the enduring legacies of these remarkable leaders, we witness not just the passage of time but the imprints left on the landscapes they have shaped. The Top 10 Longest-Serving African Presidents stand as testaments to the complexities of leadership, the evolution of governance, and the intricate dance between stability and change. As we bid farewell to this exploration of political longevity, may we continue to scrutinize, question, and celebrate the diverse narratives that define Africa’s political tapestry.