As Robert Mugabe refuses to concede defeat in the Zimbabwe elections, I consider the possibility of his continued presidency. Referred to as an “old man” by even his own ZANU PF administration, Mugabe is 84 and has currently served 28 years as head of state. He can be counted among the swelling ranks of leaders who have held power in African nations for decades. At this stage, the possibility of Mugabe continuing to serve as president until he drops in his tracks, seems all too real.  

Case in point: Gabon’s current president, Omar Bongo. The man now holds the record as the world’s longest-serving ruler, excluding monarchs. He has been in power for 40 years. Author and journalist John Ghazvinian notes that Bongo holds the title of “Dean of Africa,”* the nickname given to the continent’s longest-serving head of state. He inherited it after the death of Togo’s president Eyadema Gnassingbe in 2005. Gnassingbe served for 38 years. Compared to Robert Mugabe, Omar Bongo (age 72) is a spring chicken. It seems that the mantle of Le doyen d’Afrique may remain with the president of Gabon for some time.

The desire by leaders to hold on to status and power at all costs and by any means necessary is certainly not unique to Africa. However, the presence of so many heads of state striking and stretching term limits, corrupting election results, and holding onto the reins for dear life must certainly create a general climate of impunity. 

The list of shame:

  • President of Angola: José Eduardo dos Santos, Assumed office 10 September 1979, 28 years 
  • President of Burkina Faso: Blaise Compaoré, Assumed office 15 October 1987, 20 years
  • President of Cameroon: Paul Biya, Assumed office 6 November 1982, 25 years
  • President of Chad: Idriss Déby, Assumed office 2 December 1990, 17 years
  • President of Egypt: Hosni Mubarak, Assumed office 14 October 1981, 24 years
  • President of Equatorial Guinea: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Assumed office 3 August 1979, 28 years
  • President of Gabon: Omar Bongo, Assumed office 2 December 1967, 40 years
  • President of Guinea: Lansana Conté, Assumed office 5 April 1984, 24 years
  • Head of state of Libya: Muammar al-Gaddafi, Assumed office 8 September 1969, 38 years
  • President of Sudan: Omar al-Bashir, Assumed office 30 June 1989, 18 years
  • President of Tunisia: Zine El Anidine Ben Ali, Assumed office 7 November 1987, 20 years
  • President of Uganda: Yoweri Museveni, Assumed office 29 January 1986, 22 years
  • President of Western Sahara: Mohamed Abdelaziz, Assumed office 30 August 1976, 31 years
  • President of Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe, Assumed office 4 March 1980, 28 years

*I have included leaders who’ve served 15+ years. Locating a physical cutoff point at which enough is enough is not easy.