Africa’s top 10 ‘big men’

omar_bongoPresident Omar Bongo of Gabon died two weeks ago after nearly 42 years in power -- who inherits his title as Africa's longest-serving leader? The BBC has compiled a list - in reverse order, by length of continuous time in office - of the 10 African heads of state who have stood the test of time. (Pictured: Omar Bongo of Gabon)

No 10: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia


21 years in power

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in November 1987. He took over from Habib Bourguiba amid claims the latter was unfit to govern owing to senility. Mr Ben Ali marked the 21st anniversary of office by releasing 44 political prisoners.

No 9: President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso


21 years

Mystery still surrounds the death of President Blaise Compaore’s predecessor and friend, Thomas Sankara. But after he was shot dead by a group of soldiers in October 1987, Mr Compaore, as his number two, stepped into the breach.

President Compaore has since won three elections, scraping in last time round in 2005 with 80 percent of the vote.

No 8: King Mswati III of Swaziland


23 years

King Mswati came to the throne in April 1986; as son of Sobhuza, he was heir to the Swazi throne. But it took a three-year power struggle following his father’s death before he was crowned.

As an absolute monarch, elections are not really his thing – he has allowed people to vote for members of parliament, but political parties are not recognised.

No 7: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda



After years in the bush fighting a rebellion, ex-army officer Yoweri Museveni led his National Resistance Army into Kampala in January 1986 to seize power.

He toppled Basilio Okello, who had himself overthrown Milton Obote in a military coup six months earlier.

Mr Museveni has also won three elections, but only last time, in 2006, were candidates allowed to run on a party-political basis.

No 6: President Paul Biya of Cameroon


26 years

In November 1982, Cameroon’s first post-independence leader, Ahmadou Ahidjo, formally resigned due to ill-health, and handed the presidency to his Prime Minister, Paul Biya.

Since then Mr Biya has won five elections, which – say the opposition – is not surprising, given that the votes have always been overseen by senior ruling party figures.

No 5: President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt


27 years

Hosni Mubarak took over after the assassination of President Sadat by Islamist militants in October 1981. He was confirmed as president by a referendum.

In the last election in 2005, he squeaked through with 88 percent of the vote.

There has been plenty of speculation in Cairo that he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

No 4: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe


29 years

The world cheered when, after leading a long guerrilla war, Robert Mugabe led his Zanu party to victory at the elections in February 1980, after Zimbabwe had won its independence from Britain.

But he is no longer a global favourite and the opposition accuses him of destroying his country in a bid to stay in power. He is now sharing power – but remains president.

No 3: President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola


Nearly 30 years

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed power on the death of Angola’s first president, Agostinho Neto, in September 1979. But for much of the time after that, he ruled only over half the country, as his MPLA fought a civil war against Unita.

Now, with the war over, and Unita crushed at last year’s parliamentary elections, he is being called on to hold an election for the presidency. No firm date has yet been set.

No 2: Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema


Nearly 30 years

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema came to power in August 1979 in classic style, deposing his uncle, Macias Nguema, who fled but was later captured and executed.

Despite its new-found oil wealth, 60% of the people of Equatorial Guinea live on less than a dollar a day.

But they clearly all love President Nguema, as he won 97% of the vote at the last election in 2002.

No 1: President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya


39 years

And finally, Africa’s undisputed newly crowned longest-serving ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, who was in office a decade ahead of his nearest rival.

Col Gaddafi led a coup by young army officers in September 1969, then set about establishing his own political system, as laid out in his Green Book; and he’s been there ever since.

Last year, he was named “king of kings” by a meeting of Africa’s traditional rulers.

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