The oldest African dictators

Credit to Photo Associated Press/Dictator Ismali Omar Gulleh has ruled over Djibouti since 1999. He succeeded his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon

African leaders have continued to consolidate their power through constitutional changes and have constructed legal dictatorships. The new decade has brought about a series of seismic changes in the African political system. There has been an increase of the number of coups across the continent that has seen long standing head of states lose power.

Despite this, there still remains a number of African leaders who have continued to consolidate their power through constitutional changes and have constructed legal dictatorships. According to The African Exponent reported.

1.Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Teodoro Obiang is the longest serving African leader. He took office of the President of Equatorial Guinea in 1979 after orchestrating a military coup against his uncle, Franciso Macias Nguema. Since then, Equatorial Guinea is has one party system and the constitution of the country grants Obiang virtually all the power.

Like previous African strongmen, Obiang’s regime is characterized by unlawful kidnappings, murders, and torture of anyone who dares to criticize it. The only media outlets allowed to operate in the country are those owned by his allies. Local activists often face intimidations, harassment, and reprisals.

Equatorial Guinea is one of the leading oil producing countries in Africa and has one the highest adult literacy rates. Despite this, wealth inequality is rife due to corruption. About three quarters of the population live below the poverty line and are without access to healthcare, infrastructure or drinking water.

2. Paul Biya

Paul Biya has been the president of Cameroon since 1982. He has been in office for 40 years after the resignation of President Ahmadou Ahidjo. He has won seven terms, the latest in 2018.

Biya’s presidency become more repressive with each passing year and intensified after an attempted coup in 1984. Since then, elections are often fraudulent, political opponents disappear and free speech is restricted. His French-backed regime has often targeted the Anglophone people of Cameroon resulting in a deadly crisis.

Due to widespread corruption, Cameroon is in a dire state. 40% of Cameroonians live below the poverty line. Another 6.2 million are in need of humanitarian aid. The economy is on the brink of collapse and the national currency has been devalued.

3. Dennis Sassou Nguesso

Dennis Nguesso has been Congo’s head of state for more than 37 years. He served his first term as president from 1979 to 1990 but was stripped of executive power and subsequently lost the 1991 presidential elections. He returned to power in 2002 after leading his rebel forces during the Congo civil war in which they ousted President Lissouba. In 2021, he won his fifth term which will see him stay in power until 2026.

Nguesso rules like a true totalitarian. Political opponents have either been jailed, exiled or are dead. Elections are routinely rigged, and dissidence is violently quelled. The population of Congo doesn’t enjoy any civic freedoms. Nguesso is well known for decades of gross corruption.

Although, Congo is an oil rich country and generates huge revenues, it remains one the poorest countries. Nguesso and his allies use state resources for personal enrichment. Half the population live below the poverty line, the economy’s stagnant, civil servants go mouths without wages and hospitals rarely have the capacity to treat people.

4. Youweri Museveni

Youweri Museveni is Uganda’s 9th President and has ruled over the country since 1986. He led the rebel forces that toppled former Ugandan Presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin and recently won his sixth term in 2021.

Like so many of his authoritarian counterparts, Museveni has scrapped term limits, rigged elections, and suppressed opponents. Museveni’s regime is a display of wide-reaching corruption and an intolerance for minority groups.

Uganda is primarily plagued by rising youth employment, lack of electricity and limited infrastructure as the country lacks sufficient road and railway systems.

5. King Mswati III

King Mswati III is the last absolute monarch in Africa and has reigned over Swaziland since 1986. The king assumed power as he turned 18 after receiving an education at Sherbone School in England. He routinely appoints his own cabinet, parliament and fills key governmental positions with allies and CEO’s.

The king has ruled with a ruthlessness and his methods have become more violent. The monarch’s security forces are known for extra judicial killings, unfounded arrests, detentions, and torture. This was evident in the 2021 pro-democracy protests that took over the country. Security forces enacted a dusk to dawn curfew, shut off the internet and murdered 50 people.

The king uses Swaziland’s resources as his own personal line of credit. He is listed as one of the richest monarchs and leads an extravagant lifestyle. Meanwhile, Swaziland’s unemployment rate stands at more than 46% and 65% of the people live on less than $1.25 a day.

6. Isaias Afwerki

Isaias Afwerki has held the office of the President of Eritrea since the country gained its independence in 1991. As a revolutionary, he led the Eritrean Liberation Front to victory, ending the country’s 30-year long war for independence. He continues to lead both the country and the only legitimate party in the country.

Afwerki’s reign has been marked by the lack of elections, constitution, parliament or independent judiciary. The president is an authoritarian who uses his considerable power to eliminate rivals and free press. He has gone as far as aiding Islamist extremist groups in Somalia in order to destabilize neighbouring Ethiopia.

Eritrea remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Poverty rates are exacerbated by war and drought. The country is plagued by homelessness, disease and a lack of water, educational and healthcare systems.

7. Ismali Omar Gulleh

Ismali Omar Gulleh has ruled over Djibouti since 1999. He succeeded his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, after being in his cabinet as head of national security and chief of staff for more than 20 years.

Known by many as a dictator, Guelleh has been in power for 24 years and 5 terms. In the latest election, held in 2021, He beat his only opponent, Zakaria Farah, by winning over 97% of the votes. The lead up to the alleged rigged elections was marked by street protests by the people of the country as they have grown tired of Guelleh’s suppressive reign.

Guelleh’s regime has been characterized by inequality, corruption, poverty, unemployment, restriction of free press, rampant malnutrition, and poor healthcare systems. The country is not poor by any means, but Guelleh has turned it into a commercial state-city controlled by him, his wife and son in-law from Ivory Coast and Senegal.

8. Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame is the current president of Rwanda and has been since 2000. He has won three terms. He rose to power after defeating the Rwandan National Army to end the genocidal war that broke out in Rwanda in 1994 as the leader of the RPF rebel forces.

In his current 22-year long reign, Kagame has been lauded for his efforts that have stabilized the economy and promoted economic growth, but he is also known for his tyrannical streak. It said that Kagame has defence agency networks dedicated to assassinating, imprisoning, and exiling his critics.

Rwanda has somewhat benefitted from leadership as he has been able to procure vast amounts of foreign aid that has helped the country greatly. Government reports claim to have lifted 1 million people out of poverty between 2008 and 2012 and that the country’s economy has grown by a steady 8% in the same time frame.

9. Faure Gnassingbe

Faure Gnassingbe has been the President of Togo since 2005. After the sudden death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, he was installed by the military has head of state which resulted in international and domestic backlash. After resigning and winning the hotly contested elections of 2005, he has become a mainstay. Gnassingbe won his fourth term in 2020 after removing presidential term limits amidst of allegations of rigging the elections.

Like his father, Gnassingbe rules the country with an iron fist. He ordered the arrest of his half brother and former defence minister on suspicion of planning a coup attempt in 2009. The constitutional changes he proposed in 2017 to allow him to continue to stand for election were heavily protested by opposition leaders and the people of Togo. The resistance was harshly squashed as the military used live bullets, teargas and internet blackouts.

10. Alassane Ouattara

Alassane Ouattara has been the president of Ivory Coast since 2010. Prior to his presidency, he was the Prime Minister of Ivory Coast and worked as an economist for the IMF and the Central Bank of West African States. He recently won a 5-year term in 2020 in what can be considered a constitutional coup.

Ouattara assumed his position after a bloody power struggle with then incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, after a stalemate in the 2010 elections. With the aid of France and the US, Ouattara’s military forces arrested Gbagbo and he became de facto leader.

Ouattara has continued his repressive streak as his government is known for corruption, cronyism, and human right abuses. The state of Ivory Coast is nuanced. Economic growth has been around 7% since he took over. The government has invested heavily in telecommuting, electricity and roads but poverty, education and healthcare remain a huge challenge.