In the years following independence from colonial rule, Africa has been blessed with some outstanding leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Seretse Khama, who have become global icons of exemplary and selfless leadership. Sadly however, Africa has also had a surplus of sit-tight leaders who choose to remain in office despite poor health or becoming unpopular with their fellow countrymen.
Some, like Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, have ignored corruption charges and ill health to cling on to power, while others like Gambian President Yayha Jammeh have declared, “If I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.”
As the January 19th Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deadline requiring Jammeh to step down approaches, We make a rundown of 10 African presidents who have died in office in the last 10 years.
Lansana Conte, Guinea
In 2008, President Lansana Conte Guinea died in office aged 74 after years of battling complications from diabetes and heart-related conditions.
Conte assumed office as Guinea’s head of state and military ruler after leading a 1984 coup that toppled the government. In 1993, Conte resigned from his military position in order run in the 1993 Guinean presidential polls. He won the election and secured a five-year term amidst complaints of foul play and electoral fraud from the opposition.
Conte contested and won two more elections and continued as president despite his poor state of health saw him constantly seeking treatment overseas.
Omar Bongo Ondimba, Gabon
When he died in 2009, President Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon had ruled the country for 42 consecutive years. He was one of the longest serving rulers in history and also one of the most corrupt.
Following his death, internal documents were released that revealed the immense private wealth he had acquired at the expense of his country, many of whom lived in poverty despite Gabon’s huge revenue earnings from its extensive crude oil deposits.
Bongo Ondimba died in Barcelona, Spain, on June 8th, 2009, after months of battling advanced intestinal cancer and other related illnesses. He was 72.
João Bernardo Vieira, Guinea-Bissau
João Bernardo Vieira became prime minister of the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau in 1978, a position he held for a brief two-year period. In 1980, Vieira seized power and went on to rule Guinea-Bissau for 19 years.
In 1994 he morphed into a civilian president and led for another 4-year period before he was thrown out of power and into exile when civil war broke out in 1998.
Vieira returned from exile in 2005, won another round of presidential elections, but was assassinated March 2nd, 2009 at the age of 61.
He was the head of state in Guinea-Bissau for a combined 31-year period.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Nigeria
Umaru Musa Yar’adua of Nigeria had a well-documented history of health-related complications, but that did not stop the political pendulum from swinging in his direction ahead of the 2007 Nigerian presidential elections.
Political insiders say he was a reluctant to run for the presidency. Before he was co-opted by aggressive power brokers, the discreet Yar’adua was looking forward to a quiet retirement after completing a consecutive four-year term as governor of one of Nigeria’s north western states.
Despite an election campaign that was punctuated by the absence of the candidate on the campaign trail and reports of a near fatal health crises, Yar’adua won the April 2007 presidential polls with 70 percent of the vote. Yar’adua’s frail health took a turn for the worst after his election and he never really settled into office. He died aged at the age of 58 on May 5th, 2011, at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa Abuja, barely three years into his four-year tenure.
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya
Muammar Gaddafi became Libya’s leader in 1969 after he seized power from the Libyan monarchy following a bloodless military coup. He ruled Libya for 42 years with classic strongman tactics, however his time came to an end in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolution that toppled many governments across north Africa and the Middle East in 2011.
Gaddafi was forced to flee from the capital Tripoli after the city fell to rebels in 2011. He escaped in the company of close aids and body guards and took refuge in a construction site. He was eventually captured by rebel forces who later assassinated him in somewhat unclear circumstances. He was 69.
Malam Bacai Sanhá, Guinea Bissau
Malam Bacai Sanhá was named the president of Guinea Bissau after winning the 2009 presidential polls. He was a career politician who had previously served as head of parliament and acting president after the fall of João Bernardo Vieira.
Sanhá was diabetic and he suffered from several health complications and throughout his time in office he was continually in and out of the hospital. He received treatment in France, Senegal, and Portugal. He died at 64 years of age in a Paris hospital in January 2012. He was only president for four years.
Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi
Trained economist and politician Bingu wa Mutharika was elected president of Malawi in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009 after achieving broad success in his food and agricultural policies. However, Mutharika’s administration was marred by widespread public protests over his purchase of a $14 million presidential jet.
The 78-year old Mutharika suffered a heart attack on the morning of April 5th, 2012, and was flown to a south African hospital where he was confirmed dead two days later.
John Atta Mills, Ghana
President John Atta Mills of Ghana was barely three years into his four-year presidential term when he died of a cardiac-related condition in 2012. Mills became president after winning the 2008 presidential election where he defeated his main challenger, Nana Akufo-Addo, by a slim margin following two rounds of elections.
Before his rise to power, Mills served as vice president under President Jerry Rawlings and was also the national tax commissioner from 1988 to 1996. As president, Mills instituted a number of far-reaching economic and social reforms that earned him both local and international commendations. Mills died at 68 on July 28th, 2012 at a military hospital in Ghana.
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia
Meles Zenawi was president of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995 and then prime minister from 1995 to 2012, for a total of 21 years in power. His government is credited with reforming Ethiopia’s electoral law and introducing multi-party democracy, but he was also accused of violently suppressing the legitimate agitations of the Oromia people of northern Ethiopia.
Zenawi died at a Belgian hospital in August of 2012 at 57 years old. His official cause of death was the result of sudden infection.
Michael Sata, Zambia
Michael Sata of Zambia, who died in 2014, is the most recent African president to have died in office. Sata, a long time opposition politician, was elected president in 2011. Before his victory, he had been a leading trade unionist and a member of parliament.
Following his win, Sata appeared increasingly unwell and rumors about his rapidly failing health spread across Zambia. His spokesmen insisted that he was in good health, but his continuous absence at major state functions and events served to heighten concerns about his well-being. Sata was 77 years old when he eventually died of an undisclosed illness in a United Kingdom hospital on October 28th, 2014. He had held the office of the president for just a little over four years.