1. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of St Helena, Ascension, & Tristan da Cunha, 1952-
Admittedly, this is a cheeky addition to the standard list of longest-reigning leaders in Africa. These three Atlantic islands are far off the African coast and have a combined population of under 8,000. Moreover, the islands were uninhabited when they were discovered by Portuguese explorers and later settled by the British. Still, it is worth remembering that Queen Elizabeth II, who until the early 1960s ruled over 16 present-day states in Africa, remains the ruler of these isolated islands and their populations of European descendants.
2. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea (1979 – )
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, often referred to more simply as Obiang is the more traditional starting point for any discussion of longest-reigning African leaders. He has been in power since 1979, when he seized power from his uncle, Francisco Matiás Nguema, who had governed Equatorial Guinea since the country’s independence from Spain in 1968.
Obiang has been re-elected four times since that point, but the elections were all widely decried as unfair with less than 5% of votes going to opposition candidates. Equatorial Guinea’s oil reserves have long contributed to the country’s high GDP and to Obiang’s standing amongst the elite and the Western governments, despite the deep impoverishment of the rest of the country and reports of widespread human rights abuses. According to the 2011 constitution, his term-limit expires in 2016, but he has vowed to run again. Until recently there was little reason to suspect that he would not be able to extend his rule, but the decline in oil prices may hamper Obiang’s ability to retain power.
3. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, President of Angola (1979 – )
Jose Eduardo Dos Santos came to power just one and half months after President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, making him the second longest-reigning African leader by most counts. His position has been far more contested than Obiang’s, though, as Angola was in the midst of a civil war when he assumed the presidency in 1979. Until 2002, Angola remained mired in a start-and-stop civil war, in which the National Union for the Total Integration of Angola (UNITA) contested the control of Dos Santos’s political party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). At the end of the civil war, many thought Dos Santos would step down, but he has remained in power.
4. Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister (1980-1987) and President ofZimbabwe (1987 – )
Until 1979, the country of Zimbabwe was known as Southern Rhodesia, and it was ruled by the minority white settlers. Robert Mugabe led the Zimbabwe African National Union’s fight for independence and majority rule, and upon independence, Mugabe became the Prime Minister of the country. In 1987, a new constution also made him Zimbabwe’s first President. Mugabe was formerly a teacher, and under his rule the literacy rates of Zimbabwe have soared, but the economy has collapsed. After the 2008 elections, he participated in a power sharing government, but the 2013 elections, which some critiqued, brought him back into full power.
5. Paul Biya, President of Cameroon (1987 – )
Some lists put Paul Biya as the longest reigning African leader as he was first elected the Prime Minister of Cameroon in 1975 under the Presidency of Ahmadou Ahidjo and retained that position until 1982, when Biya was elected president. As Prime Minister, however, Biya served under Ahamadou Ahidjo, the first president of Cameroon. This makes Biya’s case different from Robert Mugabe, who as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (1980-1987) was the head and chief of state. In 2008 Paul Biya was almost term-limited out of office, but his parliament amended the constitution, enabling him to run for office again amidst widespread protests.
6. Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, (1986 – )
Yoweri Museveni seized power in Uganda in a coup that overthrew President, Milton Obote. Museveni had served in Obote’s first government in the early 1970s, before Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin. After Amin was overthrown in the Kagera War and Obote resumed power again, Museveni formed a rebel group (the Popular Resistance Army, later known as the National Resistance Army) against Obote’s second presidency. After many years of fighting, Museveni and the National Resistance Army captured the capital of Uganda in January 1986. Museveni was sworn into power days later.During Museveni’s rule, Uganda’s economy has improved significantly. He also brought stability to much of the country. However, he also participated in the nine-country war in the Congo, and has been accused of humanitarian abuses in the north of the Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army has been active. In 2005, a constitutional change removed the presidential term limits that would have ended Museveni’s rule.