Home African News Holding on to power: Africa’s longest-serving leaders

Holding on to power: Africa’s longest-serving leaders

After three decades in power, Chad's President Idriss Deby died

After three decades in power, Chad’s President Idriss Deby died on Tuesday from wounds suffered on the battlefield, the army said in a shock announcement just a day after the 68-year-old was re-elected to a sixth term.

Here are some of Africa’s other longest-serving leaders, some of whom change the constitution, crush the opposition and use fear and violence to maintain their grip on power.


Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema is Africa’s longest-serving leader, still in power after 41 years. He deposed his uncle in a 1979 coup, and became “the country’s god” with “all power over men and things”, state radio said.

Obiang, the world’s most enduring non-royal head of state, was last re-elected in 2016.

Cameroonian President Paul Biya has been in office more than 38 years. He was re-elected in 2018 for a seventh term.

Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso has held power for a total of 36 years and was re-elected for a fourth term after elections on March 21.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, was re-elected in January with his main rival Bobi Wine claiming the election was rigged.

In southern Africa’s tiny Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, King Mswati III is the continent’s last absolute monarch. He ascended the throne in 1986.


Ethiopia’s late emperor Haile Selassie holds the record for the longest time in power on the African continent.

After reigning for 44 years, he was ousted in 1974.

Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly 42 years, was killed in 2011 after an armed rebellion that later turned into a civil war.

Omar Bongo Ondimba governed oil-rich Gabon for more than 41 years until his death from cancer in 2009.

Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in September 2017 having led his oil-rich country for 38 years.

Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who died in 2019, was in power for 37 years.



Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno has died on the battlefield after three decades in power,

the army announced on state television on Tuesday.

The shock announcement came only the day after the 68-year-old was proclaimed the

winner of a presidential election that had given him a sixth term in office.

The army said Deby had been commanding his army at the weekend as it battled against

rebels who had launched a major incursion into the north of the country on election day.

Deby “has just breathed his last breath defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield,”

army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement read out on state television.

Deby, 68, had ruled Chad with an iron fist for three decades but was a key ally in the

West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region.

The army said a military council led by the late president’s 37-year-old son Mahamat

Idriss Deby Itno, a four-star general, would replace him.

On Monday, the army had claimed a “great victory” in its battle against the rebels from

neighbouring Libya, saying it had killed 300 fighters, with the loss of five soldiers in its

own ranks during eight days of combat.

Deby would have been one of the longest-serving leaders in the world,

after provisional results showed him winning the April 11 election.

He was a herder’s son from the Zaghawa ethnic group who took the classic path to power through the army, and relished the military culture.

His latest election victory — with almost 80 percent of the vote — had never been in

doubt, with a divided opposition, boycott calls, and a campaign in which demonstrations were banned or dispersed.

Deby had campaigned on a promise of bringing peace and security to the region,

but his pledges were undermined by the rebel incursion.

The government had sought on Monday to assure concerned residents that the offensive was over.

There had been panic in some areas of N’Djamena on Monday after tanks were deployed

along the city’s main roads, an AFP journalist reported.

The tanks were later withdrawn apart from a perimeter around the president’s office,

which is under heavy security during normal times.

“The establishment of a security deployment in certain areas of the capital seems to have

been misunderstood,” government spokesman Cherif Mahamat Zene had said on Twitter on Monday.

“There is no particular threat to fear.”

However, the US embassy in N’Djamena had on Saturday ordered non-essential personnel

to leave the country, warning of possible violence in the capital. Britain also urged its nationals to leave.

France’s embassy said in an advisory to its nationals in Chad that the deployment was a

precaution and there was no specific threat to the capital.

The rebel raid in the provinces of Tibesti and Kanem was carried out by the Front for

Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), based in Libya.

The group has a non-aggression pact with Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls much of Libya’s east.

FACT, a group mainly made up of the Saharan Goran people, said in a statement on

Sunday that it had “liberated” the Kanem region. Such claims in remote desert combat zones are difficult to verify.

The Tibesti mountains near the Libyan frontier frequently see fighting between rebels and

the army, as well as in the northeast bordering Sudan.

French air strikes were needed to stop an incursion there in February 2019.

In February 2008, a rebel assault reached the gates of the presidential palace before

being pushed back with French backing.