Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, April 22, 2016 (AFP) – Africa’s longest-serving ruler, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, looks set to win a fresh seven-year term Sunday that could also see him nail the all-time record for African leaders, living or dead. After almost 37 years at the helm of the tiny oil-rich nation with an abysmal rights record, the 73-year-old who took over in an August 1979 coup already heads the pack of veteran African leaders. He has ruled one month more than his nearest rival, Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and is several months ahead of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Cameroon’s Paul Biya, in office since 1982, is in fourth position and appears likely to seek a new mandate in 2018. Then come Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, with 32 years at the helm, and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni with 30 — both of whom were re-elected this year. Obiang is likely to hold on to his “longest-serving” title, all the more given that Dos Santos says he will retire in 2018.
The iron-fisted leader is also set next year to step onto the pedestal of Africa’s longest ever leaders — with the exception of kings and emperors free of ballot-box constraints. That honour is currently held by late Libyan leader Moamer Khadafi, who ruled for 42 years, followed by dead Gabonese leader Omar Bongo Ondimba, with 41, and Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema with 38. To nail that record he will need continuing good health as well as further stability in Equatorial Guinea, both of which look likely.
Born on June 6, 1942, Obiang appears to be healthy and is far younger than his two rivals, Mugabe, who was born in 1924, or Biya, born in 1933. Stability and security meanwhile have long been high on his list of priorities. Obiang initially took office in a 1979 coup, ousting his own uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who was then rapidly dispatched before a firing squad. He has since acted to preempt any new putsch, regularly claiming to have quashed attempted coups and building a fortress state policed by security personnel in every public nook and cranny.
Questioned by French weekly Jeune Afrique on the recent arrival in Malabo of Zimbabwe soldiers to boost his presidential guard, the head of state said: “My personal security is my business, and on this matter I owe no explanation to anybody. I can recruit who I want.” Pointing out that most of his personal guard were Israelis, who replaced Moroccans, he said the Zimbabwean detachment would be sent home once the election was over.
If Obiang does complete a fresh seven-year term he will have remained in office longer than any other leader in African history. He says he will not seek a new term after this one. But if he changes his mind, he would be looking at setting a new record as the longest-ruling leader anywhere in contemporary history, breaking a 44-year record set by Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, to clock up half a century of undivided rule.
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