I have a very simple barometer to decide whether an African leader has been in power to long. If you are STILL on the list of African leaders I had to cram in primary school, then you have over-stayed your welcome! It was against this backdrop that I was stunned by the sudden exit of someone on this list; President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia who had been in power since 1987. It appears his grip on power started to unravel recently after weeks of angry protests over unemployment, food prices, corruption, freedom of speech and poor standards of living. No one expected that the president would resign and within one day would be on a plane out of the country for an unknown destination. Well, it appears that he has been taken in by Saudi Arabia but many Tunisians are still reeling over his sudden departure. Not only does this exit have implications for African leaders grasping onto power but also implications for the Arab world. So who is left on my primary school list? With the help of Reuters, I bring you the list as it stands in January 2011:
- LIBYA - Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution, Muammar Gaddafi, in power since 1969
- EQUATORIAL GUINEA - President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo. Although he was curiously omitted from the Reuters list, President Mbasogo has been in power since 1979
- ANGOLA - President Eduardo Dos Santos, in power since 1979
- CONGO REPUBLIC - President Denis Sassou Nguesso who first came to power in 1979. He took a break from 1992 but was back at the helm of affairs in 1997
- ZIMBABWE - President Robert Mugabe came to power as prime minister in 1980 and took over the presidency in 1987
- EGYPT - President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981
- CAMEROON - President Paul Biya, in power since 1982
- SWAZILAND - King Mswati III crowned king in 1986 (Reuters says 1987 but trust me, we had a holiday that day!)
- UGANDA - President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986
- BURKINA FASO - President Compaoré, in power since 1987. Mr. Compaoré did not quite make the Reuters roll-call but he certainly did make my primary school list.
One thing is for certain, this list is getting shorter. Also, there's a growing number of leaders not featured who are clearly overstaying their welcome across the continent. Did someone say...Gbagbo?