Joshua Keating looks at the world’s longest-ruling dictators. From his post:
Barring a truly remarkable turn of events, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rule appears to have come to an end. Having taken power 41 years and 357 days ago, Qaddafi had been the world’s longest-ruling sitting leader (not counting royals). He fell short of the all-time record of 49 years set by Fidel Castro, as well as those of Chiang Kai-shek (46 years) and Kim Il Sung (45 years.) So who takes the crown now?
According to Wikipedia, it’s Cameroonian President Paul Biya, at 36 years. However, that’s disputable since Biya was actually prime minister for the first seven of those years and only assumed the office of the presidency when the sitting president died in 1982.
Going down the list, there’s Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of Western Sahara –which is not a generally recognized country — at 34 years. Then there’s Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh at 33 years, though his grip on power is tenuous to say the least.
That leaves Equatorial Guinea’s kleptocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as the world’s longest-serving undisputed ruler at 32 years and 21 days. Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe are close behind him, both at 31 years.
Given that Obiang and dos Santos are both 71 and Mugabe is 87, Castro’s all-time dictator longevity record appears to be pretty safe.
Some hypotheses worth testing someday:
1). As the leader’s health dwindles, movements may see new opportunities for mobilization. This was true in Iran when the Shah got some bad health news, and it seems true in Egypt and Yemen as well. Wild cards may include countries where succession is clear (like in Saudi Arabia or North Korea) versus countries where the next leader is contested (like in Zimbabwe).
2). The longer the leader’s tenure, the stronger the population’s grievances. I’m not sure whether this holds in Cuba, but it seems like people get more and more irritated with corrupt leaders the longer they are in power. Hence, the longer you rule, the more vulnerable you become.