As the United States buzzes with anticipation of the presidential primaries, everyone is wrapped in the whirlwind of debates, voting and sharing their views on social media. While we are wrapped up in the process, we often take for granted that fact that we are able to get wrapped up in this current event in the first place. Every four years we get to experience this same flood of exciting news and fresh candidates to criticize and debate about, but this is truly a privilege that many across the world do not get to partake in.
Many countries in Africa have not experienced this type of hype in more than 30 years.
Can you imagine if the president of the United States had been in office before you were even born and was still in office, with no signs of leaving?
This sad reality is being challenged by groups such as the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), that works in Washington D.C., advocates for just governance, and believes that educating people about the continuing injustice is the best way to make it come to an end.
While some of these presidents cannot be considered dictators and might be popular in their country, the point of a democracy is to have a change of power to avoid perpetuating corruption. Lord Acton noted that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Many civil societies in Africa have seen how these self-perpetuating presidents have entrenched corruption and have advocated that these men simply have to go and many citizens agree.
However, it becomes almost impossible when they use fear as a tactic, cause voting irregularities as well as amend the constitution to allow them to run in the election well beyond the limits imposed by their constitutions in the first place.
Here are some the current, longest standing presidents in Africa, and a little information about how they are using their power to suppress their citizens.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (30 years)
This ex-army officer was sworn into office in January 1986 and has since then managed to win four elections by continually amending the constitution so he can run again. He has been challenged by demonstrators who are infuriated with the corruption inside the government and the under-regulated high cost of living, Museveni uses his power to shut down the protesters and promises financial security is in the country’s future.
President Paul Biya of Cameroon (34 years)
This former prime minister was handed the presidency back in 1982, and has held a position in central government for more than 45 years. He is accused of using government finances for his own personal use, to take expensive lavish vacations with his entourage costing upwards of $1.2 million. His most recent election in 2011 which granted him his 7th term was noted by international observers to be littered with irregularities and corruption.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (35 years)
President Mugabe was sworn in with open arms when Zimbabwe finally won its independence from Britain in 1980, but it seems as though he has overstayed his welcome. The Mugabe administration has been criticized around the world for corruption, suppression of political opposition, mishandling of land reform, economic mismanagement and the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.
President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola (37 years)
Nicknamed the “quite dictator,” Eduardo dos Santos came to power in September 1979, one month after the longest serving president in Africa came into power. President Eduardo dos Santos assumed power on the death of Angola’s first president. While he is wildly popular in the country, many young people feel as though that he as overstayed his welcome, as a democracy does not allow for such a long time in office.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (37 years)
This president came to power after overthrowing his uncle in a coup back in 1979. He is widely popular in his country (he received 97 percent of the vote in the 2002 election) but observers believe that this popularity spews from corruption and that he is abusing his power in a democracy. Despite its new found oil wealth, 60 percent of the people of Equatorial Guinea live on less than a dollar a day, while he acquires property in the United States with money taken from his impoverished people. While this president has not done the most harm compared to other long standing presidents, he has still overstayed his welcome as president.
It is important to help those who are advocating for just governance in Africa, so that they are able to give citizens the opportunity to live in a true democracy that we have in the United States. Visit the AFJN website for more information about just governance and to make a donation to help the fight against life time presidents.
By: Rebecca Short, Intern Spring 2016. Also published on The Odyssey