Ex-Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro
The world’s longest serving leader is Cuba’s revolutionary hero Fidel Castro, who ruled for 49 years and handed over to his brother Raul in 2008 when he was in his early 80s.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was a Cuban Communist revolutionary and politician who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008.
Born in Birán, Oriente as the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer, Castro adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.
After a year’s imprisonment, Castro traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the 26th of July Movement, with his brother Raúl Castro and Che Guevara. Returning to Cuba, Castro took a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s forces from the Sierra Maestra.
After Batista’s overthrow in 1959, Castro assumed military and political power as Cuba’s Prime Minister. The United States came to oppose Castro’s government and unsuccessfully attempted to remove him by assassination, economic blockade and counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961.
North Korean founder Kim Il-sung
North Korean founder Kim Il-sung ran the reclusive state for 46 years before dying in office in 1994. He is still revered as the ‘eternal leader’.
Kim Il-sung was the first Supreme Leader of North Korea, from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Premier from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994.
He was also the leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) from 1949 to 1994 (titled Chairman from 1949 to 1966 and General Secretary after 1966). Coming to power after the end of Japanese rule in 1945, he authorised the invasion of South Korea in 1950, triggering an intervention in defense of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States.
Under his leadership, North Korea became a communist state with a publicly owned and planned economy. It had close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, North Korea enjoyed a standard of living higher than the South, which was fraught with political instability and economic crises.
The situation reversed in the mid-1970s, as a newly stable South Korea became an economic powerhouse fueled by Japanese and American investment, military aid and internal economic development while North Korea stagnated.
Libyan Former leader, Muammar Gaddafi
The late Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist for almost 42 years before being killed in 2011 by rebels.
Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi commonly known as Colonel Gaddafi was a Libyan revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He governed Libya as Revolutionary Chairman of the Libyan Arab Republic from 1969 to 1977, and then as the ‘Brotherly Leader’ of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya from 1977 to 2011. He was initially ideologically committed to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism but later ruled according to his own Third International Theory.
Born near Sirte, Italian Libya to a poor Bedouin family, Gaddafi became an Arab nationalist while at school in Sabha, later enrolling in the Royal Military Academy, Benghazi. Within the military, he founded a revolutionary cell which deposed the Western-backed Senussi monarchy of Idris in a 1969 coup.
Having taken power, Gaddafi converted Libya into a republic governed by his Revolutionary Command Council. Ruling by decree, he ejected both the Italian population and Western military bases from Libya while strengthening ties to Arab nationalist governments—particularly Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt—and unsuccessfully advocating Pan-Arab political union.
Gabonese former leader, Omar Bongo
Omar Bongo Ondimba governed oil-rich Gabon for more than 41 years until his death in 2009.
El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was a Gabonese politician who was President of Gabon for 42 years, from 1967 until his death in 2009. Omar Bongo was promoted to key positions as a young official under Gabon’s first President Léon M’ba in the 1960s, before being elected vice president in his own right in 1966. In 1967, he succeeded M’ba to become the second Gabon President, upon the latter’s death.
Bongo headed the single-party regime of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) until 1990, when, faced with public pressure, he was forced to introduce multi-party politics into Gabon. His political survival despite intense opposition to his rule in the early 1990s seemed to stem once again from consolidating power by bringing most of the major opposition leaders at the time to his side.
The 1993 presidential election was extremely controversial but ended with his re-election then and the subsequent elections of 1998 and 2005. His respective parliamentary majorities increased and the opposition becoming more subdued with each succeeding election. After Cuban President Fidel Castro stepped down in February 2008, Bongo became the world’s longest-serving non-monarch ruler. He was one of the longest serving non-royal rulers since 1900.
Bongo was criticised for in effect having worked for himself, his family and local elites and not for Gabon and its people. For instance, French green politician Eva Joly claimed that during Bongo’s long reign, despite an oil-led GDP per capita growth to one of the highest levels in Africa, Gabon built only 5 km of freeway a year and still had one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates by the time of his death in 2009.
After Bongo’s death in June 2009, his son Ali Bongo, who had long been assigned key ministerial responsibilities by his father, was elected to succeed him in August 2009.
Ex-Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe
Robert Gabriel Mugabe (born 21 February 1924) is a Zimbabwean revolutionary and politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017, ruling for 37 years.
He chaired the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group from 1975 to 1980 and led its successor political party, the ZANU, Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), from 1980 to 2017. Ideologically an African nationalist, during the 1970s and 1980s he identified as a Marxist–Leninist, although after the 1990s self-identified only as a socialist. His policies have been described as Mugabeism.
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia. Following an education at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare, he worked as a school teacher in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Ghana.
Angered that Southern Rhodesia was a British colony governed by a white minority, Mugabe embraced Marxism and joined African nationalist protests calling for an independent black-led state. After making anti-government comments, he was convicted of sedition and imprisoned between 1964 and 1974.
On release, he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU, and oversaw ZANU’s role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting Ian Smith’s predominantly white government. He reluctantly took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom that resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement.
The agreement dismantled the short-lived Zimbabwe Rhodesia and resulted in the 1980 general election, at which Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory. Mugabe’s administration expanded healthcare and education and—despite his Marxist rhetoric and professed desire for a socialist society—adhered largely to mainstream, conservative economic policies. His calls for racial reconciliation failed to stem growing white flight.
Relations with Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) declined, with Mugabe’s government crushing ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland during the Gukurahundi between 1982 and 1985; at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians, were killed by Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade. Internationally, he sent troops into the Second Congo War and chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (1986–89), the Organisation of African Unity (1997–98), and the African Union (2015–16).
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