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World Dictators: Top 10 Longest Running Political Despots

First of all we must ask the question- Who is a dictator?

The Merriam Webster dictionary says – a: a person granted absolute emergency power, especially: one appointed by the senate of ancient Rome, b: one holding complete autocratic control, c: one ruling absolutely and often oppressively.
A dictator is one leader who usually assumes absolute power. He is the sole power centre but may not assume full military control and that is rare. In the present usage, a “dictator” is a leader who wields and abuses the extraordinary (socio-political) power held by or entrusted with him. The ancient words of “dictator” and “tyrant” did not carry any negative connotation, those were rather more synonymous and they pointed to a titular form.

In our modern age, a dictatorship is characterised by a leadership in power professed in different kinds of regimes. The dictatorship may assume a form of a single-party state, as military juntas or as governments under personal rule.

History is the witness to many different dictatorships in many different parts of the world. Some have ruled for many years and others were short-lived. Here is a list of dictators who ruled really long and most of them have made their mark infamously in the annals of political history. You may be familiar with many of them as you read the short description alongside.

1. Fidel Castro (Cuba)


Fidel Castro, who was a Marxist-Leninist, converted the Republic of Cuba into a one-party socialist republic. Leading a guerilla war, he successfully overthrew the then US supported Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, also considered as a dictator. Fidel the lawyer, revolutionary and politician became and remained Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976. He then continued in power as President from 1976 to 2008. He has greatly influenced politics of the world. He is idolized by socialists, leftists and anti-imperialists alike and influenced leaders like Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez and Nelson Mandela. Fidel Castro, whose 49 year regime is riddled in controversy, has relinquished active politics owing to age and illness. Virtually the reins of government have passed into the hands of his brother Raul Castro and from 2008 he is President of the Council of Ministers. From 2006 to 2008, Raul was in acting capacity until he was elected President by the National Assembly on 24th February 2008.

2. Kim Il Sung (North Korea)


Kim Il-Sung was North Korean premier from its founding in 1948 up to 1972 and President and Head-of-State from then right up to his death in 1994. An autocratic communist leader, who wielded absolute power for 46 years. He was also General Secretary and Chairman of Workers Party of Korea. This is the ruling communist party, the single party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Kim Il-Sung ruled the country with authoritarian power and building up the fourth largest standing army in the world. He promoted communist nationalism. The Korean War was fought during his period. After his death in 1994, his son Kim Jong-Il succeeded him. Referred to as the “Great Leader”, North Korea has officially designated him as “Eternal Leader” in its constitution.

3. Muammer Gadafi (Libya)


Muammer Gadafi, also called Colonel Gadafi, was leader, as Head of State of the Libyan Arab Republic from 1969. He grabbed power in a bloodless military coup, and stayed thus until the year 1977. From then on, he was “Brother Leader” of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya until 2011. His tyrannical rule ended when eventually he was overthrown in the civil war backed by NATO. He was reportedly killed by National Liberation Army (NLA) fighters on 20th October, 2011. One of the longest standing dictators, he was in power for 42 years.

4. Omar Bongo Ondimba (Gabon)


Omar Bongo Ondimba was President of Gabon for 42 years until his death in 2009. He was elevated to Vice President in 1966 and eventually succeeded as Gabon’s second President upon the death of Leon M’ba. Bongo was the leader of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the single party regime in power, until 1990. Forced to introduce multi-party politics he survived by consolidating power, by bringing major opposition leaders to his side. He was re-elected several times afterwards but controversially. Despite the oil-rich GDP income, Gabon had still high infant mortality rates. His son Ali Bongo succeeded him by being elected as the next president in August of 2009.

5. Antonio Salazar (Portugal)


Antonio Salazar founded and led the Estado Novo that controlled Portugal from 1932 to 1974. Salzaar’s regime using the secret police suppressed all opposition, political freedom and civil liberties. The Portuguese government under Salazar supported the Nationalists who were against the Popular Front government in Spain, when the Spanish Civil War broke out. Throughout the 2nd World War, Portugal remained neutral. Salazar gave up power owing to ill-health in 1968 after nearly 36 years of power. Under Salazar, Portugal perpetuated a pluri-colonial empire. The Carnation Revolution led to the restoration of democracy in Portugal in 1974. Antonio
Salazar suffered a brain haemorrhage and subsequently died in July, 1970.

6. Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)


Alberto Stroessner came into power in a coup in 1954, ousting President of Paraguay Federico Chavez who wanted to arm the national police. Stroessner was a military officer and an ardent anti-communist. He clung on to power till 1989, that’s for 35 years, when he was ousted by generals who feared that his son, a cocaine addict, may be in line to succeed. Tolerated by the USA, he was one of the longest ruling dictators who marked his misrule by kidnappings, torture and police brutality. He died in 2006, while living in exile in Brazil.

7. Mobutu Sese Seko (Congo-Zaire)


Mobutu Sese Seko came into power as the President of Congo, or Zaire as it is also called in 1965. In office as President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he made this resource rich and strategic former colony of Belgium into his own, renaming it as Zaire. A military officer who played a critical role in the Congo Crisis, he built it into a highly centralised state, trying to purge it of its colonial influence. Maintaining an anti-communist approach his dictatorial regime saw him amassing personal wealth. Tutsi rebels and forces of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan Minister of Defense Paul Kagame were able to overthrow Mobutu, ending his rein of 32 years. He went into temporary exile in Togo and lived in Morocco where he died ailing from prostate cancer on 7th September 1997.

8. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)


Robert Mugabe was elected to power in 1980 in Zimbabwe. He served from 1980 to 1987 as Prime Minister and later as first Executive Head of State or President since 1987. He was one of the leaders of the liberation movement which fought a civil war against white minority rule in the erstwhile Rhodesia. Mugabe became the first elected Prime Minister then. After a bitter armed conflict between the government and the pro-Marxist ZAPU of Joshua Nkomo, an agreement was created and the former rivals merged to from the new ruling party of ZANU PF. Although a dictatorial regime, his government did improve things in their National Health Service departments which were able to reduce mortality rates. In 2008, although his party was defeated, he retained presidential power by signing a power sharing deal with the opposition leaders to become a one-party state and the incumbent President. He has remained in power for 31 years. Zimbabwe faces economic crises today.

9. Ayatollah Khamenei (Iran)


Ayatollah Kamenei is the head of the Muslim Conservative establishment in Iran and the twelve Shiia Marja. He was made president in 1981 and held it until 1989, after which he became the Supreme Leader of Iran, succeeding Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni. In effect he has been in power for the last 30 years. He is opposed to the policies of United States and the Western countries in general. Protests were seen after the June 2009 presidential elections in Iran, but they have been suppressed. Khamenei supports the incumbent President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

10. Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)


Hosni Mubarak assumed power as the fourth President of Egypt in 1981, remaining until he stepped down in 2011. The former Egyptian military commander also was a politician. Earlier appointed as Vice President in 1975, he took over as President following President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Now after 30 years of autocratic rule he stepped down on 11th February 2011. He was actually ousted by the 2011 Egyptian revolution, following 18 days of demonstrations. He now stands trial on charges of premeditated murder of peaceful protesters.

Author Bio:
Dinesh V.K, an editor, who writes on current happenings in the market, current affairs, technology, broadband providers, Gadgets, Public sectors, NHS, NHS benefits and other public services.