African Presidents: icons, leaders, visionaries, dictators…


African Presidents can, and do become icons, leaders, visionaries, but unfortunately sometimes also, wealth grabbers, oppressors and even dictators.

They are naturally as different as the 54 African nations they head, oversee, rule or govern. Some lead a very conspicuous life and involve themselves closely in the affairs of state, mostly politics.

As things go it are always the excesses that attract the attention, make the headlines or get African Presidents on lists of wealthiest, oldest, longest in function or even best or worst behaviour. The latter being dictators as a good number of the old ones were unfortunately.
Heads of World State leaders, including Africa can be found via this link:

African Presidents’ ages

The age of African Presidents is most frequently an issue, particularly when they still want to seek another term of office, while they have become octogenarians.Topping that is Tunisia’s Bej Caid Essebrinow 92, but should be credited by winning the first presidential elections in 2014.

Cameroon’s Paul Biya follows at 85 and wants another seven years. Egypt’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 81 as is Tomé & Principe’s Manuel Pinto de Costa. Guinea’s Alpha Condé is 80 while Malawi’s Peter Mutharika is 77 and Nigeria’s Muhammed Buhari is 75 and reportedly has health issues. Last but not least in this list of ten are Ghana’s Nana Akufo Addo, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara all ‘just 73’.

Who says you can’t grow old while still having the top job in the land?

African Presidents’ considered the best in 2017

A debatable top ten of African Presidents rates as last Ghana’s Nana Akufo Addo, preceded by Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Tanzania’s John Magufuli. The latter, elected in 2015 was lauded for his popular measures like scrapping spending for national day celebrations in favour of a clean-up day. He has however recently been criticized for encouraging women to suspend birth control and barring pregnant schoolgirls from continuing their education. Imposing harsh measures on prisoners like working longer hours and growing their own food, didn’t go well either.

Burkina’s Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Namibia’s Hage Geingob and Seychelles Danny Faure come in from seven to five. They are followed by Gambia’s Adama Barrow, Mauritius’ Ameenah Gurib and Botswana’s Ian Khama.

However not surprisingly the best or most popular and admired in 2017 was Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.She also was awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in 2017.

This is not a regular annual ranking, as popularity can change quickly at this level.

African Presidents’ Wealth

What are African Presidents worth, how wealthy are they and how rich have they become since they are in the highest seat of the land? These are questions which are often asked, but though in some countries a declaration of assets is required from members of Parliament, Ministers to the Head of State, the truth is preferably hidden. Well this is what is published:
Zimbabwe’s ex-PresidentRobert Mugabe owns just 10 mln US$, but his family is very rich too, while his wife Grace (nicknamed Gucci Grace) liked to spend it.

Chad’s Idris Deby is worth 50 mln US$ and asked for better deal for his country from foreign oil companies. His country and population badly needs it.

Swaziland’s King Mswati II was the 15th wealthy Royal, but lost half of his wealth, leaving him with 100 mln US$. His 13 wivesspent 6mln US$ on one good shopping, while banned photographing his luxury cars, among which on worth 50 mln US$.

Cameroun’s Paul Biya has 200 mln US$, which according to a Catholic organization is largely ill gotten. He has property in France and Switzerland and is nicknamed ‘the absent landlord’ as he spends long periods abroad. He was recently criticized for spending 30,000 a day on a hotel room.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta’s net worth is 500 mln US$, part of it his family wealth in prime Kenya land. He also has major stakes in large Kenyan companies. Let’s hope his Vision 2030 means economic transformation for his people and hopefully for those of his nation still under the poverty line.

Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema is worth 600 mln US$. He and his family practically own their country’s economy. The President’s son Teodoro Obiang Mangue, also First Vive-President was in September this year held by Brazilian customs, who found US$ 1.4 M in cash and 20 watches with estimated value of US$ 15 M in his large amount of baggage. It is also said that the country has become a transfer point for drugs from South America on their way to Europe.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is apart being Head of State also a leading businessman. His is more than mere millions, 2.1 bln US$ in fact.

Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos tops is all with his3.8 bln US$, while an estimated 70 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.

The Angolan President’s daughter Isabel dos Santos isthe richest African and the World’s black women and matches her fathers’ level of 3.8 bln US$.

African Presidents’ Salaries

Position and work needs salaries, so even though most if not all African Presidents are well endowed moneywise, they deserve their salaries.

The amount and calculation differs greatly between the various countries.

Cameroon’s Paul Biya pockets at 50,000 US$ monthly about five times as much as most of his African counterparts. Then there are of course the additional ameneties like houses, sorry palaces, staff, protection, transport etc.

African Presidents considered dictators

Zaire’s (Congo Republic) Mobutu Sese Seko 1965 – 1997, He is an accessory, with USA, France and Belgium, to murder of freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba. He is also responsible for impoverishing his nation.

Togo’s Gnassingbé Eyadéma, 1967 – 2005 He is the pioneer of Africa’s first military coup d’état, an act that soon became the political trend in Africa. He organized a presidential election in 1998 and cancelled “in the interests of national security” when he was losing. He was accused of several cases of human right abuses.

Equatorial Guinea’s Francisco Macias Nguema 1968 – 1979, He ordered the death of entire families and villages; he executed members of his family, One-third of the population fled the country, he ordered every boat in the nation sold or destroyed and banned all citizens from the shoreline to prevent more people from escaping his terror.

Libya’s Colonel Muamar Gaddafi 1969 – 2011 Under Gaddafi, Libya became the first developing country to own a majority share of the revenues from its oil production. He led oil-rich Libya as an absolute dictator, for close to 42 years, he quashed anyone that opposed him, and was responsible for the death of thousands of his people.

Liberia’s Charles Taylor 22nd President 1997 – 2003, convicted and jailed by the International Court of Justice (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, 1987 – 2017, despite being freedom fighter and resisting practically the whole world by refusing to step down, he brought his nation economically to ruin.

Cameroun’s Paul Biya 1982 – presentBiya has many critics for his lack of public appearances, but Biya wields his sweeping powers like a tyrant. He rules with his authoritarian fist that lets him essentially push any policies that he deems necessary. Biya is one of the best known examples of authoritarianism. His current harsh paramilitary reaction to movements for secession or the Anglophone region has caused hundreds of death, IDP’s and refugees in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Sani Abacha 1993 – 1998,though his regime was an economic success, it was characterized by massive looting and human right abuses such as the public hanging of political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and jailing several political opponents

The Gambia’s Yahya Yammeh 1994 – 2017 Strong human rights abuses have marked Yahya Yammeh’s regime, he also claims to have a cure for HIV Aids and his hate for homosexuality is well documented.

There are other almost forgotten dictators like Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Gaafar Nimeiry, Sekou Touré, Siad Barre, Hissene Habre and last but not least

His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular


First of all I apologize as some or perhaps even much of the above may not be entirely fair or not even be true. It is not easy to find out whether all what is claimed or compare to the other is actually so.

On the other hand those who seek the highest office in the land know that they will become under scrutiny of their electorate, government, opposition if any, local and foreign press, and last but not least their citizens.

There are much more interesting things to write about e.g.Africa’s First Ladies etc., but I am running out of space.

Your comments on the above will be highly appreciated!

*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on