The death of Gabon’s President Omar Bongo after more than four decades in power means the mantle of Africa’s longest serving leader now falls to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who took power in 1969, two years after Bongo.
Here are some details of the longest-serving leaders in Africa and the year in which they came to power.
Muammar Gaddafi, 67,
Colonel Gaddafi seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969 and oversaw the rapid development of his poverty-stricken country. Previously known for little more than oil wells and deserts and regarded as an international outcast by the West, Libya improved relations with the West in 2003 when it gave up banned weapons programmes and again in 2008 when it agreed with the US to settle compensation claims for attacks including the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing.
President Gaddafi who holds no official state position, is keeping the world guessing over who might succeed him as Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution, if indeed the title survives him. President Gaddafi is current chairman of the African Union.
President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, 66,
Mr Dos Santos assumed the presidency in 1979, four years into a civil war with Unita rebels that ended in 2002. President Dos Santos, in power for 30 years, is widely expected to run and win the country’s first post-war presidential elections scheduled for 2009.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso, 66,
Mr Sassou Nguesso seized power in a 1979 coup but then lost the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992 to scientist Pascal Lissouba. He regained the presidency in 1997 after a civil war and was re-elected in 2004 for a further seven-year term.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo,67,
Mr Obiang toppled his uncle Macias in a palace coup in 1979. A new constitution was adopted to usher in multi-party politics, nominally at least, in 1991.
In December 2002, Obiang was elected to a new seven-year term with 97.1 percent of the votes cast after his opponents had pulled out amid allegations of massive electoral fraud. The authorities thwarted a coup bid in 2004 by a former British special forces officer, Simon Mann.
President Robert Mugabe, 85,
Mr Mugabe became Prime Minister in 1980 after independence elections. The former Marxist guerrilla became president in 1987 and has held fast to power despite a deep financial crisis that has almost ruined the country he fought so hard to free.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC formed a unity government with President Mugabe in February 2009 after months of wrangling but sharp differences remain.
President Hosni Mubarak, 81,
Mr Mubarak became president of the Arab world’s most populous country after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat by Muslim militants angered by his foreign policy and domestic repression. Mr Mubarak was sworn in as president in September 2005 for a fifth six-year term.
President Paul Biya, 76,
Mr Biya took over in 1982 from President Ahmadou Ahidjo and won re-election for another seven-year term in October 2004. In April 2008, he signed into law a bill removing a two-term presidential limit allowing him to extend his 25-year rule by standing for re-election in 2011.
President Yoweri Museveni, 65,
Museveni declared himself president in January 1986 when he seized Kampala after a five-year guerrilla struggle. President Museveni banned multi-party politics shortly afterwards. He looks likely to win re-election in 2011 with little challenge to his rule.
King Mswati III, 41,
King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and was crowned in April 1987. Political parties have been banned in Swaziland since 1973. The king introduced a new constitution in 2006, but the ban on political parties remained.
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, 72,
President Ben Ali has overseen successful economic reforms and crushed an Islamic fundamentalist opposition since he came to power in 1987. Supporters of Ben Ali have predicted he will seek another mandate when his latest term ends in October 2009.
NOTE: Age not precisely known.
Meanwhile, Gabon’s security forces protected key administrative buildings in the capital Libreville today, but the city was calm with many residents staying home. Soldiers guarded the Prime Minister’s office, the state television headquarters and other key buildings as well as major junctions in the ocean-side city, but their presence was discreet.
“The situation is calm. It’s a period of mourning people are observing. Maybe there will be more tension when they organise new elections, but right now there’s no need to panic,” said one Libreville resident who gave his name as Tatus.
Analysts say factions within the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) will be jostling to work out who succeeds him, with his son, Defence minister Ali Ben Bongo, seen as a leading candidate.
The government has said it will respect the terms of the constitution, under which Senate President Rose Francine Rogombe, a Bongo ally in the PDG, is expected to take over as interim leader and organise elections within 45 days.
Risk of fractures
Although there have been some concerns about stability, analysts say that the ruling party is likely to tightly manage the transition at least initially and that Bongo’s successes in easing ethnic tensions will reduce the risk of turmoil.
So dominant was Bongo’s personality over four decades that the opposition has had little opportunity to build much popular support. But the potential for trouble lies more in the risk of fractures within the ruling elite, analysts say.
Ben Bongo could face opposition from his brother-in-law, Foreign Minister Paul Toungui, while African Union Chairman Jean Ping, a long-time Bongo ally, and Vice-President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge have also been cited as possible successors.