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The World's Longest-Ruling Dictators

Winston Woo, CNBC News Associate

The World's Longest-Ruling Dictators

With civil unrest spreading from the Middle East to other countries around the world with the help of social networking, it seems that no authoritarian ruler is safe. With this in mind, the question is who's next? The sudden disintegration of the multi-decade rule of leaders like Hosni Mubarak suggests that other long-standing dictators could go.Although Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and North Korea's Kim Jong Il draw the world's attention, the list of rulers considered to be dictators is a long one.A
Photo: Viktor Drachev | AFP | Getty Images

With civil unrest spreading from the Middle East to other countries around the world with the help of social networking, it seems that no authoritarian ruler is safe. With this in mind, the question is who's next?

The sudden disintegration of the multi-decade rule of leaders like Hosni Mubarak suggests that other long-standing dictators could go.

Although Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and North Korea's Kim Jong Il draw the world's attention, the list of rulers considered to be dictators is a long one.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, dictators generally hold complete autocratic control, often hoarding wealth for themselves while leaving little for their people. Inflation, the rising cost of food, wealth disparities and poor standards of living have been at the heart of unrest in the Middle East, and these leaders have been the focus of blame.

To illustrate how dictators often enrich themselves at the expense of their people, gross domestic produce (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita is compared to each country's Human Development Index (HDI) rank and score.

GDP PPP per capita reflects what the average wealth of a country's populace should be, assuming that wealth is evenly distributed.

The United Nations Development Program's HDI statistics reflect the average living conditions and future prospects of a country's populace. It is comprised of average life expectancy, access to education and gross national income (GNI) per capita of each country.

Large discrepencies between GDP per capita and HDI statistics demonstrate how a dictatorship has affected the general populace and is also indicative of whether a leader can retain power.

Also included is information from Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which measures and ranks the perceived level of corruption in a country, based upon surveys of the populace.

So, which dictators have been in power the longest and how have their economies fared under their rule? Click ahead for the list.

By Winston Woo
Posted 18 Mar 2011

*Country-by-country data based on International Monetary Fund World Economic Database, October 2010; United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index; Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

10. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Diliu Jammeh

Country: GambiaIn power since: 1994Population: 9.9 million1994 GDP per capita: $1,2052010 GDP per capita: $1,972GDP per capita change since 1994: +63.7%Rank: 151stScore: 0.390Rank: 66thScore: 4.0Yahya Jammeh wrested control of the Gambia from President Dawda Jawara in a bloodless military coup in 1994. He was elected president in 1996, and has won every subsequent election, albeit through what his opponents claim are intimidation tactics and other restrictions aimed at stifling political opposit
Photo: Jeff Haynes | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Gambia
In power since: 1994
Population: 9.9 million

1994 GDP per capita: $1,205
2010 GDP per capita: $1,972
GDP per capita change since 1994: +63.7%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 151st
Score: 0.390

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 66th
Score: 4.0

Yahya Jammeh wrested control of the Gambia from President Dawda Jawara in a bloodless military coup in 1994. He was elected president in 1996, and has won every subsequent election, albeit through what his opponents claim are intimidation tactics and other restrictions aimed at stifling political opposition.

President Jammeh gained international notoriety in 2009 when he made death threats to human rights workers, whom he claims are trying to "destabilize" Gambia. Jammeh has also been accused of ordering the shootings of journalists and student protestors, which his government has denied.

Most recently in 2007, President Jammeh drew condemnation from medical experts when he claimed to have found the cure for HIV/AIDS in natural herbs, claiming those who have been through his program cannot transmit the virus. Fadzai Gwaradzimba, representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Gambia, publicly expressed skepticism of these claims and was subsequently told to leave the country.

9. Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko

Country: BelarusIn power since: 1994Population: 9.4 million1994 GDP per capita: $3,7152010 GDP per capita: $13,865GDP per capita change since 1994: +273.2%Rank: 61stScore: 0.732Rank: 127thScore: 2.5Alexander Lukashenko is widely considered by the West to be Europe's last communist dictator, due to his iron-fisted Soviet style of rule.President Lukashenko came to power after Belarus' first democratic presidential elections in July 1994, beating five other candidates. Soon after taking power, Luka
Photo: Nikolay Petrov | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Belarus
In power since: 1994
Population: 9.4 million

1994 GDP per capita: $3,715
2010 GDP per capita: $13,865
GDP per capita change since 1994: +273.2%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 61st
Score: 0.732

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 127th
Score: 2.5

Alexander Lukashenko is widely considered by the West to be Europe's last communist dictator, due to his iron-fisted Soviet style of rule.

President Lukashenko came to power after Belarus' first democratic presidential elections in July 1994, beating five other candidates. Soon after taking power, Lukashenko changed the country's national symbols and gave himself additional powers including the ability to disband the Supreme Soviet by decree.

Lukashenko also disbanded the original parliament in 1996 — which had been attempting to impeach him for violating the constitution — and put together a new parliament consisting exclusively of hand-picked members.

Despite his authoritarian rule and what critics allege are widespread political oppression and violation of human rights, Lukashenko's supporters credit him with the relative stability Belarus has enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

8. Islam Abdug‘aniyevich Karimov

Country: UzbekistanIn power since: 1990Population: 28.2 million1992 GDP per capita: $1,286*2010 GDP per capita: $3,022GDP per capita change since 1992: +135%Rank: 102ndScore: 0.617Rank: 172ndScore: 1.6Islam Karimov was originally the First Secretary in Uzbekistan of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, becoming the President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990.After declaring Uzbekistan's independence in August 1991, he won the country's first presidential election in December 199
Photo: Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Uzbekistan
In power since: 1990
Population: 28.2 million

1992 GDP per capita: $1,286*
2010 GDP per capita: $3,022
GDP per capita change since 1992: +135%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 102nd
Score: 0.617

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 172nd
Score: 1.6

Islam Karimov was originally the First Secretary in Uzbekistan of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, becoming the President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990.

After declaring Uzbekistan's independence in August 1991, he won the country's first presidential election in December 1991, becoming the Republic of Uzbekistan's first president.

While Uzbekistan is officially a democracy, the elections processes fall short of standards set by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Non-government agencies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International describe Uzbekistan as an "authoritarian state with limited civil rights" while expressing concern about "wide-scale violation of virtually all basic human rights."

*Pre-1992 data unavailable

7. Idriss Déby Itno

Country: ChadIn power since: 1990Population: 10.2 million1990 GDP per capita: $7262010 GDP per capita: $1,653GDP per capita change since 1990: +127.7%Rank: 163rdScore: 0.295Rank: 171stScore: 1.7Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno came to power in 1990, in a coup d'état that ousted former president Hissène Habré, who was also his former ally.Ever since taking power, President Déby's government has been accused of corruption and political repression despite claiming to be democratic. In 2005, a ref
Photo: Sonia Rolley | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Chad
In power since: 1990
Population: 10.2 million

1990 GDP per capita: $726
2010 GDP per capita: $1,653
GDP per capita change since 1990: +127.7%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 163rd
Score: 0.295

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 171st
Score: 1.7

Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno came to power in 1990, in a coup d'état that ousted former president Hissène Habré, who was also his former ally.

Ever since taking power, President Déby's government has been accused of corruption and political repression despite claiming to be democratic. In 2005, a referendum was successfully held, allowing Déby to run for a third consecutive term.

Most recently, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that President Déby spent the first $3 million of profits from a $3.7 billion oil pipeline on weapons, instead of education, health and infrastructure.

6. Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Kh?mene’i

Country: IranIn power since: 1989Population: 75.4 million1989 GDP per capita: $3,7032010 GDP per capita: $11,025GDP per capita change since 1989: +197.7%Rank: 70thScore: 0.702Rank: 146thScore: 2.2Ayatollah Ali Kh?mene’i became the Supreme Leader of Iran in 1989, when he was appointed by the Assembly of Experts to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Iran's sixth and current president, Kh?mene’i, who is Iran's spiritual leader, is the de facto ruler who has the last sa
Photo: Kaveh Kazemi | Getty Images

Country: Iran
In power since: 1989
Population: 75.4 million

1989 GDP per capita: $3,703
2010 GDP per capita: $11,025
GDP per capita change since 1989: +197.7%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 70th
Score: 0.702

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 146th
Score: 2.2

Ayatollah Ali Kh?mene’i became the Supreme Leader of Iran in 1989, when he was appointed by the Assembly of Experts to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Iran's sixth and current president, Kh?mene’i, who is Iran's spiritual leader, is the de facto ruler who has the last say in any political or religious matter.

Kh?mene’i has drawn international criticism for his oppression of political opposition in Iran, which include beatings by vigilantes and arrests. Other points of contention include Ali Khamenei's hardline opposition to American involvement in the Middle East and the State of Israel.

The Huffington Post reported in 2009 that Ali Khamenei criticized U.S. President Obama for going down the "same wrong path" as former President George W. Bush, due to Obama's support for Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian attacks.

5. Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir

Country: SudanIn power since: 1989Population: 40.1 million1989 GDP per capita: $8442010 GDP per capita: $2,466GDP per capita change since 1989: +192%Rank: 154thScore: 0.379Rank: 172ndScore: 1.6Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir was a brigadier in the Sudanese army in 1989, when he led a bloodless coup d'état against the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, becoming the President of Sudan.The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of President al-Bashir on two counts o
Photo: Ashraf Shazly | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Sudan
In power since: 1989
Population: 40.1 million

1989 GDP per capita: $844
2010 GDP per capita: $2,466
GDP per capita change since 1989: +192%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 154th
Score: 0.379

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 172nd
Score: 1.6

Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir was a brigadier in the Sudanese army in 1989, when he led a bloodless coup d'état against the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, becoming the President of Sudan.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of President al-Bashir on two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity committed during the Darfur Conflict, making President al-Bashir the first head of state currently in power to be indicted by the ICC.

The indictment was described by Muammar Gaddafi as "First World terrorism," according to a report by France 24.

A U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks in 2010 revealed suspicions by the ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, that President Bashir had embezzled $9 billion of his country's oil money in British bank accounts.

4. Paul Biya

Country: CameroonIn power since: 1982Population: 20.4 million1982 GDP per capita: $1,4192010 GDP per capita: $2,165GDP per capita change since 1982: +52.5%Rank: 131stScore: 0.460Rank: 147thScore: 2.2Paul Biya became the second president of Cameroon in 1982, after having served as Prime Minister since 1975. President Biya's government is considered to be highly autocratic with all ministers appointed by President Biya without oversight, drawing a direct appeal from US President Obama in 2010 to "
Photo: Bertrand Guay | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Cameroon
In power since: 1982
Population: 20.4 million

1982 GDP per capita: $1,419
2010 GDP per capita: $2,165
GDP per capita change since 1982: +52.5%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 131st
Score: 0.460

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 147th
Score: 2.2

Paul Biya became the second president of Cameroon in 1982, after having served as Prime Minister since 1975. President Biya's government is considered to be highly autocratic with all ministers appointed by President Biya without oversight, drawing a direct appeal from US President Obama in 2010 to "root out corruption."

Although President Biya legalized opposition parties in 1990 and has gone on to win every election held, opposition parties have disputed the results and alleged fraud.

President Biya was barred from running for President again in the 2011 elections by the 1996 constitution, but he has sought to revise the constitution.

The BBC also reported in 2009 that Amnesty International has accused President Biya's government of "rights abuse," citing the use of force or abuse of the legal system to suppress political dissent.

3. Robert Mugabe

Country: ZimbabweIn power since: 1980Population: 11.7 million2005 GDP per capita: $425*2010 GDP per capita: $396GDP per capita change since 2005: -6.82%Rank: 169thScore: 0.140Rank: 134thScore: 2.4Robert Mugabe was elected to power in 1980 as Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, after successfully leading the liberation movement against white rule. He became the first President of Zimbabwe in 1987 after abolishing the position of Prime Minister. His new post gave him additional powers, and he has since rem
Photo: Desmond Kwande | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Zimbabwe
In power since: 1980
Population: 11.7 million

2005 GDP per capita: $425*
2010 GDP per capita: $396
GDP per capita change since 2005: -6.82%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 169th
Score: 0.140

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 134th
Score: 2.4

Robert Mugabe was elected to power in 1980 as Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, after successfully leading the liberation movement against white rule. He became the first President of Zimbabwe in 1987 after abolishing the position of Prime Minister. His new post gave him additional powers, and he has since remained in power through what many critics allege are vote-rigging and intimidation tactics.

President Mugabe was initially considered a forward-looking and pragmatic politician committed to education, but international opinion has turned against him since 1998 , due to his controversial and oppressive political practices and alleged human rights abuses against his opponents.

Several titles and honors awarded to President Mugabe prior to 1998 have since been revoked as a result, and these include awards from Queen Elizabeth II, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Massachusetts and Michigan State University.

*Pre-2005 data unavailable

2. José Eduardo dos Santos

Country: AngolaIn power since: 1979Population: 17.8 million1980 GDP per capita: $1,981*2010 GDP per capita: $6,413GDP per capita change since 1980: +223.7%Rank: 146thScore: 0.403Rank: 168thScore: 1.9José Eduardo dos Santos is Angola's second and current president, elected in 1979 after the death of Agostinho Neto, Angoloa's first president.Although economic development has been brisk since the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002 with reduced inflation and high GDP growth, President Santos' gove
Photo: Issouf Sanogo | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Angola
In power since: 1979
Population: 17.8 million

1980 GDP per capita: $1,981*
2010 GDP per capita: $6,413
GDP per capita change since 1980: +223.7%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 146th
Score: 0.403

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 168th
Score: 1.9

José Eduardo dos Santos is Angola's second and current president, elected in 1979 after the death of Agostinho Neto, Angoloa's first president.

Although economic development has been brisk since the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002 with reduced inflation and high GDP growth, President Santos' government has been criticized for failing to control corruption and increase press freedom.

On February 17, 2011, the International Criminal Court officially filed a court case calling for President Santos to be tried for Crimes Against Humanity committed by the MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola) which is headed by Santos.

*Pre-1980 data unavailable

1. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Country: Equatorial GuineaIn power since: 1979Population: 1.3 million1980 GDP per capita: $470*2010 GDP per capita: $18,387GDP per capita change since 1980: +3812.1%Rank: 117thScore: 0.538Rank: 168thScore: 1.9At the top of the list is President Obiang, also known as "El Jefe" (the boss). Obiang has ruled the former Spanish colony since 1979 when he overthrew his uncle and first President, Francisco Macías Nguema in a coup d'état. After trying his uncle for activities during his rule including th
Photo: Jerome Delay | AFP | Getty Images

Country: Equatorial Guinea
In power since: 1979
Population: 1.3 million

1980 GDP per capita: $470*
2010 GDP per capita: $18,387
GDP per capita change since 1980: +3812.1%

Human Development Index 2010
Rank: 117th
Score: 0.538

Transparency International CPI 2010
Rank: 168th
Score: 1.9

At the top of the list is President Obiang, also known as "El Jefe" (the boss). Obiang has ruled the former Spanish colony since 1979 when he overthrew his uncle and first President, Francisco Macías Nguema in a coup d'état. After trying his uncle for activities during his rule including the genocide of the Bubi, President Obiang had Macías executed by firing squad.

While President Obiang's rule was initially considered more humane than his predecessor, this has changed in the years that he has remained in power. In 2008, Slate journalist Peter Maass called President Obiang Africa's worst dictator, outdoing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

Although oil production has increased quickly since 1997 due to the discovery of large oil reserves in 1996, the BBC reported in 2004 that revenue from oil production has largely disappeared, a phenomenon that President Obiang has called a "state secret."

According to Human Rights Watch, President Obiang's government uses the country's vast oil wealth to "fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while the majority of the population lives in dire poverty."

Human Rights Watch also accuses President Obiang of "regularly [engaging] in torture and arbitrary detention" and "abducting perceived opponents abroad and holding them in secret detention."

*Pre-1980 data unavailable