Published on November 22nd, 2017
Robert Mugabe ended his 37-year reign as Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday as he resigned under pressure from the country’s military.
While his departure marks an historic moment for the African nation, elsewhere it also made Britain’s Queen Elizabeth the world’s oldest head of state.
1. Queen Elizabeth II, United Kingdom
At 91, The Queen is already Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, a record she took from great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria in September 2015. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, 91, has become the world’s oldest head of state after Robert Mugabe stood down.
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2. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe turns 91 this weekend, but the real milestone for the Zimbabwean leader came last summer. When Shimon Peres stepped down as Israel’s president last July, Mugabe assumed the mantle of the world’s oldest head of state. But he shows no sign of going anywhere. Despite persistent rumours about his health and repeated challenges from within and without, Mugabe has clocked up almost 35 years in power and doesn’t face voters again until 2018.
3. Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia
The top job came to Essebsi late in life – he turned 88 at the end of last year. But he has spent half a century in and around the corridors of power in Tunis and a long career based on pragmatism culminated in his investiture on New Year’s Eve 2014.
Under his stewardship, Tunisia remains the sole Arab spring country to have piloted a course towards democracy and security.
4. Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand
The Thai king is not the oldest head of state, but he is the longest-serving, have ascended to the throne in 1946. Lèse-majesté laws in Thailand make it perilous work to write anything about the ageing monarch. So we won’t.
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5. Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Kuwait
He was sworn into office in January 2006 following the death of his half-brother, Sheikh Jaber.
Technically second in line to the throne, he was put into office after it emerged that Sheikh Jaber’s natural successor, Sheikh Saad, was unable to take the oath.
While it was never confirmed why he could not be sworn in, it is believed he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He abdicated and after a brief power struggle, Sheikh Sabah was named as his successor.
6. Raúl Castro, Cuba
At 83, he has been in charge of Cuba for almost a decade, after the indisposition of his elder brother Fidel. A more staid presence than the revolutionary leader, Raúl also served as armed forces minister for almost 50 years, a record. Unlikely to make it to the top of this list though: he has hinted he will step down in 2018. Raul has been acting President of Cuba since 2006, having assumed powers from his ageing father and infamous revolutionary Fidel. He assumed the role completely in 2008 and was reelected in 2013. However, he has announced this will be his final term in office, and he will resign the role in 2018. It was Raul’s leadership that saw efforts to normalise relations with the US that saw diplomatic relations resume in 2015.
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7. Paul Biya, 84, President of Cameroon
A politician from a young age, Biya served as Secretary-General of the Presidency from 1968 to 1975 and Prime Minister from 1975 to 1982.
He succeeded predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1982 following his shock resignation, and has held the role ever since. Shortly after assuming power he staged a coup and used it to dispose of his political rivals. He narrowly avoided being kicked out of office in 1992, but has won every election since then with resounding majorities. Voter fraud and irregularities at the polls have been alleged by opposition parties on each of those four occasions.
8. Michel Aoun, 84, President of Lebanon
A former military leader, Aoun served as interim Prime Minister of the country between 1988 and 1990 before being driven out of power by Syrian forces. He was sworn into office as President in October last year, breaking a 29-month political impasse.
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9. Akihito, 83, Emperor of Japan
Akihito, 81, acceded to the throne after the death of his father, Hirohito, in 1989. As emperor his duties are largely ceremonial, consisting principally of state visits and apologising to other Asian countries for Japan’s wartime conduct. Possibly the only world leader to have published academic papers about fish.
10. King Salman, 81, King of Saudi Arabia
Salman, part of the vast House of Saud royal family, was crowned in January 2015 following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.
Rumours have been circulating in recent days that he is also set to abdicate, perhaps as early as next week, and pass power to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The prince, known as MBS in the Middle East, was named in the position earlier this year after his predecessor was accused of being addicted to painkillers. Prince Salman has since undertaken a program of radical reform that has seen women given permission to drive and has promised to abandon hard-line Islam.