Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for forty-seven uninterrupted years—making him the world’s most tenured autocrat—before his grip slipped in August. Below are the next four longest-ruling living dictators. Their experiences suggest that money can buy the people’s love, that power corrupts, and that after too long in the presidential palace, dictators tend to go a bit mad.
Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, King of Tonga
The increasingly erratic, eighty-eight-year-old king of this feudal island nation was once the world’s heaviest head of state, at 444 pounds. (He’s since slimmed down to around 280.) Recently, he’s been making cryptic announcements about an unnamed American investor who wants to deposit $1 billion in the Reserve Bank of Tonga, raising fears on the island that the king may be falling for something akin to a Nigerian e-mail scam. Past financial adventures include the hiring of a former American dot-com investor as the king’s “court jester,” then entrusting him with the investment of $26 million in state funds—with predictable results.
Sir Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Prime Minister of Brunei
Thanks to oil and gas sales, the sultan, known as the Big One despite his small stature, was once the world’s richest man (worth an estimated $38 billion in 1997). He’s topped other lists as well, living in the world’s largest private residence ($300 million; 1,788 rooms; 4,000-person banquet hall; gold dome), and throwing the most lavish birthday party ($17 million; three performances by Michael Jackson). The spending habits and sexual appetites of the royal family have brought legal and financial troubles to Brunei—among many other embarrassments, a former Miss USA claims she was lured to Brunei by the sultan and his brother Jefri, then gassed and fondled in the palace library. The sultan’s slow-witted son, Prince Haji al-Muhtadee Billah—a product of the sultan’s marriage to his first cousin—is first in line for succession.
El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon
Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi, Revolutionary Leader of Libya