Sunday, 14 November 2010

A Vote For The Youths

"Crabbed age and youth cannot live together;
Youth is full of pleasance, age full of care;
Youth like the summer morn, age like winter weather;
Youth like summer brave, age like winter bare"

– William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

"Youth is full of sport, age's breath is short; youth is nimble, age is lame; youth is hot and bold, age is weak and cold; youth is wild, and age is tame."

– William Shakespeare

A significant stir is going on in Africa regarding the impact of age on the development of our nations. Induced mostly by the emergence, two years ago, of a youthful Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, the thinking presupposes that, in the management of nation, a young person is better than a grumpy old man whose bones and brains have grown tired and rusty. Obama is a reminder that the world’s youths have hope of attaining the pinnacle of leadership, be it in corporate bodies or in the presidency of nations. This prospect was further reinforced by the election of another youth, David Cameron, as British prime minister in May, this year. Suddenly, a reawakening began to take place amongst Africa’s youths, who have always been sidelined from leading their countries.

The reason for this is the concern that Africa is the global hub of gerontocratic regimes, where old men (and a woman) rule like the emperors of old. Africans are used to having oldies as presidents or heads of government, most of whom are sit-tight dictators who regard their countries as exclusive fiefdoms. They brook no opposition, even when running their own versions of democracy. Respect for elders, even if they have overstayed their welcome and are dictatorial, corrupt or murderous, is the norm.

Today, there is an overpowering urge to link Africa’s underdevelopment to the age of its rulers. Of course, there are other factors why our continent is the most backward on earth, but that we also harbour the oldest rulers cannot be denied. They superintend the thieving going on and seem unable to move with the times. Their vision cannot respond to the demands of modern leadership. The world is changing fast, but Africa’s despotic leaders are not, cannot and will not.

As I write, some statistics, which link Africa’s underdevelopment to the age of its leaders, are circulating on the internet. They are a startling revelation of how old folks – the men of yesteryears – stradde the leadership of the continent while their counterparts in the First World have receded to the background to nurse their health and ponder the end-times. The statistics, entitled, “Why Africa is 25 Years Behind the Developed World...”, are as follows:


•Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe ) - 86

•Abdullahi Wade (Senegal) - 83 years

•Hosni Mubarak (Egypt ) - 82

•Paul Biya (Cameroon) - 77

•Bingu Wa Mutharika (Malawi) - 76

•Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia ) - 75

•H. Pohamba (Namibia ) - 74

•Rupiah Banda (Zambia) - 73

•Mwai Kibaki (Kenya) - 71

•Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) - 68

•Jacob Zuma (South Africa) - 68

Average Age: - 75.6

Approximately - 76 years


•Abdullah Gül (Turkey ) - 60

•Angela Merkel (Germany ) - 56

•Nicolas Sarkozy (France) - 55

•José Sócrates (Portugal) - 53

•Stephen Harper (Canada) - 51

•Julia Gillard (Australia) - 49

•José L. R. Zapatero (Spain) - 49

•Barack Obama (USA) - 48

•Dmitry Medvedev (Russia) - 45

•David Cameron (UK) - 43

Average Age: - 51.1

Approximately - 51 years

DIFFERENCE: 25 years

What this list tries to show, in simple terms, is that Africa, a Third World entity, has not developed because it is saddled with old men who lack the vibrancy to lead their nations in the modern age. At the end of the tabulation, a question was posed: “Guys, how do we move forward with this old squad?”

To answer this question, each African has to look at the situation in their own country and see what is really changing. In Nigeria, a sea change occured in 2007 when Umaru Yar’Adua, 56, was made president at the end of the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then 70. But Yar’Adua’s rule did not last as he succumbed to a debilitating illness and died this year. The current president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is a 53-year-old. According to the standard set by current African leadership ethos, he is still young, but judging by the standard of developed nations, he has passed the mark a little. And if he wins next year’s election and rules for another four years, he would be 58 years old –– much younger than Obasanjo when he was elected but still on the wizened side.

It is heart-warming that there are, at least, two younger persons gunning for Nigeria’s presidency today. Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State is 48 years old while the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, is 50. Both have a record of integrity. While Saraki has made great strides as governor, Ribadu has shown that it is possible to fight corruption in Africa. Apart from Jonathan, the leading candidates for the presidency, however, are not these two but three men of yesteryears: Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, 69; Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, 68, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, 64.

This means that it will take a long while before the “new breed” are able to upstage the old from the top post, unless, of course, Nigerian voters change the rules by electing a young person as president as their counterparts did in the U.S. and the U.K. Whatever the case, young people in Africa should begin to seek elective offices on their own merit. They should campaign for votes and not lean on the support of the so-called elders or godfathers. Any young person who is able to sway the multitude to his/her side would make the elders fall in line. They should have the will to do this.

The youths may not have the money to bribe the voters, but their will and goodwill would see them through. In 2007, at age 51, Pat Utomi campaigned vigorously for president on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). Although he did not succeed, he showed that a confident and competent young person can seek the throne and perform creditably. That’s what Obama and Cameron did and succeeded. So, why not an African?

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