Gerontocracy: Africa under the weight of old rulers ~ Seun Fakuade


At the rate that Africa is moving, with recycled old people clinging to power; it may be decades before the younger generation have the opportunity to impact their nations. And this is hardly surprising. Today, the average age of the African head of state is 62, which is three times the average age of the African population.


It is time for the older generation to move out of the way. It should be channeling the way that connect youths to opportunity, creating chances and raising a replacement generation with outstanding values and approach to wealth and sustained development, not plundering them. It should be creating platforms towards an inter-generational interactive exchange that helps create and assures a bold vision of an African century.


Half of the population of Africa is under 20. Given this rising youthful population today, by 2035 the African labour force will be bigger than China, and by 2050 a quarter the global workforce will be African. At that time, nearly half the global youth population will be African. How do we then prepare these young people for the challenges of the future if we are not interacting with them today or preparing them for the roles and challenges of the future? How can they do better if they do not know better? How can Africa compete at the global level if they are not prepared for the challenges ahead?


After taking the oath office at the National Assembly on November 3, President Paul Bathelemy Biya Bi Mvondo, has entered history as one of Africa’s longest-serving Presidents. Biya is the third oldest African President after Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, 87 and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, 85 who is now out of office.  The 78-year-old, whom the Supreme Court declared winner of the October 9 Presidential controversial poll, will be starting his 6th mandate as President of the Republic of Cameroon. By the time he ends his new mandate; he would be on record for having been in power for 36 years.


According to a recent rating by the East African Magazine, Biya is one of Africa’s “sit-tighters” who have seemingly eternalised their stay in power through fraudulent elections.   Biya is considered by observers as one of the presidential Methuselahs of Africa. Since 1982 when he came to power, a country like China, that is a non-democratic, has had five presidents; neighboring Nigeria has seen eight Presidents. The US has had five Presidents.


Children who were born in 1982 in Cameroon are at least 30 years old now. They know only one President – Biya.  Biya has reiterated an earlier promise that he would transform Cameroon into a permanent construction site of development projects as from January 2012. But his critics have dismissed the promise with the wave of the hand, saying the President will not be able to do in seven years what he has been unable to do in 29 years.  Eighty percent of Angolans today have only ever called one man President.


Sure, some have had other allegiances; there was a serious armed opposition and the 27 years of civil war, but José Eduardo dos Santos has remained the head of state for 33 years. His party hasn’t lost power since the anti-colonial war was won in 1975. But following impossible uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere, talk of regime change in Angola has grown more serious.


Given the challenges of pollution, corruption, housing, transport, education and social welfare (amongst others) plaguing African nations, it is imperative young people are brought up to speed on the methods, tactics and strategies that can bring African nations out of the doldrums. Much of Africa is still under-developed hence the third world categorization. Worryingly, the lack of basic amenities is constantly in demand by the frightening growing young population. How will Africa grow if its young people are ill prepared for the challenges ahead? Who cares about them anyway?


African leaders have cited corruption as the main stumbling block to growth but I wonder whom it blames when its old (often clueless) leaders cling to power without shame. The same corruption abounds in Brazil but amazingly over the past decade, tens of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. In spite of the brazen corruption in many of the emerging or developed societies like Brazil, government systems in education and health empower the young with jobs, or skills that can make them earn a living! How many African nations can boast of that?


The growing population trend in Africa is a troubling one, deeply unsettling. This is so for instance in Lagos state, Nigeria where urban migration is constantly posing a threat to the survival of the city. Across Africa, our growing young population is constantly asking questions on infrastructural investments from their leadership, with few of their questions getting the required answers they deserve.


Clearly insightful leaders, as the ones in Singapore, will not only provide visionary leadership in its policy and its implementations but also pave way for empowering emerging leaders through education (human capital) and equipping the next generation by creating interactive platforms for them to become more informed and prepared for the challenges ahead. Not Africa!


The problems for African leaders are diverse. Only recently did they start recognising or pushing for inter-African trade. Wondering what took it so long. For long, we have acted as 54 separate countries, weakening our bargaining power as a strong economic bloc, and failing on this regard to ensure our collaborative relationship brings incredible African benefits.


Worse, our intellectual capital wounds up in the developed world as the lack of opportunities in Africa end up making our young leave the continent for greener pastures. The real failure of gerontocracy in Africa is the political inability for our leaders to create and implement working policies, create a realistic future and make Africa a strong economic hub for its growing citizens.


The verdict is simple, if Africa's old leaders cannot invest in infrastructure, get a grip or hold on Corruption, empower their institutions to be strong, so much as they can provide the needed jobs for its growing populace; then it's time for it to get out of the way!


I am Seun Fakuade @seunfakze

Nigerian writer Seun Fakuade takes a look at an old menace in African leadership or lack of it thereof