The Guardian
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African youths in the grip of old leaders




If the continent were a country, Africa would have been practicing gerontocracy –– a system of government by the oldest in the society –– going by the preponderance of old people at the helms of affairs. What makes the Africa case even more unique, according to a United Nations data, is that it has the world’s youngest median age of less than 20 years to cope with. Average age of African leaders is about 66 years; with 10 of them averaging 78 years. That makes the continent is home to the world’s oldest Heads of Government.

From South Africa to Nigeria. Guinea to Liberia. Namibia to Equatorial Guinea. Angola to Uganda. Zimbabwe to Tunisia. Cameroun to Algeria. All with Heads of Government above 70 years old.

The list includes leaders of Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, as well as, Ivory Coast.

Traditionally in many parts of Africa, leadership is closely associated with the elderly; who are presumably imbued with wisdom and experience the younger population may be lacking. But to what extent would the older generation come to terms with the requirements of the Information and Communication Technology-driven population without instigating implosion similar to the Arab Spring?

President Ellen Johnson SirleafCuriously, when the Arab Spring began in January 2011, the first casualty was Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was 75 years old when he was deposed. The instigator of the uprising was a Tunisian youth, Mohamed Bouazizi, who felt suffocated by agents of the government and consequently set himself ablaze. The death of the 25-year-old food vendor galvanized other restless youths across the Arab world into action and another African old leader, Egyptian Hosni Mubarak, who was 74 at the time, lost his 35-year-old iron grip on power. Libya’s Colonel Moammer Ghaddafi, 70 years old, was killed on the street of Sirte after holding out the protesters in vain to save his 40-year reign. Crucially, ICT played significant role in mobilizing the people against these septuagenarians.

Incumbent Tunisian President, Beji Caid Essebsi is close to being nonagenarian; he is 88-year-old. He is the continent’s second oldest leader.

The trophy goes to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who celebrated his 92nd birthday last February 21. Presently the world’s oldest President, Mugabe is the only leader known to 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s population. Indeed, he is the only President known to independent Zimbabwe.

Eighty-three year old Paul Biya has been Cameroon’s President since November 6, 1982. He is seen as a particularly entrenched African leader, having survived a number of coup attempts. Biya is also the only leader known to 78 percent of his country. He has been President of Cameroun since November 6, 1982.

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 78. Having been in his position since 1999, he is currently in his fourth term. He also served a long tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1963 to 1979.

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, who became his country’s leader in 2010 after years spent in opposition, is 78 years old. Five years ago, he survived an assassination attempt.



Conde’s counterpart in Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979. He is 74 years old. Obaing has faced allegations of corruption, particularly in relation to the country’s oil resources. He won the last elections in 2009 with over 95 percent. His son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, is the Vice President, and is believed to be his favoured successor.

After years of destructive civil war, which brought Liberia to her knees, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf emerged to lead the beleaguered West African country. Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female President on the continent, is now 77 years of age.

Former youth leader of African National Congress (ANC) in 1959, Jacob Zuma emerged as South Africa’s fourth post–apartheid leader in 2009 and was re-elected in 2014. President Zuma, a controversial figure in South Africa, is 74 years old. His term as leader of ANC ends in 2017, but Zuma’s term as South African President ends in 2019.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been Angola’s President since 1979, after power tussle against rebel group led by Jonas Savimbi. Eduardo is 74 years old. 85 percent of Angolans do not know any other leader, but Eduardo. Reactions to his recent promise to stand down in 2018 have been cynical.

On February 20, 2016, Yoweri Museveni won a controversial third term election, but while 79 percent of Ugandans were not born when the 72 year-old Museveni took over power in 1986, they may have to endure him a while longer. There was international concern over the polls’ credibility, with European Union monitors describing it as an atmosphere of intimidation. The U.S. has said it’s concerned over government violations against Ugandan citizens and the media in the aftermath.



When Muhammadu Buhari was elected President of Nigeria last year, on his fourth attempt, he became the oldest man to rule the country at 71 years of age. He is presently 72. Between 1984-85 he was Nigeria’s military Head of State.
Independence hero, Manuel Pinto da Costa is 79 years of age. He was the first president of Sao Tome and Principe from 1975 to 1991. Staging a comeback as elected President of the country in September 3, 2011, he has consolidated his reign.

Like da Costa, Cote d’Ivoire’s Alhassane Ouattara has been President since 2011. He was born on January 1, 1942 – making him 75 years of age. At least 70 percent of Ivoirians are under the age of 30.

Most of these leaders are increasingly incapable of providing clear vision with the desired pace, expectations and language. This is even as many are wondering why these gray-headed leaders are intent on not spending their retirement in peace and tranquility, but prefer the hazardous and highly tasked politicking. They embark on challenging political campaigns that even young leaders struggle to cope with. They are old and may be out of touch.

Although, many of these leaders have obviously mastered the use of brute force, divide and rule, as well as, intimidation to consolidate their grip on power, their performance in office have not been in tandem with the sagacity expected from the age and experience. Most of them appear intent on leaving behind a country whose economy is in shambles and socio-political environment ever unstable. The essence and future of the over 80 percent of their citizens seem uncertain under the vice grip of their stuttering hands.

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  • Mizch

    If they rule as respected elders, that would have been fine. But they tell a lot of lies even when it is clear they are out of touch. There do so and thereby corrupt the young and mortgage the future. Shame on shameless old leaders.

  • amador kester

    During the early years of nationhood, youths like abubakar,enahoro,akintola,gowon etc assumed leadership responsibilities although their youthful inexperiences were sometimes exploited for instance powerful super perm secs indirectly took over the reins of decision making from gowon,politely shunted him aside, cancelled all his signed accords for peace andprecipitated a devastating civil war thereby. Some young leaders were even pushed into deadly cults by powerful subordinates. But all these do not mean that youths should not take up the mantle of leadership. After all ojukwu,gowon etc although they failed were no more than 33 years when they assumed leadership. So whats wrong with modern youths? There are no honest leadership models to groom them except corrupt deadwoods that clones them. Even their grades selling tutors and lecturers corrupt them thus sabotaging the nation. Two there are not made deputies and assistants to understudy the system such as deputy vc,deputy gov,deputy party chair below 38 years etc. Next nollywood ragamuffins,english football,reality freak shoes took over our youths brains. In this age of entrepreneurs and robotic engineering youths founded or are presidents of facebook,google,yahoo and other mega firms in the eest. Question is: why csnt our youths break into the entrepreneurial and technology world? And why is govt silent on this?