Times are changing with politics and so is the dynamism of those entrusted with leadership roles.
African history has always shown that the momentum that eventually led to independence after the Second World War was led by young people.
Africa’s greatest assets are its young people and it’s time we throw into the dustbin this stereotyping of ageism and read our history.
On July 5, 1963, 132 years after the French arrival in Algiers, Algeria declared independence. Sir Ben Bella was the first Prime Minister. He was just 47 years. He was way younger when he began the fight in the trenches.
Our own, the African “Man of the Millennium”, Kwame Nkrumah, the first head of state of independent Ghana, was just 47.
Stephen Bantu (Steve) Biko, one of South Africa’s most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement, was less than 30 years when he started his activism against apartheid. Pixley ka Isaka Seme was a young breed too.
In Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré became the first President of independent Guinea on October 2, 1958. He was 36 years.
William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman of Liberia was elected President on May 4, 1943, at the age of 48.
On August 13, 1960, when the Ubangi-Shari became independent as the Central African Republic with David Dacko as head of state, Dacko was just 30.
That is our history in Africa. Admittedly, we equally had older generations in the fold who were part of Africa’s liberation struggles and became presidents and leaders of their countries.
In the United States, Barack Obama became President when he was 47. Theodore Roosevelt was 42. John F. Kennedy, 43 and Bill Clinton, 46.
So from the youngest to the oldest, we should elect, re-elect or kick out politicians because of what they bring to the table, not their ages. If they are inept and misleading, age shouldn’t be a factor. He or she must go away.
Competence and demonstrable ability to perform should be the guiding factor. Without an opportunity, how can the young man build a forte of experience and know-how?
Young people today more than ever are determined to defeat stereotypes fueled by ageism by demonstrating poise, expertise, and competence because they are ready and the age demography favors them. You miss this, you’re late to the party.
According to a recent CNN analysis, the average age of the ten oldest African leaders is 78.5, compared to 52 for the world’s ten most-developed economies. This wide gap makes the continent of Africa have a leadership age gap that disconnects the leaders from the led.
The political machinations, maligning and shrewd political brinkmanship against young people who put themselves up for elections should end. We should encourage more youth into the fold. They better understand the pulse of the majority and will better articulate our concerns.
If we stick to this status quo of “3na wei y3 small boy”, to wit “he is a small boy”, we are preaching for the long standing age gap deference between the leaders and us followers. We will keep having different interpretations of what the continent needs in the present and the future. And this continent of Africa will for the foreseeable outlook stay caught in unpredictable generational crosswinds between her past and the future.
Eugene Osei-Tutu is a researcher and broadcast journalist
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