Amazing Riddle Of A Young Continent, Old Leaders 23

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In several summits and forums, the issue of disparity in age between majority citizens and elected leaders in Africa has spurred countless debates including a video from a recent summit in Rwanda that went viral. I borrow much from the summit.

Young Continent, Old Leaders: The African continent is the youngest continent in the world, it is a continent of young people. With a Median age of around 19.7 years old, meaning half of the African citizens are below 20 years old. The average age of Presidents, however, is about 65 years old.

We are the only continent in the world, where presidents start new terms in their 90s. People who cannot raise their hands or walk. Some are confined to wheelchairs but still contest in elections.

“Why is Africa ( Young Continent) so saddled with leaders who ought to be enjoying their retirement in peace and quiet, instead of in the unforgiving political corridors, campaign trails, and taxing political brinkmanship that challenge even the youngest leaders?” asked African politics scholar David Kiwuwa. (Via VoA News)

Kiwuwa, who teaches international studies at Princeton University, thinks that the willingness of many of the leaders to use violence to quash dissent is one key to their longevity. Kiwuwa, however, says “such leaders still attract reverence and unbridled loyalty from their supporters. Equally, being seen as ‘fathers of the nation,’ who led independence or liberation struggles, makes them irreproachable, irrespective of their shortcomings, extending their tenure.”

Young Continent

The result is that millions of African (Young Continent) youths have known only one leader. In many cases, that leader is one who was born before the advent of social media and the internet—and, in the case of 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, before the invention of television, electric razors, and automatic bread slices.

Embarrassing moment of President Paul Biya, Cameroon

Cameroon’s opposition politician Ndansi Elvis was born in 1983, the year after Paul Biya became president. Elvis says when the 89-year-old Biya speaks, it would appear that he knows a lot about modernization and digitalization, but in reality, cannot keep up with his population.

89-year-old President of Cameroon Paul Biya recently had an embarrassing moment of forgetfulness at the US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington DC.

In a video captured during the Summit, the President, now Africa’s oldest Head of State, appears to be in a state of confusion during his address.

While sitting on a panel alone facing a crowd, he asked what all the people in the room were doing there.

He, however, seemed to be ignorant to the fact that his microphone was on as he enquired.

“Wow. So I have become a celebrity?” he asked.

He further asks what all those people had gathered before him, saying that he had not asked for that.

A man who appears to be his aide-de-camp, according to Africa Facts Zone, tries to explain to him that he is at an International Summit and it is his time to speak.

“Are there important personalities amongst them?” Biya asks.

“Yes. President Kagame just spoke and it is your turn. You have the microphone,” the man replies.

He also tells him there are ministers in the room and he has already been introduced to speak.

President Biya is then seen looking through what appears to be his speech as his aide tells him that everyone is waiting for him to speak.

“Is there no one to coordinate this?” he asks in further confusion.

In 2022, Biya marked 40 years in power and is one of the longest-serving heads of state in Africa. His opponents have been calling on him to step down and hand over power to a younger generation.

ALSO READ: Nigeria Elections 2023: What You Need to Understand.
Nigeria Elections 2023: What You Need to Understand.

Other Leaders

Mozambique’s Afonso Dhlakama led the opposition Renamo since 1979 and ran for president at every contest until his death on May 3, 2018.

Étienne Tshisekedi led the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo, founded his party in 1982, served as prime minister on three occasions in the 1990s, and featured prominently in several presidential elections. He died in 2017.

In Uganda, 60-year-old opposition leader Kizza Besigye ran unsuccessfully in 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016 presidential elections. He lost every one of those polls to the man who has led Uganda since 1986, Yoweri Museveni. Bobi Wine vied in 2021 and lost to Museveni.

Museveni Blames Foreign Powers for High Cost of Living

In South Africa, 88-year-old Mangosuthu Buthelezi founded the Inkatha Freedom Party in 1976, helping form South Africa’s post-apartheid government in the 1990s, He’s remained a fixture in parliament ever since.

MORE READING: How Africa became a continent of young people ruled by old men

Comparing to the United States and Canada

The United States, with the biggest economy in the world $23.94 Trillion (2021), whereas the entire Africa has a GDP of around $2.5 Trillion. Obama who is half African and half American became president of the biggest economy at the age of 47 years old. If Obama would have been in Kenya, what would he be at 47 years old?

Obama speaks with Kenya president about support for refugees | Reuters.com
Obama speaking with President Uhuru Kenyatta

The United States has elected other young Presidents including John Fitzgerald Kennedy who was elected at 43 years old. JFK signed the first nuclear test ban treaty in October 1963, presided over the establishment of the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress with Latin America, and the continuation of the Apollo program with the goal of landing a man on the Moon before 1970 and before his assassination, he proposed a Civil rights Act to end segregation in the United States.

Bill Clinton became US president at 46 years old. Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. He signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

In the list of Canadian Prime Ministers, Clark Charles Joseph ascended to power at the age of 39 years, Campbell A. Kim at 46, Harper Stephen at 46, and the current leader; Trudeau Justin became Prime Minister at 43 years old.

Why do countries with big economies entrust their economies, nuclear powers, superior militaries, and all resources to men and women who are in their 40s or 30s? We in Africa elect people in their 90s to lead us. To lead us where? To the grave?

Here are 5 of Africa’s oldest and longest-serving leaders:

  1. Teodoro Obiang Nguema
Equatorial Guinea: World's longest-serving president to continue  43-year-rule - BBC News

Africa’s Longest Serving President is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. He has been in power since 1979, making him the longest-serving African president. In the early years of his rule, President Obiang was known for being a brutal dictator. He oversaw a government responsible for the torture and killings of political opponents. 


2.  Paul Biya Paul Biya (1933- ) •

He’s been in power since 1982, making him the second longest-serving African President. 


President Biya came to power in a coup d’etat and has ruled the country ever since. In the early years of his rule, he was known for being a repressive leader. He oversaw a government responsible for the torture and killings of political opponents. 


3. Denis Sassou

President Denis Sassou Nguesso | Africa Investment Forum

Denis Sassou is also one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. He has been the president of the Republic of the Congo for 36 years. He first came to power in 1979 and has since been re-elected four times. Sassou is currently among the oldest head of state in Africa, at 79.


4. Yoweri Museveni Yoweri Museveni has been the president of Uganda for 34 years. He first came to power in 1986 and has since been re-elected five times. Museveni is the third oldest head of state in Africa, at 78, Young Continent.

Under Museveni’s rule, Uganda has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The country has also made strides in reducing poverty and improving healthcare and education. However, critics say Museveni has become increasingly authoritarian over the years, stifling dissent and curtailing civil liberties.


5. Isaias Afwerki

Eritrean president sidesteps questions about troops in Ethiopia | Reuters

Isaias Afwerki has been the president of Eritrea for 32 years. He first came to power in 1991 after leading the country’s independence movement from Ethiopia. Afwerki has since been re-elected thrice.

Will Africa ( Young Continent) ever elect people who are young enough to lead and old enough to understand? Will the ballot make Africa ( Young Continent) young again, and give rise to leaders with vigor and vitality?

Barry Ipapo

About Post Author

Barry Ipapo

Security professional || Law and Governance Enthusiast || Technologist
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