The African political system is interesting; almost comical, in its trend of political growth and transcendence. Nigerian social media got buzzing a few years ago when the majority of the appointed ministers were much older politicians who had been in other political positions in times past. While age isn’t necessarily a precursor to the functions as a minister, the uproar came from an in-depth desire to change things – the youths are really not part of the governance system and they appeared to be getting fed up of it. With one-third of the African population as youths between the ages of 15 and 35, you would think youths would have a say. Rather, the majority of the region’s presidents are still over 60.
Ironically, the narrative wasn’t always this way. In the same country where we have 70-year old ministers, we used to have twenty-something year olds holding the same positions. These times were long before the technology and innovations we now have. In Nigeria, Maitama Sule became the Minister of Oil at the age of 29, Shehu Shagari became a Federal Legislator at the age of 30 and a Minister at the age of 35, and Audu Ogbeh also became a Minister at the age of 35. Unsurprisingly, some of these people are still in power today. By so doing, we have a long streak of same names and faces at the helms of affairs. There are three different perspectives as to why this happens. The one that comes directly from the actions and inactions of the older politicians, those that come from the action and inaction of the African youths, and the system itself.
The first evident reason for this from the point of the older politicians, is greed. Those who have held political powers in African countries are usually very hesitant to let go and hand over to the younger generation. This is why in Nigeria, a number of politicians had chances to become presidents, senators, or ministers at multiple times under multiple and even same governments. Those who had been serving since the early 2000’s and even earlier, somehow still have electoral positions today. Since it is not news that the political seats are seen as quick ways of hitting the ‘billionaire’ status for a lot of these people, it is no surprise why. The free flow of corruption and ease in personal aggrandizement also doesn’t help matters. Corruption and conspiracy is still a sad norm. More so, these older folks are not in the habit of mentoring younger people to take over these roles. Hence, it is possible that older politicians have not been able to pass the baton because there are really no qualified candidates for the job.
There are also reasons why the issues might lie with the youngsters themselves. For one, how many young people are well qualified for these positions? Have they taken time to develop themselves well for the role, or do they also just want to achieve the status of ‘politician’ so as to make their own money as well? There is also a possibility that the majority of youths we have are too busy whiling away time having fun or just being violent. How much discipline does an individual who seeks to achieve national leadership roles, imbibe in his day to day activities? Deciding whether or not there is a correlation between having fun and manning the political seat, is as simple as asking ourselves if we are ready to be led by a youngster who albeit smart, still displays youthful exuberance. Finally, there’s another truth Sahara Reporters indicated in their analysis of this angle.
“The ‘Pull Him Down’ syndrome is a predominant characteristic of today’s youth. If it’s not me in that position, whoever else is there must be disgraced, embarrassed and pulled down.
… Frontline Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji bought a house and the greatest noise came from young people like her. There was even a time attempts were made to take down her blog. Audu Maikori was arrested for a Facebook comment he apologized for and some youths in the Nigerian social media wanted him jailed. These are reflections of what young people do to themselves in the name of competition and survival and these are the complicated symptoms that characterize why young people are failing to organize themselves effectively into a powerful bloc of change makers who can inspire true leadership beyond exploits in business and the creative industries.”
How do youths come together to appoint their voices when they are too busy pulling one another down?
The last perspective is the one that puts the blame on the African system itself. The African system is one that is dominated by low-earning or unemployed youths who are where they are because of the high unemployment rate. It is the first cause of youth induced violence and corruption, and it is a limitation for youth inclusion to governance. The African system is one in which proper education is still a challenge. One where the electoral system still suffers serious bias, and one in which the rich and the poor do not mix. How easy is it for the average youth to get into any political party anyway? Class still rules the economy, and the cycle would be on for a while. The fact that African countries like Zimbabwe have age limits of 35 or 40 in their electoral laws, thus preventing candidates younger than that from contesting national elections doesn’t just help. The system honestly does not make things easy for the youths to get into the political seats.
The first step is in knowing the problem. Which solutions do you think we proffer to augment this pressing problem? Do share with us.