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Africa in 2018: The old generation remains at the helm

DW | Throughout much of Africa, young people still have no say in politics. In 2018, elections will be held in Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Guinea. However, generational renewal is not in sight. DW examines why.

Be it Cameroon, Zimbabwe or Guinea, African leaders are apparently not thinking about retirement. Cameroonian President Paul Biya is 85 years old and Guinean President Alpha Conde, 80. At 75, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa is still the youngest of the bunch.

“African countries have the largest gap between the age of their leaders and the age of their youth and there doesn’t seem to be any major transformation to shift the leadership to the younger generation any time soon,” said Zachariah Mampilly, a professor of African Studies at Vassar College in the United States.

Discontent is widespread among young people in Africa. “We are being ruled by senile leaders,” said the Zimbabwean activist Linda Masarire. The 35-year-old has already fought against former President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime. She is not at all impressed by his successor, Mnangagwa. Masarire believes that old politicians ignore the needs of young citizens.

“We have people who are around 35, 37, 40 years old who have never worked in their lifetime, who never had a pay slip, who do not have social security,” she said. “Many people are abusing drugs because they are hopeless, and their future is futureless.”

Zimbabwe is not the only place with a bleak outlook for Africa’s young generation. Two hundred million people on the continent are between 15 and 24 years of age. They account for 60 percent of all those who are unemployed in Africa. Many of them who have jobs belong to the working poor, which means they cannot live off their earnings.

Change from the outside

Masarire is no longer willing to accept the situation. Parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe are slated for September 2018. She intends to run as an independent candidate. Together with like-minded people, she plans to create a party for the young generation. However, many Zimbabweans youth are scared of political involvement, be it in the governing party or the opposition.

“There is a lot of violence in our political parties in Zimbabwe, regardless if it is the ruling party or the opposition,” she explained. “A lot of young women cannot cope with that, there is lot harassment and all that. Young people at the end of the day do not have a chance to be at the peak of political decision making or government structures in Zimbabwe.”

Job Shipulululo from Namibia has also had bad experiences. The 30-year-old political scientist was once a board member of the ruling party’s youth wing. Today, he and his organization Affirmative Reposition fight against poverty and corruption. Even his own party is not spared. A court ruling made it possible for him to remain a member of the party.

“When young people stand up, [party members] ask you, ‘Where were you when we fought for independence?’ They ask for your credentials in the struggle irrespective of your level of education, irrespective of your transparency, irrespective of what you want to do,” he said.

More and more protests

Many young Africans seem to no longer believe in party politics. According to a survey conducted by the pan-African research network Afrobarometer, just under 65 percent of 18- to 35-year-old Africans voted in the last elections in their country.

“I think that young people feel that the ballot box is insufficient and they have good reasons to feel disillusioned, but that does not mean that they are apathetic, it means that they look for alternative means to make their voices heard and then protest becomes a mechanism for that,” said Mampilly.

In 2015 and 2016, large-scale protests were held in almost half the countries in Africa. In Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, young people repeatedly demonstrated against unpopular presidents. In Senegal and Burkina Faso, protesters managed to get rid of authoritarian leaders. Those nations aside, however, protests are rarely successful.

“The great risk is that you cannot predict how any protest will play out and often times when these young people take to the streets; it is heart-wrenching to watch these young, talented individuals going out to the streets and being confronted with overwhelming military force in most occasions,” said Mampilly.

The African Union has officially recognized the problem. The African Charter was adopted in 2006. The African Youth Decade runs from 2009 to 2018.

But Linda Masarire just sees this all as lip service, and believes young people have a responsibility to hold incompetent political leaders accountable. “We cannot allow a continent so rich in resources to suffer,” she said. “We finally need competent leaders who are serious about development in Africa.”

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  1. A simple measure of a people’s appetite for change is the rhythm at which leadership changes hands at the summit. Since gaining independence around 1960 the Federal Republic of Nigeria has experimented with Nnamdi Azikiwe, Generals Ironsi, Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Matthew Olusegun Obansanjo, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda, Abdusalam Abubakar, Amaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and currently Muhammadu Buhari. Over the same interval France has had Georges Pompidou, Valerie Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarcozy, François Hollande and now Emmanuel Macron. In Cameroon, over that stretch of time the nation hashad Alhaji Ahmadou Ahidjo (the man who left his imprimatur of 5-year development plans) and Paul Biya whose own pet

    • project is the 25-year “Emergence-2035”. This gives an average presidential mandate (duration) of Nigeria (4 years), France (9 years) and Cameroon (28 years). Can this provide a rough measure of the peoples’ appetite for change?

      Tonight’s end-of-year speech may change things for the Golden Triangle, perhaps?

  2. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men….

  3. History is the arbiter of controversy, the monarch of all she surveys.
    Universal History is … not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.
    There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success. [said of Oliver Cromwell
    The strong man with the dagger is followed by the weak man with the sponge.
    The science of politics is the one science that is deposited by the streams of history, like the grains of gold in the sand of a river; and the knowledge of the past, the record of truths revealed by experience, is eminently practical, as an instrument of action and a power that goes to making the future.Save for the wild force of Nature, nothing moves in this world that is not Greek in its origin.Liberty is not the power

  4. we had a leader here in Africa in the name of Thomas Sankara!. was just 33years old when he took power and ruled just for 4 years and we all know his records even up till today 39 years after his brutal murder.I know and belief for this our very rich continent to really enjoy her full potentials for the benefit of her people who are the poorest in the world we need leaders like Thomas Sankara.Leaders who can dare to invent and pursue a new future for thier people.Happy 2018 to all!

  5. sorry 30 years after his murdered.

  6. Blood of Jesus

    Paul Biya wants to be king of Cameroun.Unfortunately for him he has no legacy except brutality and the murder of more than 20 000 Cameroonians in cold blood.

  7. These young people are also lucky in these days of instant info. Read about other revolutionaries, study their tactics (Mafia style). Target these old dogs individually and finish them off quietly and intelligently by all means without riots or public protests, take them by surprise.

  8. These old Folks have taken cameroon and Africa so backward that you cant imagine..
    They old folks still believe in force to solve crisit..
    The old people dont even understand where the country is heading to..
    People have been coming out to protest against a corrupt system, and the old folks dont have a plan than use bullets and the military on young cameroonians without a future…
    How can you be killing your own children in 2017..???

  9. That is why Southern Cameroon is building a nation of it Own which will be rule and manage by young and talented youths not old dictator of 85 years who cannot every think and make sound decision But is at the verge of grave yard yet still standing for 2018 elections in LRC God punish the devil.

  10. The power of the world is in the hands of old people not only Africa.

  11. bakossi_ it depends how modern, smart these old people are…..
    If you look at Europe and most western countries, you will see lots of young rulers…France , Austria,..The whole of Europe even is governed by very young folks – apart from ANGELA in Germany ..Obama was a modern young energetic man….Same as the Canadian ruler…
    We dont really have people at Biyas age in western nations..
    They are all in old peoples home with DIPERS or spending quality time with their grand children….

  12. How old is Trump, Angela of Germany, to name a few?Yes these our folks in Africa have been there for too long but age is a universal prob not only in Africa

  13. If you think these presidents in the West are the one ruling the countries entirely then think again. These policy markers are the brain boxes. Look at USA senate average age, most are over 70. You are right we need leaders that can think of the future and implement good policies but remember when laws changes in our country especially taxation, the first person to tell you lies is your brother working for same taxation with intention of stealing. If we don’t change our mentality especially anglophones don’t expect anything good. Have you ever send money back home for a project to your family or friends? Have you started a business in Cameroon and see how anglophones you hire run you out by stealing?

    • [email protected] why are you concentrating on making Anglophones any different to Francophones mantality in this ? Is this based on facts? More courtcases? or family disputes about monetery issues reported to the police ? Maybe Anglophones use these avenues for disputes because they actually work in those areas so theres a higher use to settle disputes publicly….