n a continent where 60% of the population is under 24 years old, we sure know how to keep old men in power. Africa has the fastest-growing and most youthful population in the world. Juxtapose this with median age of 78.5 years of the 10 oldest presidents. And in case you think that median has changed since Mugabe left office, his successor is 75 years old!
In modern African history, only a handful of African leaders have relinquished power voluntarily. Majority hold unto political office until they either die or are forced ignominiously, to quit. Then they recycle themselves in successors cut in the same mold. They use a combination of soft and hard power to co-opt subordinates into keeping them in office. Whether through the threat of ethnic warfare if their countryman is removed from office, bribery of detractors, or appointment of critics into corrupt administrations; they buy complicity. And if their soft tactics fail, they unleash violence on hapless protesting students, regional dissidents, and opponents.
These gerontocrats maintain a tight grip on power, changing like chameleons to suit the occasion, never changing their self-aggrandizing agenda. Even the senior bureaucrats don't resign regardless of public scandals and allegations of corruption. They are military rulers then they are civilians; AG, NPN, UPN, PDP, APC, and all the parties in between. They are the kings and the kingmakers.
They exercise a paternalism which at best is benevolent and at its worst, malevolent. In fact, most African gerontocrats are despots who stifle the potential of a youthful population and consequently force them to conscript themselves to fight senseless wars or to migrate abroad. This forced migration unfortunately, often lead to economic slavery all over the world and/or actual slavery in Libya and the middle east. Their impact on Africa's youthful population is substantial:
- The title "Father" bestows on the bearer an absolute authority that gives the gerontocrat supreme power over all he surveys. He is considered the embodiment of all wisdom, knowledge, and vision for the state. Nobody can gainsay him. The innovative ideas of youth, are discredited because they do not possess the wisdom of old age.
- The 'Paters' tolerate no dissension and particularly not from 'snot-nosed brats.' When faced with opposition, they clamp down on student or labor protests rather than confronting the problems raised by any of these groups.
- The doddering heads hang onto the worn-out policies and tired relationships of their youth. Even though they've witnessed post-independence, post-cold war, and even millennium global politics, African political alliances still reflect colonial formations. Consequently, African states continue to lag in global economics.
- As their eyes grow dim, they no longer see the poverty of their people, the future, problems of the state, nor the future. While they pamper their own offspring, they pay scant attention to the masses who are uneducated, unemployed, and often, unemployable.
- They are unable to grasp the extent of the vulnerability and external penetration of the African state and are therefore, incapable of formulating adequate policies to combat the issues.
- These grey heads are themselves vulnerable to the craftiness of external predators who seek to keep Africa enslaved by signing contractual agreements that shortchange the continent. For example, they sign 99-year land leases for pennies on the dollar.
- They clone themselves by allowing only those like them to get close to power. Entrants are forced to enter occultic covenants in order to hold party office, or to serve as money-laundering mules for party demagogues. Consequently, we may have a new face in power, but we have a continuation of decrepit policies.
To see change in Africa, we must change the leadership. NO MORE OLD MEN! Or old women! We need leaders who can connect with their followers. As we did in Zimbabwe, though the work is incomplete, let's put pressure on the old men to relinquish power.
Let's train ourselves to be leaders. Let's train leaders who will stimulate industry, develop communities, and provide livelihoods for our people. Let us quit the blind followership of senile senior citizens.
In case the preceding was over your head, tell me this: President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria is 74 years old and President Paul Biya of Cameroon is 84; what do either of these elder statesmen know about being a 20-year-old fishy degree holder from Mushroom University, unemployed, unemployable, and looking ahead at endless years of poverty?
(Slavery begins at Home is a series on the roots of the current crisis of the enslavement of Nigerians in Libya. While an uproar over the enslavement of Nigerian immigrants in Libya, may jerk our emotional strings, it does not provide a deep understanding of the issue or present solutions to stem the crisis. These series of articles hope to shed more light on the crisis AT HOME).