This morning I published an op-ed in Canada’s The Globe and Mail on the generation gap between Africa’s rulers and the median age of their citizens. It is something I haven’t really seen debated in main stream media and thought was well worth commenting on. It should concern everyone on the continent that our rulers are older than Africa’s average life expectancy of 58. It should also concern us all that they fall within the eldest 3% of the continent’s population. I welcome your feedback on the piece.

If ever there was a demographic equivalent to the Marianas Trench, it is the chasm between Africa’s median age and that of its rulers. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 41 per cent of Africa’s billion citizens are under the age of 15. There are almost as many youth on the continent as the combined population of Canada, United States and Mexico. In all, a staggering 70 per cent of the population is under 30.

The leaders, however, almost all fall within oldest 3 per cent of Africa’s population, those over the age of 65. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (88) and Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki (80) are among the many leaders who are defying the continent’s average life expectancy of 58.

  1. The issue is absolutely valid, and more so since that “old” leadership is not demonstrating the quality expected as normative or comparable with the age – that is to say that old men are leading like novices (to put it mildly).

    I would be very interested to know if any comparative studies exist that speak to the matter of gerontocracy and its impact.

    That said, in order to redress the problems arising from gerontocracy, strategies that are generational in its core value, are required – not short term. Therefore, the solution does not lie with political movements that seek simply to be re-elected for another 4 or 5 year term.

    There is no problem in South Africa, for example, with older leaders. In fact, there is a great deal of respect for older leadership and younger cadres are not always a natural first choice. Grey hair is a sign of wisdom, or rather, should be a sign of wisdom.

    The problem, is of course, that the older is not necessarily the wiser and such a mismatch accounts for why there is such a difficulty to mobilize, in the words of a very meaningful comment just overheard, “active citizenship in a space where an unhealthy dependence on leadership promotes paralysis” @louisevanrhyn on Twitter.

  2. In my country Nigeria, we have a “young” leader, however, appointments to high cabinet posts seems to be given to the “old” politicians, who are set in their ways, which in Nigeria involves a lot of corruption. However, there seems to be some hope because more younger individuals are being considered, but I hope that more considerations will be made not based on who one knows but based on the merits of the individual, because whether young or old if one is coming from the same “cesspool” of filth, no change is going to happen!

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