By Henry D Gombya
Elderly African leaders who have resorted to changing their countries’ constitutions so that they could stay in power forever and those rigging elections so as to be returned to power over and over again, have been warned that the more they hang on to power the more they risk being overthrown.
Warning that the reluctance by Africa’s octogenarians to give way to young leaders will lead to more revolutions on the continent, Africa’s leading philanthropist, Dr Mo Ibrahim has said Africa is failing to rise to the challenge of having more young people today than anywhere else in the world. In an article that we have reproduced on our Comments Page, Dr Ibrahim says that within less than three generations, four out of 10 young people in the world will be living in Africa. “In a world changing with breakneck speed, it is young people who are best equipped to identify and deliver fresh solutions to our problems,” he said.
The Sudanese-British telecom entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the Celtel telecommunications company before selling it for US$3.4 billion in 2005, said the reluctance by elderly African leaders to relinquish power has seen them tamper with their countries’ constitutional terms so they could continue “long after they were supposed to have stepped down”. He said in a world where such leaders as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to power when he was only 43 and has since left and US President Barack Obama who came to power when he was 47 is due to leave after only eight years, Africa must ask itself why it is reluctant to let younger leaders take the reins of power. “In contrast, Africa has just witnessed an 89-year old sworn in as President of Zimbabwe, a post he first gained 25 years ago. And this was after he had already led his country as Prime Minister for nearly a decade,” Dr Ibrahim writes.
He said being refused to take part in decision-making and debates has left young people turning their backs on the political process and thereby leading to a fall in election turnout among the young. “The danger is that, denied the chance of peaceful change, despair and anger is fostered. We must at least enable our young people to play a more active part in the decision-making process. If we do not, we will see even more leaders overthrown,” Ibrahim warned.
Presently, there are 10 African leaders who have been in power for more than 15 years who should think hard and long about what Dr Ibrahim has said: They are (their countries in bold):