Written by Z. ALLAN NTATA
Presidential elections are imminent in Kenya. The interesting fact according to Wikipedia, is that the youngest of the aspirants to the Kenyan presidency, Peter Kenneth is 48 years old. In 2014, Malawi will go to the polls. Of those that have declared interest to run for the Malawian presidency, the youngest, Atupele Muluzi, only interested in the race because of his ex-president father’s extreme desperation to somehow return to power, is between 33 and 35 depending on which biography one reads.
It has been frequently observed that in Africa, politics is an occupation of the old. Where does this view come from? African Constitutions do not stipulate any specific age at which a citizen can get involved in patriotic politics. Besides stipulating the age at which a citizen is eligible to vote in an election, most laws are silent on the age at which a citizen can be involved in in developing this country politically- and rightly so!
Yet there seems to be in African youth a negative attitude towards politics. This view seems to have been distilled from a close observation of the prominent players on the African political scene since the dawn of the fight for independence from colonialism to date. Able young African men and women somehow tend to shun political involvement, preferring instead to remain in the comfort zone of professional careers that have as little to do with governing as possible.
This is a tragedy to Africa. It is a great tragedy that Africa does not have career politicians already learning their trade in our universities. To the question whether they are interested in politics, most African youth today will respond; No. Yet at its heart in international affairs, politics, particularly meaningful politics, is very much an occupation of those of youthful years. This has always been the case in world history and in indeed in African history, and must continue to hold true if this great continent is to realise its potential.
By the age of 36, Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah was already politically active enough to have a major role and influence in the organisation of the fifth Pan-African in Manchester, England, after which he went on to found the West African National Secretariat to work towards the decolonization of Africa.
In 1924, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya was 30 years old when he joined the politically active Kikuyu Central Association. By 1928 he had become the KCA’s general secretary.
In Malawi, when Henry Masauko Chipembere was elected to the Legislative Council of then Nyasaland in 1956, he was but only 26 years old. At the time of the cabinet crisis in the Banda administration, Henry Masauko Chipembere was still only 34 years old. It was Masauko Chipembere and Kanyama Chiume who at the ages of 26 and 25 respectively, first started the agitation against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland invited Kamuzu Banda to come back home and help them with the struggle. And Aleke Banda was only 19 when he became an influential player in Malawian Politics.
William Wilberforce entered the British House of Commons at the age of 25 and 3 years later, together with Granville Sharpe set in motion events that led to the abolition of the Slave Trade.
A loud and clear call needs to go out to all Africans of youthful years that our generation need not stand by and let our continent slide into economic or social oblivion while we, the capable youth watch with disinterest from the comfort of professional armchairs. The African younger generation, instigators of the “brain drain” that has for many years ravaged Africa, needs to stop living outside Africa and go back to Africa to take over the political leadership there. The two main problems that are sabotaging African political and economic growth are brain drain and octogenarian politics (Elderly people in political leadership) in a vibrant, fast paced 21st century world.
The youth are the strong ones- the pillars upon which the prosperity of Africa ought to be built upon and the younger generation must take this responsibility seriously. That responsibility must begin by being very critical of our leaders.
It is neither the purpose nor the intention of this article to deplore and discredit every elderly statesman participating in African politics today. Mature and experienced minds and perspectives will always have their place in building a nation as well as the continent. In our presidents, we are justified to expect and even demand maturity, experience and exposure. Yet it must be appreciated that those of youthful years must be allowed to become the heartbeat of our political systems. Understanding this, and recognizing the tendency of the majority of the elders to protect their corners and block the youth from invading the systems, the youth ought to do everything they possibly can to be involved in the system and ensure that the people that are entrusted with the governance of this continent are people who care about it with the same passion as ourselves.
It is important to ensure that the people entrusted with the governance of this great continent are youthful, if not in years then in the freshness of their ideas and the genuineness of their commitment and patriotism.
This is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. If we are not involved- not only that, but if we are not involved in an influential way, we will open the sacred door of leadership for incompetents. You need only look at the majority of African leaders years to vouch for the truth in that statement.
About the author
Z. Allan Ntata is a Barrister at Law and a practicing lawyer and worked as Legal Counsel to the President of the Republic of Malawi and Executive Secretary to the Malawi National Advisory Council on Strategic Planning. He also worked as a Lecturer in Law in Australia, and as a Prosecutor with the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau. He holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Huddersfield, England, the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Honours degree from the University of Westminster, London, and a post-graduate Diploma in Professional Legal Skills from City University, London. He is currently pursuing two doctorate degrees. A PhD in Politics and Law with Erasmus University at Rotterdam, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics and Political Leadership at the University of Bedfordshire where he also lectures in Law, Leadership and Political Governance. Z Allan Ntata is the Author of "Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa" (Authorhouse), and has written numerous political analysis articles that have been published in Malawian newspapers for the past 7 years.