A young continent ruled and ruined by the old

When I was a boy they told me  “you can’t understand this because you are a kid it will come to you once you grow which was an indication the¨ wisdom and ages are parallel”. This is something I no longer believe in as I pen down this letter to the youth of Africa.

Africa has the youngest population of any region, with a median age of 20 – roughly a decade less than the global figure. All but one of the 20 countries with the lowest median ages are in Africa, as reported by Pewresearch (2020).  

According to Quartz Africa, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with 60% of the Africa’s population under 25. The African continent is significantly young. Countries such as Niger are 15 years old median, while Uganda is 15.5 years old. The United States averages 38,1 in comparison, 40,5 in the United Kingdom and 47 in Germany (Adegoke,2017).

So why is a continent with perhaps the most vibrant population the poorest? Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the “famous” leaders of the continent. In Africa, something is unmistakably common: the ageing and long-term leaders of the continent.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda seems likely to run for office for a term in 2021. He will be 77 years old then and has been in office for five terms since 1986. The one-time president of the heroic resistance fighter quickly became like an “over-power” that was once stated by Museveni himself as the cause of the slow progress in Africa.

One of the many aspects about the political climate in Uganda is that over 75 % of the population were born after the arrival of Museveni. For a staggering 41 years, the Gabonese Omar Bongo was president when he died at age 73 in 2011.

Hastings Banda was in his late 90s when he was removed from office by force in 1994. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was 93 years, old making him the world’s oldest head of state, only to be replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old onetime loyalist to the ex-president. I do not know if it is pathetic or funny.

Cameroon’s Paul Biya (86) is seeking his 8th term as president and is currently the 2nd longest ruling president. With 37 years of rule over a country with the average population of 21 years, that is an age difference between the president and the people of almost 65 years.

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré Is Not Even Among Five Longest-Serving  African Presidents
Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. He is among Africa’s longest-serving President


A case can be made that these presidents have been in power for far too long and hence power drank and living in their high castles and cannot see below which is also true but not in all cases.

Nigerian’s Buhari 77, presiding over a country with an average population of almost 21 years, exhibited his state of mental ability in handling the recent #endSARSnow protest in the country. Niger has the youngest population in the world. The median age is 15, half of the population in Niger is 14 years or younger.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and the last on the United Nations Human Development Index, even with a makeshift democracy. The average age of the 10 oldest leaders in Africa is 78.5, compared with 52 in the other 10 developed economies of the world.

Africa probably has a relatively limited percentage of younger representatives between 35 and 55 in contrast to other continents. Paradoxically, with a median age of 20, according to the U.N., the continent has the youngest population in the world.

Undoubtedly, the formation of trustworthy and youthful successors also reduced and stifled their longevity in the executive. But it is not completely understanding why Tunisia, Namibia, Liberia, Ghana, and other countries are voting for presidents in their later late years.

This raises the question: are African youth still unable to see how easily their leaders are deciding their destinies, or how the age of their leaders is related to the fortunes of their future?

My opinion is that, the human brain can best be described using the economics theory of diminishing marginal returns. The brain improves from infancy to a peak usually around 65 years and start to decline at a diminishing rate.

It is no surprise the recent increase in youth activism on the continent as it’s their time to rule and to build a future they can live. Indeed, it is the end of an old era of old men. In the words of one of my personal heroes, Dr. Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane of the freedom fighter of Mozambique, I say to the youth of Africa: “aluta continua vitoria e certa”.


NB: Amponsah is a former leader of Ubuntu African students Association and also holds a Master in Economics from the Norwergian University of Life Sciences. He writes in his indivisual capacity.  

Afari Amponsah

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