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Africa gets younger while key leaders age

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics


The average age of Africans is 19.5 but many of its leaders rank among the world’s oldest.

Africa has the youngest population on earth, but many of the continent’s leaders rank among the world’s oldest.

In Africa, 200 million people are between the ages of 15 and 24 and the population of young people is expected to double by 2045. The average age of Africans is only 19.5.

The youthful population contrasts with many long-standing government leaders who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

Zimbabwe president is 92

The oldest is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who at age 92 is the oldest leader in the world. Mugabe was elected to his seventh term as president in 2013. Second oldest is Beji Caid Essebsi, 89, who was elected president of Tunisia in 2014.

Cameroon’s president Paul Biya is 83. He has been in power as prime minister and then president for 40 years, making him the longest serving leader on the continent.

African leaders in their 70s include Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 79, president of Algeria since 1999; Alpha Condé, 78, president of Guinea since 2010; Manuel Pinto da Costa, 78, president of Sao Tome and Principe since 2011 (and previously from 1975 to 1991); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 77, who became president of Liberia in 2006; Peter Mutharika, 75, president of Malawi since 2014; Jacob Zuma, 74, president of South Africa since 2009; and Yoweri Museveni, 71, who has been president of Uganda since 1986.

Average age is 78.5

In 2015, the average age of the ten oldest African leaders was 78.5, compared to 52 years of age for the world’s 10 most developed countries. U.S. President Barack Obama is 54, Chinese president Xi Jinping is 62, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is 61, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is 63.

Many African nations enacted term limits to prevent leaders from staying too long in office, but leaders both younger and older have sidestepped those laws in recent years.

For example, in Rwanda, voters last year extended the potential term of popular president Paul Kagame, 58, until 2034, dispensing with term limits that would have prevented him from running for re-election to a third term in 2017.

In 2005, Ugandan lawmakers changed the constitution, allowing President Yoweri Museveni to seek re-election in 2006 and 2011. Now 71, Museveni was re-elected again this year.

Burundi election protests

In Burundi, the re-election to a third term of president Pierre Nkurunziza, 52, sparked protests by those who said it went against the country’s limit of two five-year terms.

Not all of Africa’s long-serving presidents are old. Joseph Kabila, now 44, has been president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2001, when he took office after the president, his father, was assassinated. Kabila was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2011.

An election is scheduled in November in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and term limits could prevent Kabila from running for another term. However, the government has suggested the election may be delayed because of logistical problems, sparking protests as the opposition charges Kabila is maneuvering for another term.

Leadership may be out of touch

David E. Kiwuwa, an associate professor of international studies at Princeton University, said the aging leadership is out of touch as the youth population grows.

“With the burgeoning youthful demography at the bottom, the political top is a disturbingly graying lot,” Kiwuwa said.

He said while some African leaders survive by intimidation, others command the loyalty or even reverence of the public because they have been in office for so long and are seen as “fathers of a nation.”

He said the dominance of aging leaders has prevented younger, more creative leaders from emerging even as Africa’s population has grown younger.

“Why is Africa saddled with leaders who ought to be enjoying their retirement in peace and quiet?” Kiwuwa asked.

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Fred Swaniker, Educating Africa’s next great leaders

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Fred Swaniker

One man’s determination to make Africa great by teaching its fourth generation to be good leaders.

Gaining worldwide recognition, ranked among the “top 10 young power men in Africa” by Forbes Magazine and named one of the World Economic Forum’s “Young Global Leaders” in 2012, few could wish for such an impressive list of accolades. However, for Ghanaian Fred Swaniker, they are just a few happy byproducts of his passionate dedication to educate the fourth generation of post-colonial Africa.

Having succeeded in fulfilling his first dream of opening the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in 2008, followed later by the African Leadership Network (ALN) in 2010, he is by no means ready to slow down. Instead his latest mission just goes to prove that the 38 year old is quietly leading a revolution.

The ambitious entrepreneur has turned his sights towards developing the African Leadership University (ALU). Announcing his plans for the first time in public during a TED talk in October 2014, Swaniker spoke of the potential to educate and develop 250,000 leaders at the University’s 25 campuses across Africa. He estimated that over 50 years that would create three million transformative leaders who could finally walk out the doors of ALU and into the world, hopefully to carry out his vision of leading Africa in a brighter, more prosperous and stable direction.

Early inspiration

The TED fellow’s early years were spent moving from country to country almost every four years due to political unrest in his continent. At the age of four he experienced his first coup d’état that forced him and his father, a lawyer, and his mother, an educator, to leave their native home.

His family moved to Botswana, a revelation to the then eight year old Swaniker, who appreciated the country’s good infrastructure, no coups, good education and the fact that “things worked.” It was here, while watching television that the young Ghanaian pin points the moment he realized the power of leadership. As he watched the incarcerated Nelson Mandela refuse to give up the struggle against the apartheid he thought to himself, “one good leader could make such a difference in Africa.”

His experience of living in many African countries kindled a deeper love for his continent and solidified his dream, to dedicate his life to making Africa great. His first opportunity came about whist living in Botswana and his mother was asked to set up a school. On agreeing she made sure to engage her son as the head teacher, a mere 17 year old at the time. It was a life changing experience that would instill in him a deep understanding of the importance of education and responsibility.

Where education and leadership meet

These two pivotal realizations in the African entrepreneur’s life were uniquely profound but combined, they were revolutionary. He realized the potential in teaching leadership skills to bright, ambitious, young Africans to give them the opportunity to transform the continent. “For Africa more than anywhere else in the world, the difference that just one good leader can make is much greater than anywhere else,” Fred Swaniker said during his 2014 TED talk.

After studying economics at Macalester College in the US, he joined McKinsey management consulting firm before going on to obtain an MBA from Stanford University. While there he came up with the idea to create his African college.

It was not an easy road to fruition; he sacrificed his time, finances, energy and even comfort in order to raise what was needed to get ALA up and running. Reminiscing on the time, Swaniker said, “The initial funding came from my friends and family but that lasted for a few months and then it ran out. I really spent the next two years without any money and we just had to find ways to survive.” Luckily his support network was strong, with friends who believed in him enough they would go on to become co-founders and colleagues.

Looking ahead

It is with unwavering belief that the leadership development expert approaches the future. As much as he has invested already in his continent, he is ready to invest more. His faith is in this new generation and he is putting all he has into making the doors of his institutions as open as possible, to all.

The university runs a scheme of “forgivable” loans that offer students money for fees and living costs which are not required to be paid back should they work in Africa for 10 years after graduating. It is his way of additionally encouraging the bright, young thinkers to remain, to put all their new found skills and knowledge back into Africa.

“I thought that if I can create an organization that can find young entrepreneurs, young leaders in every country in Africa – that has the potential to really change the continent; if I could build an institution that could develop them, then they could achieve much more than I could achieve by myself.”

And while so much of the Young Global Leader’s time is spent conjuring up new ideas and ensuring the smooth operation of his many institutions, he still makes time to enjoy his relatively new married life. Married on the 8th June, 2013 he and his wife share a love of good food, travel and Africa – a continent that is going from strength to strength thanks to visionaries like Fred Swaniker.

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