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Opinions of Friday, 29 July 2011

Columnist: Obosu-Mensah, Kwaku

Ages of African Leaders

I have to congratulate President Mills for his recent victory to continue as the flag bearer of the NDC political party. Now, incumbent President Mills and contender Nana Akuffo Addo will vie for the presidency in 2012.

In 2012, both President Mills and Akuffo Addo, the NPP flag bearer, would be 68 years. If Mills wins the elections, by the time of his end of term in 2016 he would be 72 years. The same goes for Akuffo Addo. If Akuffo Addo decides to stand for re-election in 2016, then at the time of the end of his second term he would be 76 years old.

Fortunately or unfortunately, whoever becomes our next president would be a comfortable member of the exclusive Very Old African Leaders' club. Other members of the club would be Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (86 years), Abdulai Wade of Senegal (83), Paul Biya of Cameroon (77), Bingu Wa Mtalika of Malawi (76), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (75), Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (74), Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika (74), Rupiah Banda of Zambia (73), Jos? Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola (69), and Jacob Zuma of South Africa (69). The average age of the ten African presidents listed above is 75.6 years

Let's compare the ages of these African leaders with the ages of the leaders of the most developed countries. Angela Merkel ( Germany ) age 56, Nicolas Sarkozy ( France ) age 55, Jose Socrates ( Portugal ) age 53, Jens Stoltenberg (Norway), 52, Stephen Harper ( Canada ) age 51, Julia Gillard ( Australia ) age 49, Luis Zapatero ( Spain ) age 49, Barrack Obama ( USA ) age 48, Dimitri Medvedev ( Russia ) age 45, David Cameron ( UK ) age 43. The average age of these ten world leaders is 50.1 years.

The difference between the ages of the most developed countries and African leaders is 25.5 years. Coincidentally, it seems we are about 26 years behind as far as development is concerned.

An important issue is whether the ages of our leaders negatively affect their performances or not. Personally I think it does; the age of our leaders is hampering their performances. Thus, one of the reasons African countries are lagging behind is that our leaders are too old. It is not by accident that workers have to retire when they reach a certain age. How come our leaders don't retire when they reach, say, 70 years?

We all know the beautiful and limitedly true adage that old age connotes wisdom. Thus, due to their experiences the elderly are smarter and wiser. This is true in traditional societies where things remain the same or change very slowly. I'm wondering whether 86 year old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is computer/Internet literate.

The elderly fear change, and many of the elderly live in the past. In fact, that is why they are most likely to be scammed. How can a president who lives in the past be an effective leader in the present? Since they are not comfortable with change, they are more likely to resist change.

As we grow older our memory/brain and health start to fail us.

If we consider the rule of individual African leaders, they became worse as they grew older. Mugabe, for example, did well until old age caught up with him. As you remain in power for long, you convince/deceive yourself that due to your old age you know better than others. That's when you are less likely to embrace diverse opinions.

The presidency is a job, not a career. Unfortunately, our leaders have made it a career, and a private business for that matter.

An individual's skills particularly speed, agility, strength, and coordination decay over time and prolonged job boredom and lack of intellectual stimulation and forgetfulness all contribute to reduced productivity.

We have to set an age limit for the presidency

Kwaku Obosu-Mensah

Associate Professor of Sociology

Lorain County Community College, USA