Is the age of young presidents upon us?

2012-04-15 10:00
Mandy Rossouw
Youth is not wasted on the young anymore, it seems.

Look at the recent raft of young presidents sworn in as the leaders of their countries – one of them being 50-year-old Barack Obama, who became president of the US in 2007.

Obama is probably the best example of how young leadership can take a country – and the world – in a better direction.

Untested yet, indications are still that the new Senegalese president Macky Sall may also prove to be an Obama of sorts for Africa.

Sall (40) defeated incumbent Abdoullaye Wade in the recent election, despite Wade’s attempts to use his incumbency to stay in office longer.

As Wade’s protégé, Sall saw how Wade turned from the people’s president to a power-hungry leader who got used to being in power. The expectation was that Sall would know better.

At the United Nations and other congregations of world leaders, presidents are no longer only old men who belong to a global gentleman’s club. Even in Africa, where old habits die hard, young leaders are starting to take centre stage, albeit for the wrong reasons.

He’s only 37, but Madagascan leader Andry Rajoelina, a former disc jockey who took power through a coup, has managed to muster some sympathy from some of his fellow African leaders.

Rightful president Marc Ravalomanana has been antagonising some with his antics, such as his unplanned and badly executed plans to return home from exile in South Africa.

And 40-year old Joseph Kabila was handed the reins of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from his father when he was 29, but has only been able to hold on to power by using his incumbency and staging less than free-and-fair elections.

Zambian president Michael Sata broke the mould. He turns 75 this year, and last year took the top job with a peaceful change of government after an election.

However, in the rest of Africa the status quo remains. Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Jose Eduardo dos Santos are bidding against each other for the dubious title of being the continent’s longest serving presidents.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is also struggling to let go, and unlike 69-year old Chinese president Hu Jintao, does not have a party that will tell him when his time is up.