Close to 50 years after gaining independence, most African governments are, on the whole, still dominated by the old guard. Parliamentarians are largely either those who played a part in the independence struggle, or their offspring; in both cases, most are not youthful.
Assessing the conditions today of most of these African States, poor governance, corruption, patrimonialism and negative ethnicity are all too often the order of the day. Each contributes to the vulnerability of these states; leaving the door open for poverty and disease to persist. Whilst the majority of the people languish in poverty and disadvantage, corrupt government officials are swimming in immense wealth.
With 200 million young people, Africa has the youngest population of any continent. And yet the youth have long struggled to access political offices in an attempt to change their living conditions and better the economies of their countries. If the will has always been strong, why, I ask, are they finding it so hard to influence change?
Starting with the democratic political process of ascending into office being the winning of an election, and looking critically at this process which entails traversing regions within ones country to campaign and canvass for oneself, it tends to be very expensive. The majority of the youth, either fresh from college or with some form of leadership experience, find it very difficult to afford to go out on the campaign trail. To some extent this process often involves giving bribes to electoral officials so as to rig the outcome of the result in their favour. Either way, winning an election requires huge amounts of cash.
Most of the time, ageing wealthy politicians are the only ones who can afford the heavy expenses, thus maintaining the status quo. As a result, the old guard go straight ahead in appointing their kinsmen and loyalists into public offices; ensuring the cycle of corruption, nepotism, patrimonialism and poverty continues.
One may ask why the youth are not uniting to stop this cycle since they possess a huge amount of voting power ? It can be heartbreaking to discover that the youth who deservingly complain about persistently poor conditions are the same youth who end up voting the old guard back into office.
Most African societies tend to be heterogeneous and thus the old politicians have had to perfect the art of ‘divide and rule’. They would ensure that when elections are nearing, propaganda would be circulated to divide the youth along ethnic lines. To some extent, these sentiments will often degenerate into pre- and post-election violence. The should-be united youth end up fighting each other, rather than their oppressors; squandering the opportunity of having one of their own in office to represent their needs.
Politicians have perfected the art of giving handouts to the youth since they know that many of them are jobless and desperate, and will fall for the trap. What the majority of these youth fail to understand is that these handouts are simply purchasing their democracy until the next election. The youth have betrayed themselves in the past, and are to blame for the poor conditions that face them. Even many enlightened young people often fall for this trap and therefore diminish the hopes of the youth ascending into political offices even further.
The majority of the youth today, in many states, tend to have adopted the negative culture from the political old guard. Many see leadership as an opportunity to steal from public coffers, to appoint relatives into offices and above all, to maintain the status quo of which they can become a beneficiary. The real values of true leadership are fast becoming eroded due to diminishing hopes for change.
Thus, in this ‘man eat man jungle’, the dominating phrase is ‘it’s our time to eat’ and the youth tend to be the weaker species, yet they have the potential to reverse this situation.
But although this painful truth prevails in major parts of the continent, young, sober leaders of integrity still exist. It will require them to unite and formulate a concrete strategy to better our Africa.