Sunday, November 4, 2012

The political future of Africa post crocodiles

Str8talkchronicles reports

Africa’s gerontocracy isn’t going to last much longer

TMS Ruge 
                                                 Cartoon Godfrey Mwampembwa Radio Netherlands Worldwide 

At 68, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is nearly five decades older than his country’s newly sworn-in MP Proscovia Alengot Oromait, who wasn’t even born when her head of state was first elected to office 26 years ago. When a 19-year old girl gets voted into Uganda’s parliament by a majority of voters barely older than she is, is it too early to start speculating on the demise of the rest of Africa’s leaders, who tend to be two generations older than their voters? 

I wrote about  Proscovia Alengot Oromait a few weeks back though actually it was more about giving Henry Sekanjako a bit of a wind up for his reporting. TSM Ruge has pointed to the issue that I have overlooked on this blog, not the aging crocodiles currently running ruining Africa ( you would have to be blind deaf and dumb  and suffer from more than a few other major health issues to miss that ) but the massive age gap between them and their constituents.

Recently, Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz at the Center for Global Development published “The Generation Chasm,” which studied the difference between the average ages of the citizens of countries and the ages of their leaders – and discovered that Africa had by far the largest gap, an amazing 43.3 years (Europe and North America, by contrast, have only 16.2 years between the ages of leaders and voters). This led them to speculate whether the staggering generation gap was a factor in the spread of the Arab Spring unrest – and whether it might provoke further sudden regime changes in Africa.

That is a huge question and clearly from my perspective I would like the answer to be yes. A lot of Africa's troubles today can be laid at the feet of the west. We have over the last few centuries nicked everything we could get our hands on, be it at its most atrocious Africa's people to fuel the slave trade, it's mineral wealth to fund western economic expansion or its land and bio-diversity. We have done this by perverting the basic truth that all humanity now knows to be true through genetics but we knew it before genetics confirmed it. 

We are in this together, we are humanity and humanity doesn't come in different biological / sociological  classes only by perverting this truth is it possible to feed greed, to justify what has been centuries of injustice. By the middle of the last century Africa had made it fairly clear the game was up and bowing to the inevitable with varying degrees of grace disgrace the west left bring about what I refer to as the " Era of the Crocodile "  and I discovered in Peter Godwin's memoir on Zimbabwe. 

"In some remote villages of Zimbabwe,
it is believed that a solar eclipse occurs
when a crocodile eats the sun.
This celestial crocodile, they say,
briefly consumes our life-giving star
as a warning that he is much displeased
with the behavior of man below.
It is the very worst of omens."

In a discussion with a Congolese friend we talked about the theory that the west left Africa to early, before we had had a chance to develop a solid middle class, infrastructure, democracy and as I have said ushered in the Crocodiles, the point is mute but how many more centuries would it of taken us ?  

At the heart of the Arab Spring was a disgruntled youth class seeking democratic representation and economic participation. Remember Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation launched the uprisings? He didn’t set himself ablaze because he had a smart phone. His self-immolation was his last desperate attempt to bring attention to his economic exclusion. His peers in the region sympathized and, almost overnight, Tunisia and the political landscape of most of Northern Africa changed. It was a signal that Africa’s ruling class was under siege.

On one end Mr. Bouazizi, aged 26, represented Africa’s emerging youth class, an impatient demographic eager to upend the status quo (he was only five years younger than the median Tunisian). On the other, deposed dictator Ben Ali, age 76, stood as a breed of elder statesmen – disconnected from the needs of populations, and facing extinction.

The question of course being would the events in North Africa translate to sub-Saharan Africa ?

If ever there was a demographic equivalent to the Marianas Trench, it is the chasm between Africa’s median age and that of its rulers. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 41 per cent of Africa’s billion citizens are under the age of 15. There are almost as many youth on the continent as the combined population of Canada, United States and Mexico. In all, a staggering 70 per cent of the population is under 30.

The leaders, however, almost all fall within oldest 3 per cent of Africa’s population, those over the age of 65. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (88) and Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki (80) are among the many leaders who are defying the continent’s average life expectancy of 58.

It is amazing what an ability to raid the public purse and the access to western medical care can do for life expectancy.

Mr. Moss and Ms. Majerowicz found that 20 of the 30 countries with the widest population gap were African, and no African state made it to the list of top 30 countries with the smallest population gap. That Africa’s ruling class is only represented in the oldest 3 per cent of the continent’s population both worries and excites me.

It is clear that Africa’s gerontocracy isn’t going to last much longer. The worry, echoed by others, is that there’s a shallow pool of experienced candidates to fill the transition gap.

The real worry in my view is the hereditary interpretation of democracy that the leadership of Africa ascribes to. The " shallow  pool " I suspect is a function of that interpretation of democracy.

The excitement is in the massive opportunity this presents to Africa’s youth. Where it previously took a lifetime of political gamesmanship to get and maintain a seat in government, one can now just run for office. If not by election, then the omni-present potential of more youth revolts shouldn’t be ruled out. It is no longer a matter of if, but when.

That some what paradoxically brings us back to Proscovia Alengot Oromait whilst her father was an independent she represents the ruling party so I suspect my hereditary worries have some validity. Yes she was elected and it is not unusual for the children of former politicians in the west to enter the political fray but usually there is a gap. The other question is of course selection, if selection as a candidate is limited to the offspring of the current political elites has democracy been advanced ?

Then we have the issue that TSM Ruge finds exciting but I contend is actually a worry. I would argue that politicians need life experience 15 to 20 years in the real world is invaluable be it business, academia, media, teaching etc. Part of the problem Africa faces is that so many of its rulers came to power or are direct successors to the leadership that arrived via revolution. Superior gun power is not really a great argument for political legitimacy.
Africa is in the midst of a renaissance. The telecommunications sector is on pace to have as many mobile phones on the continent as there are people by 2016. A highly educated and vocal diaspora is contributing its intelligence to the online human archive via social media and fuelling the continent’s economy to the tune of $50-billion in annual remittances. A smattering of African countries head the list of top 10 fastest growing economies in the world. And let’s not overlook the fact that 300 million Africans are knocking on the door to middle-class status.

Which brings me to yet another point probably worthy of a blog in its own right and again Uganda provides the current example. From the BBC 

Uganda has delayed plans to switch off "fake" mobile phones until 1 July 2013.

The crackdown - which is designed to prevent counterfeit handsets connecting to local networks - had originally been planned to come into effect this month.

Kenya implemented a ban in October disconnecting millions of devices.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has suggested about 30% of East Africa's 17 million mobiles are illegitimate copies of popular brands and models.

Why the fuck would you ? Is this a recognition by the leaders of Africa that they need to control the spread of ideas ? Is it just a far more mundane agreement to screw over there citizens on behalf of Nokia,Sanyo all. in return for a large backhander?

The point I find myself in total agreement TSM Ruge is the value to Africa of the African diaspora. I blogged on Togo a couple of weeks back on the value to Africa of the diaspora.

 Another point that is worth reflecting on is the African diaspora and the influence that the people of the diaspora will exert on Africa as they start moving into positions of power Alex Engwete addresses a recent manifestation of this phenomena although one need only look at the White House for a more obvious example. "strong institutions not strong men" is the Obama policy with regard to Africa.The era of the crocodile's is drawing slowly but inevitably to a close.

Africa’s rebirth is supplanting the traditionally slow path of development with a fight for relevance in the fast-shrinking global village. Leapfrogging obsolescence is the order of the day. As such, Africa’s political landscape is ripe for a sudden tectonic shift.

The winds of change are indeed blowing over the continent and the challenge for the west is to support change that benefits Africans not our bloated business sectors. We also need to keep China honest. That is not a paranoid knee jerk reaction China represents a significant opportunity as well as a threat to China.

The ascension of Ms. Oromait to Uganda’s parliament has been met with disdain from her seasoned counterparts. The fact that a 19-year old was voted into office has shocked the cabal of grey-haired MPs wondering what has become of the political landscape.

The teeth-sucking derision from sitting MPs at the youngster in their midst is outward acknowledgment that the dam has broken. After all, 45 per cent of Uganda’s 32 million citizens are under 25. It was only a matter of time before they started poking at the political seams.

The next few years will be interesting indeed. The links in TMS Ruge's article are well worth a look.

TMS Ruge is the co-founder of Project Diaspora, an organization dedicated to mobilizing, engaging, and motivating Africa’s diaspora to engage the continent. He is also the host of the Digital Continent Podcast, an interview show telling the stories of key innovators and entrepreneurs whose work is shaping the digital economies of Africa.

Just spotted this worth a look.


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