Africa: The next generation, hope and despair
12 months ago, 3 Jan 20:08
The disparity between the advanced ages of many African leaders and the youthful populations over which they preside is remarkable: The average age of African heads of state is currently 65, about 10 years older than the average age of current European Union heads of state or US presidents on election. The demographic pressures that come from below have undoubtedly been influencing how political leaders respond to the demands of their citizens. With one of Africa’s longest-standing and oldest leaders, Robert Mugabe, now swept from power in Zimbabwe (as we anticipated in RiskMap 2017), it is a timely moment to ask how political leadership is changing in response to these pressures and who will emerge in the next generation. Political transitions can be unsettling, but are likely to become more common. Anticipating and preparing for how they will affect business is essential for success in 2018 and beyond. “The problems of Africa, and Uganda in particular, are caused by leaders who overstay in power, which breeds impunity, corruption and promotes patronage,” declared Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his inaugural speech in 1986. Thirty-one years later and the septuagenarian has become the poster child for third-termist presidents on the continent. Since 2000, 15 African leaders have tried to remain in power by changing their countries’ constitutions to do away with presidential term or age limits. Considering how term limits and other principles of political competition apply in practice, reveals the extent to which nominally democratic systems are open to manipulation. Leaders intent on furthering their rule almost inevitably strike unwritten bargains to advance the interests of a narrow political, business, military or ethnic elite as a means of staying in power. Transitions don’t have to be quite so messy. One preferred option among ruling parties in dominant-party systems has been to select a non-threatening consensus candidate to balance different factional interests within a broad tent. The logic goes that a consensus candidate will help the party to heal divisions that have emerged during succession tussles, and preserve its dominance of the political space. While such candidates — Hailemariam Desalegn in Ethiopia, Filipe Nyusi in Mozambique, João Lourenço in Angola — owe their selection to the party apparatus, they have often proved bolder than expected. Hailemariam has mustered his own political clout, significantly reshuffling his Cabinet in November 2016 to increase ethnic diversity and add technocrats, following months of often violent protests. As he attempts to widen his support base, power is shifting within the ruling alliance, a development fraught with stability risks. The headline change in Angola in 2017 was seismic, given that former president José Eduardo dos Santos spent 38 years in power, but change within the country’s colossal power structures was expected to be slower. However, Lourenço has proven willing to challenge the dos Santos dynasty, removing the former president’s daughter as head of the national oil company. He has also pledged to tackle the monopolies that dominate sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy, paving the way for more significant changes ...
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