News 2008


Elderly African leaders should go

Daily Nation


06. March 2008

NOW THAT OUR LEADERS ARE agreeing to agree, there is one item they should add to the agenda that all Kenyans would love to see — an age limit for presidential and parliamentary candidates.

As constitutional amendments become the focus in the near future, Kenya should definitely borrow a leaf from Benin, whose constitution sets the age limit for presidential candidates at 70. I would strongly recommend that 65 years be the age limit for both presidential and parliamentary candidates in Kenya.

The retirement age for civil servants is 55 years. If we give our presidents and MPs 10 more years, it is only fair that they quickly achieve their goals for the country, then gracefully bow out and go home to take care of their own affairs.

“The highest destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule,” Albert Einstein said. But African leaders have failed to grasp this concept. They seek the path to power, preferring to rule rather than to serve.

As a result, they hang on to power long after they should have let go to allow younger, more agile, fresher and perfectly capable minds to take over the leadership responsibilities in a fashion in keeping with the times.

It is up to the younger crop of parliamentarians to push this agenda. Those already approaching, or in their 70s, are unlikely to be the sponsors or supporters of any agenda to lock themselves out of power. Only true statesmen and women will support such a proposition.

It will be an uphill task for our younger leaders, the likes of Uhuru Kenyatta, Wavinya Ndeti, Cecily Mbarire, and Ababu Namwamba, to come together and convince their elderly colleagues to graciously do the right thing.

The trend in Africa has been for presidents to hang onto the reins of power for as long as they can, and retirement has been a word beyond their vocabulary.

HERE IN KENYA, PRESIDENT JOMO Kenyatta’s 15-year rule was immediately followed by President Moi’s 24 years in power. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years, recently attended his 84th birthday celebrations and launched his re-election bid.

He indicated he was feeling as fit as ever to continue with his presidential duties. Only time will tell whether he was joking or serious when he said he would like to remain in power until he is 100.

However, the trend is changing, slowly but surely, in Africa. Botswana’s President Festus Mogae will retire on March 31 without fuss when his constitutional 10-year term comes to an end.

He will be in the excellent company of a few African presidents including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Mali’s Alpha Konare, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano and Tanzania’s Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa.

These leaders ascended to power through non-violent means and led their countries honourably. Mandela and Chissano were constitutionally eligible to stand for re-election but chose not to.

There is life after presidency. Retirement of a president does not mean that he goes home to herd goats, though that is an option for the willing.

Let our ageing leaders realise that they have a role to play in advocacy on the very grave issues facing Africa today, including HIV and Aids, conflict mediation and peace-building.

Come 2012, there would be no greater pleasure than for President Kibaki, Mr Odinga, and other older parliamentarians to join the ranks of retired African statesmen and leave those leadership positions to younger men and women.