The world’s youngest continent has the oldest leaders – here’s what the diaspora can help to do about it

The African continent is home to the youngest population on earth, with an average age of 19.5. Yet, young people across the continent have been largely excluded from active participation in politics while those who Wole Soyinka terms as Africa’s leadership of “sick old men” cling to power.

The average age of an African president is 62.

On the 14th of January, Uganda, the African nation with the 2nd youngest population went to the polls.

Official counts suggest the election was won by Yoweri ‘M7’  Museveni, the country’s 76 year old leader who infamously changed the Ugandan constitution to remove term limits, allowing him to hold on to power indefinitely. But popular opposition leader Bobi Wine has alleged foul play, and, for 11 days after the election placed him on house arrest, closely guarded by the police and military who have reportedly stopped everyone from diplomats to journalists entering the compound.

Yoweri Museveni, the 4th longest (currently) serving African president, had never designated a successor within his party, and signed a law removing a presidential age limit of 75, allowing him to run again for the presidency in 2017. Uganda has never seen a peaceful handover of power – Museveni came to power after participating in the overthrow of Idi Amin, a history that the vast majority of the nation’s young population weren’t even alive to witness.    

Bobi Wine, who is 38, continues to contest the election results, tweeting last Wednesday : “Nigerian human rights lawyer Femi Falana has filed this complaint on my behalf to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Arrest. We are challenging my continued illegal confinement by the Ugandan police and the military!” While his house arrest has since ended, several of his election team members and supports remain detained.

Uganda is home to more than 42 million people, and borders Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It hosts around 1.4 million refugees from neighbouring countries – one of the highest numbers in the world. This has placed an even brighter spotlight on the nation’s affairs as an unstable Uganda will undoubtedly have an impact on its neighbours.

But what has taken place in Uganda is part of a wider problem. Take the case of Guinea, for example. Late last year a similar scene played out in the west African nation when president Alpha Condé was re-elected after initially coming to power in 2010.

A 2017 poll from Afrobarometer showed that 82 per cent of Guineans were in favour of a two-term limit for presidents.

 Despite this, Alpha Condé, who turned 82 in March, proposed a new constitution allowing presidents two renewable six-year terms. There was little room made for public review or comment on the constitution and Condé has effectively reset his term-count to zero as the new constitution isn’t retroactive. This means he could possibly see a further term after the current one, totalling four terms in power.

Scores of Guineans have complained about the election, with some at the time calling for a general strike in protest of the results.

Countless examples exist like this. Surveys reveal that African populations by and large want to see an end to strong man rule and reject abandoning multiparty elections.

With this being the will of the people at home, voices such as Bobi Wine have shared their thoughts on what role the African diaspora and others can play in bringing about the end of this injustice:

“If Museveni steals another election on Thursday, we hope that good people of conscience around the world will hold him and this regime accountable”, he wrote in an almost prophetic piece for Foreign Affairs just a day before Uganda went to the polls.

The Ugandan diaspora have been raising awareness with protests in the USA, Tanzania’s ACT party leader has issued a statement in support of Bobi Wine and democracy and everyone from afrobeats star Davido to Diamond Platinumz have spoken out. Uganda’s High Court ordered an end to Bobi Wine’s house arrest, declaring it unconstitutional and illegal. Young Africans across the continent are taking a stand against attempts to diminish their voices and role in defining the futures of their respective countries. But if the wider phenomenon of youth exclusion in politics and elderly presidents extending terms is to finally be brought to an end, better harnessing the collective voice of the African diaspora to support efforts at home could help ensure a complete governance overhaul.

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