African leaders came together last week in the manner of a well-oiled enterprise dedicated to the art of futility. The African Peace Mission sought to make peace between Russia and Ukraine. They did well.
The mission trended across global news headlines. Mama, we made it! We can also do hard things of futility. Many Africans watched perplexed, wondering how our African peacemakers flew over the burning fires in Sudan, the latest war arena on the African continent.
The fighting in Sudan is now in its third month; last week, a governor from Sudan’s troubled Darfur region was killed in cold blood hours after he accused one of the warring sides of committing genocide. On June 17, as the mission posed for photos with the Russian president, 17 people including five children died in an airstrike in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
The United Nations estimates that over 1,000 people have been killed in the conflict and about two million displaced within the country with more than half a million seeking refuge outside Sudan.
So, yes, the much harder things that assail the African continent as detailed in last week’s article, Six African leaders posing for selfies in their burning backyards, continue unabated.
In 2019, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, our favorite national uncle and strong advocate of ‘Africa’s Time is Now’, made a rallying call. Kagame posited, “I have always thought it is Africa’s time, we Africans, we have let ourselves down. We are now realizing it is Africa’s time and we need to seize every opportunity to be where we should be...The advice, therefore, is simple; let’s do what we know we have to do.”
Are we doing what we know we have to do when our leaders step outside Africa to make peace as intractable fires blaze in our own backyards?
The African Peace Mission comprises the presidents of six African countries: Congo Brazzaville, Zambia, Senegal, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa. Like an afterthought, the Comoros president joined the mission in his capacity as chairperson of the African Union.
As the pictures of the African Peace Mission members trended, it could not be unseen. The old men in dark suits posturing for the likes and follows on the world stage. For whom does the African Peace Mission speak? The median age of the mission’s members is 68 years.
Last week, BBC Africa tweeted that 70 per cent of Africa’s population is under 30. Africa is the youngest continent with the oldest leaders - the median age of Africans is 19 years.
Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, believes in Africa’s young people. Ibrahim wrote in 2013 that young people are best equipped to identify and deliver fresh solutions in a world that is changing at breakneck speed.
Ibrahim noted that Africa’s aging leaders have little knowledge or interest in the dreams and aspirations of Africa’s youth – nor in passing on the reins of power.
In February this year, the world’s oldest leader celebrated his 90th birthday. Cameroonian president, Paul Biya, who reportedly rules remotely, preferring the soft life in Europe, has been at the helm for 41 years and shows no signs of slowing down even as his body fails him publicly.
Is the age of the leaders the problem or their long stay in office? Foras in Uganda, a youthful President Yoweri Museveni already answered that question. Museveni of yesteryears, brimming with revolutionary fervor and the pride of youth, said, "The problem of Africa in general and Uganda, in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power."
Perhaps now in hindsight, Museveni of today who has now lived long enough to morph from hero to ‘villain’ preserves his premium disdain for the unforgiving memory of the internet, which will not let his words rest.
What, do tell, is so unpalatable about leaders overstaying in power? Apparently, twin demons. A 2019 Forbes report noted, “The effectiveness of leaders decreased as they aged, thus contradicting the conventional view that leaders learn from their work and experience and become better. The report further stated older people are more likely to become arrogant and complacent, less likely to welcome the ideas of changing themselves or the system.”
The report christened arrogance and complacency as the ‘twin demons’ that commonly afflict senior leaders. No wonder aging leaders beset by these twin demons ignore such rude reports.
A January 2023 Forbes article impudently spells it out, “Leaders, like milk, become sour after they stay on the shelf for too long. Once a leader turns sour, the only way to maintain power is through bribes, intimidation, and violence.”
There you have it. Sour milk and twin demons. A truly unpalatable combination. Nevertheless, yes, let us go make nice between Russia and Ukraine - take a break from the sour milk of twin demons.
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu.