Does Africa Need a Presidential Age Limit?

In an article published by BBC News Magazine, Ruth Alexander, suggests that it is unlikely for a president to die while in office. She goes on to state that this has occurred 13 times worldwide since 2008. Of these 13 leaders, 10 have been from Africa.  This seemingly large discrepancy may be attributed to the age of many presidents on the African continent.

If one had to calculate the average age of just five of the current African presidents ranging from highest to lowest; President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is 90, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 77, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma is 72, Uhuru Kenyatta President of Kenya is 52 and Malian President Moussa Mara is 39. This works out to an average of 66 years of age. All the members of this sample have been elected in the past two years. The difference in age between Robert Mugabe and Moussa Mara, the oldest and youngest African presidents, is a staggering 51 years. Robert Mugabe also became the oldest president to be in elected in Africa last year at the age of 89 while Joseph Kabila became president of The Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, age 29.

Across the continent people such as Kwaku Obosu-Mensah, from GhanaWeb, feel that the older generation are wiser. Our varying cultures have uniformly deemed their significance as knowledge bearers and custodians of wisdom, and it is perhaps for this reason that many of our national leaders are well above commonly accepted ages of retirement.

While this may not be a bad thing, the physical ailments that seem to plague many of Africa’s leaders are a cause for concern. According to an article published in the New York Times, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a minor stroke and there is now a much greater chance of him suffering another, more harmful, stroke in future. This has created uncertainties about whether or not he is fit to lead. Dr George Leeson, a gerontologist from the University of Oxford, explains.

“African presidents, before they have been elected, will have led a relatively disadvantaged life, and disadvantageous lifestyle, and that will impact on their life expectancies at subsequent ages,” he says.

“So once they get into the presidential office, even though they will be living a lifestyle far far far removed from their fellow citizens, which would increase their life expectancy in relation to those fellow citizens, they do have an accumulated disadvantageous lifestyle which they have to pay back on at some time.”

And while this may not be the case for all African presidents, this statement certainly alludes to a situation many face. These health concerns are not the only threat to administrative stability.  Many people also fear that people above the age of 70 are not as open to change and that perhaps in the digital age we need a presidential age limit.

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