Ntata’s Uncommon Sense: African political leadership, the quest for youth participation

Contrary to what many analysts have argued, the absence of youthful leaders in African politics is not entirely because authoritarian dictators have persistently marginalised and excluded them, and blocked them from becoming influential in political circles; but because to a large extent, the youth themselves are to blame.

Youth are largly  cheer leaders in major parties

At the global level, there seems to be an understanding that youth are significant dividends of the global population, such that they need to be included in every decision-making process. They are also recognized as key agents of socio-economic and political movers of the society.

The argument made by the experts, however, is that despite this fact, on the ground, youth are marginalized and excluded from the political and important decision making processes. It is contended that this is truer in Africa than elsewhere in the world, and that most politicians in Africa are failing to recognize this basic concern of the continent.

As a member of the larger body of African youth myself, however, and having had the opportunity to participate at the highest levels of leadership in Africa, as well as taking the time to critically and intellectually analyse the problem, I submit that only part of the blame can truly be placed on Africa’s ageing strongmen. I submit that there are two equally if not more important factors that are contributing to the absence in participation of youth in African leadership.


The modern generation of younger Africans that should now be taking the lead in political leadership positions in Africa lacks the risk-taking mentality and the patriotic resolve that characterised the past generations- the generations of the sisties that are now what we call Africa’s old and ageing leaders.

That spirit of the likes of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah and many others whose contemporaries can even now be found in leadership positions in Africa is missing. This can probably be explained in the fact those for the African political pioneers who fought for independence, political participation was inevitable because of the lack of personal growth and development opportunities that the colonial regimes they fought against presented.

It was a difficult time for the likes of Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta to come back to their countries after studying abroad, only to find limited employment and personal development opportunities for themselves and their countrymen, because the best opportunities were reserved for the colonialists. The poverty they saw and experienced, the ominous outlook for the future and the lack of promise for political participation that the colonial established led them to only one option- to take on the system and try to change it for the better- for themselves as well as on behalf of their countrymen.

When you consider the modern potential African leaders, however, with global opportunities at their feet once they have obtained their degrees and diplomas, the necessity for rocking the boat for patriotic reasons seems a risk not worth taking. In spite of the repression and obvious need of younger and fresher ideas in the political sphere all across Africa, the potential African young leader prefers to let things be because, it seems, the risk associated with entering politics just do not seem worth it. After all, political opposition in Africa is often subjected to repression and persecution, and in many cases results in great harm to self and even death. For the older generation, to whom this kind of risk -aking has been a part of their fabric, this is not a problem. Hence they are happy to take the risk of going into politics. But to the younger generation, the idea of being persecuted or facing the potential of death just because one wants to try and create a better country for one’s countrymen is just to far out there.

Selfishness and a Comfort Zone Mentality

Speak to many leading African minds about why they do not join politics and contest political positions and a theme emerges. Many of these are successful in their careers and as far as their livelihoods are concerned, they are not struggling. They are able to feed and provide for their families, and even educate their children abroad in many cases. Thus while they are happy to point out where the old politicians are going wrong, and condemn, often rightly so, the bad policies or authoritarian tendencies of their governments, the idea that part of the solution may lie in them entering the political arena and becoming involved just isn’t considered.

It is also a fact that many of the so-called young brilliant African minds, instead of staying at home and participating in finding solution to the continent’s problems, they prefer to live and work abroad and cast their critical eye over their home countries from afar. In my own country Malawi, the sad truth is that many brilliant minds are employed not in Malawi but is the United States of America and in Europe. There are more qualified Malawian doctors working in the United Kingdom than those working in Malawi for example. Instead of going back and getting down and dirty to oust the regimes they criticise, they are more comfortable with the lives they are leaving elsewhere, and consider that the best they can do about assisting their countries is to bemoan the ageing African political leaders for destroying the continent.

Towards Rethinking The Problem

I certainly agree with the general assertion that adopting a youth-inclusive legal framework is an essential and primary step in mainstreaming the youth in the political aspects of a country.  Youth need be empowered to actively participate in the economic and political areas. The first step in empowering youth should start from the employment creation and integrating them into entrepreneurial activities whereby they would think then about how they will impact the inclusive political momentum of their country.

The question to consider, however, is whether all these excellent ideas will be achieved through persuading old politicians who have historically shown their unwillingness to share power orto empower the youth to suddenly have a change of heart. I have serious reservations about this approach.I also have serious reservations with all studies and recommendations that rely on the presupposition that current African leaders are interested in promoting youth, but they just do not know how, or that they just do not know the importance of youth empowerment, and that all they need is to be educated on this point.

In my view, the heart of the matter is in convincing the youth themselves; especially the successful accomplished once living in various comfort zones of being employed abroad or in the African private sector to hear the call of a desperate continent crying out for their participation.

Clearly the old African political leaders we all condemn and criticise will not handover the reigns of power willingly and quietly.  The solution then, lies in African youths getting past their cowardice and the selfishness where politics are concerned, and sounding out a general call to arms to overthrow an octogenarian political leadership culture.

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4 years ago

This is where CSO’s, CAMA, Ministry of Civic Education, Labour, Private Sector and MEC should spend most of their energies educating the youth on politics (civic education), if Malawi is to lift itself from abject poverty and graduate from being the poorest country in the world. It used to be that Civics was part of primary school curriculum in the 80’s and if it isn’t, then Min of Education should reintroduce it. The proposed widespread civic education should target the young voters including those that are in the villages especially the uneducated (between the two groups they account for excess… Read more »

4 years ago

SEE Genesis 47 verse 40 -……………. and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Let them be ware we were not created to oppressed!!!

4 years ago

You are talking – most of us Malawians we are pre occupied with self preservation. But we need to remember that power is too sweet to let go. We need a handful of Chilembwes, Chakufwa Chihanas or Nelson Mandelas or these Comrades will continue to party.

4 years ago

Son of a poor man!!

4 years ago
Reply to  Kaitano

You are not poor but may be you lack the know how of turning your gifting into wealth. read books on wealth formation sir.

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