Is African Leadership Too Old?

By Brandon Bailey

One of the scariest realities we have to face in Africa is that the face of leadership is getting older and older. This is true concerning church leadership, business leadership and political leadership. The largest and perhaps the oldest Pentecostal denomination in South Africa recently elected a new president who is over 60 years of age and he is supported by a deputy who is also over 60 years of age. The Sunday Times, a local newspaper in South Africa released their annual rich list. This list compromise of the movers and shakers in South African business and the average age was well over 60 years of age. The age of President Jacob Zuma the current president of South Africa is 74 years of age with his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa coming in at 64 years old, the pattern is consistent. In 2017 South Africa is still ruled by men who have been going at it for about three decades or more. Perhaps our challenges in South Africa and Africa have to do with an aging leadership that is still at the forefront of nations that is younger in terms of citizen representation and changing at an accelerated pace.

The challenge of age in Africa has more to do with our cultural upbringing that made older individuals leaders by default. In Africa people do not ascend leadership roles on the basis of their calling or competency; individuals ascend leadership roles because they grew old within the organisation. We pick leaders not on the basis of their relevance and competence; we pick them on the basis of their age. In Africa leadership is a reward and not a responsibility. African children in general grow up with a deep seated respect for the elders and as such will not challenge the standards and models of the elders lest they be labelled rebels and are marked as dishonourable. If we are going to shift Africa, we will have to sit down and have the sensitive dialogue of age, competence, relevance and transition across all spheres. The current condition of Africa demands that we abandon our insecurities and stop it with being oversensitive about critical issues. Young people will continue to exit organisations that exclude them from leadership and do not extend the power of decision making to them.

In South Africa we are witnessing a significant moment in politics where the two main opposition parties have young leaders in the hot seat. This is perhaps the reason why the influence and popularity of these two opposition parties continue to increase. It is led by individuals who speak the language of those going to the polls. Young people can identify with these leaders. A political organisation that does not make room for young people will lose significant ground and will eventually lose their seat of power. When we look at key historical political voices globally we will understand that change and revolutions are spearheaded by young and hungry individuals. Dr Martin Luther King was 34 years old when he delivered the famous “I have a dream speech”. Dr Nelson Mandela was in his late 30s when he rose to significance as a key political player against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The point is that we need young leaders to transition and initiate change in the nations, politically. Behind these young leaders we need elderly men that can watch over them and coach them from the bench.

In the church we are witnessing more and more emerging leaders exiting denominational structures and historical churches because they feel ignored and no longer have a sense of belonging in these organisations. Towards the end of last year I sat down with an emerging voice in one of the local denominations who aired his frustrations and made it clear that if things do not change he is leaving. This is not a rebellious young man who wants things to go his way. This is a solid young man who wants his local denominational church to get with the program. He feels that he is being ignored and considered irrelevant and insignificant in an organisation that is aging. In most of these types of churches instead of shifting the church, these aging leaders will come up with theories on rebellion and dishonour and search for a scapegoat who they can pin the mass exodus on. They are not willing to listen to their young people and they are not willing to change. For them blaming someone is much easier than making a radical shift. The church should stop throwing their young to the wolves’ period. ​

The elders must learn to trust those that God placed in their care as students. If we continue to have students who never graduate we will produce nothing but anarchy and this perpetual cycle will continue from one generation to the other. This must be the period in Africa where we join hands and build a seamless work from politics to business to church. We can no longer afford the luxury of growing old in office and in the process sabotage the organisation. We can no longer build an Africa where every generation starts with nothing because the fathers made sure they deplete everything in their lifetime. We must build and hand over an untainted work to the next generation of African leaders.