Time for those who have been in politics 'forever' to exit the scene


Isn’t it time the political leadership be handed over to young leaders? In the wisdom of Kim Stanley Robinson, an American science fiction writer, "There is always resistance [among men], always a drag on the movement toward better things."

The argument is that human beings are typically wired to resist change, even when such change assures them better life.

In democratic states, dictatorship has little to do with oppression. The visible symptom of dictatorship is when a leader overstays and delays to hand in the baton of power to others.

It is not that there is a problem with senior citizens. In the United States, former president Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017, at the age of 70 years. President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, at age 78.

President Bola Tinubu was sworn in as the 16th president of Nigeria on May 29 2023, at 71. Nelson Mandela of South Africa was inaugurated on May 10 1994, as the country's first black President at the age of 75. He is celebrated for not desiring to overstay in power.

My argument has nothing to do with these numbers because I will be guilty of political ageism if they do. One reason that made Mandela admirable was his lack of appetite for power, unlike his other African counterparts who wanted to stay till death did them apart.

In Kenya, we have had a stock of leadership that has been unwilling to give young people a chance. The other day, I went to seek services at a government office. While we were queuing, an administrator came along and said to me, "Mzee songa kidogo" (old man, give a little space). Eish! She just called me an old man! I was startled.

Then I asked myself, why is it that we are getting old and politicians are not? When I was in primary school in the 1990s, the politicians we are fronting for the 2027 general elections were all in Parliament. But why?

There are reasons why politicians over stay in politics. First, citizens are not usually willing to change them either. Sometimes, we are wont to keep what we call 'good' leaders.

This way, the people create for themselves an absolute leader who slowly and visibly turns out to be a tyrant.

Second, the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X (persons born between 1965 and 1980) have economic and political power and influence in their hands.

In the wake of the new millennium, when Generation Y (millennials) came of age, they found no jobs, no money, and no political space for them. They already found Generation X struggling to snatch power from Boomers, who, to date, are unwilling to hand in the baton of leadership to the next generation.

Since millennials are primarily bound in economic rat races—living from hand to mouth, from paycheck to paycheck. Those privileged to have jobs are weighed down economically; they work to service bank loans and pay heavy taxes. They own no businesses.

How can such a generation, if not supported, fund the usually expensive campaigns, while Boomers want to rule until they collapse? Isn’t that the tragedy of the 21st-century politics?

What new thing can persons who have been in politics for four decades bring? The fact that a leader is ‘good’ should not deny a generation an opportunity to rule.

If good leaders were supposed to stay, the US would have chosen to stay longer with former president Barrack Obama—a paragon of leadership and inspiration for the millennials and late Generation X.

It amazes me how characters who were on the ballots in the 1990s, when most Kenyans, now in their 40s, were at primary school level, still think they have something left.

We need to have more conversations around this issue. The young must be willing to take leadership, and the Boomers should find it safe to mentor the next generation of leaders.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, the Department of Mass Communication, at Kabarak University

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