A video that surfaced this week of President Paul Biya of Cameroon while at the US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington DC last month, surprisingly hasn’t gone viral as it should. The video of Biya on the stage as it was his turn to speak soon after President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had spoken, showed a listless, absent-minded, confused and unaware of his environment Biya. He kept asking his aides where he was and who was in the room and when they told him and gave him his speech, he was flipping the papers, farted more than once, and with his body fitted with a microphone, everyone could hear the sound, and was asking more questions indicating that he had no idea where he was nor what he was doing there.
Biya is 89 years old. Has been Head of State for more than 40 years. Lived in Switzerland in all those times more than he has lived in Cameroon. Looking at his age, he might be suffering from dementia. He is in no doubt senile. And for someone in that state, he is obviously unfit to govern, and while at it, there’s an internal conflict going on in Cameroon, with citizens being abducted, killed and going missing, including journalists. Recently, the decomposing body of a popular radio journalist, Martinez Zogo who went missing after he was abducted was found.
In his condition therefore, Biya’s inability to govern is not in question, so who is running Cameroon?
Cameroon’s President 89-year-old Paul Biya was completely unaware of where he was at the US Africa Leaders Summit.
He mostly lives in Switzerland.
He has been the President since 1982, and was the Prime Minister from 1975 to 1982. pic.twitter.com/9hHpGN7VGz
— Africa Facts Zone (@AfricaFactsZone) January 21, 2023
The case of Cameroon isn’t different from many African countries. In Zimbabwe, the Late Robert Mugabe as President was very advanced in age. When Mugabe died in 2019, he was 95 years old. He had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, and was ousted by his own henchmen in 2017, when he was 93 years old.
In Gabon, 63-year-old Ali Bongo has been ill. Down with stroke, he is evidently unable to run the affairs of government, but he is still in office. Unfit to run the country because of his condition, Bongo has appointed his eldest son Noureddin Bongo as “coordinator of presidential affairs” to assist the father run the country. Bongo had taken over from his Late father Omar Bongo, who had ruled the country for 42 years. He died in 2009 at the age of 73.
Some two weeks ago, journalists working for state media in South Sudan were arrested when a video of President Salva Kirr appeared on the Internet. In the video, Kirr had wet himself in public while performing a public duty.
There is Teodoro Mbasogo of Equitorial Guinea, who at 80 years old, has been in charge of his country for 43 years, making him the longest serving Head of State in the world.
Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana is 78 years old, and by the time he ends of his second term in office, he would be almost 80 years old.
Nigeria’s Mohammadu Buhari is 80 years old, and as he nears the end of his tenure as president, two of the contenders to the office are in their 70s. Bola Tinubu is 70 years old and Abubakar Atiku is 76.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is 77 years old. He became president after the death of Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Bouteflika died in 2021 at the age of 84 after running Algeria for 40 years.
At the age of 78, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been in office for 38 years and still counting.
The age of the men running countries in Africa paints a gloomy picture of the continent where the youth make up more than 60 per cent of the population and projected to reach more than 850 million by 2050.
With a large number of their populations being youth, the unexplained reality of people advanced in age being presidents in African countries and the sum total of the impacts of their leadership need critical examination.
With more than 60 per cent of its arable land untouched, Africa countries are susceptible to food insecurity, and could be affected by a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. A continent endowed with most of the world’s precious metals, oil and gas still has some of the largest percentages of its citizens unemployed and living in poverty – forcing many to take dangerous trips to Europe with the hope of finding meaningful lives.
There is evidence that most institutions of governance and accountability don’t work as they should, in most African countries. Most of these leaders, including those elected by popular votes are more autocratic, corrupt and inept, and yet they systems are unable to hold them in check. Most African presidents do as they like, they abuse their offices, power and citizens and walk free, in most cases, even after they leave office.
It is high time Africans put in the spotlight the subject of the age of people they hand the running of their countries to.
By Emmanuel K Dogbevi
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