Twenty-three-year-old Emma Theofelus has been appointed as Namibia’s deputy minister of information, communication, and technology. The former youth activist has stepped into a leadership role at a difficult time, having to help communicate preventive steps against COVID-19 to the public. She also embodies a growing number of younger Africans taking leadership roles.
A Youthful Continent
Africa is the only region in the world where the youth demographic—those younger than twenty-four—is growing; it is expected to increase by about 50 percent in the next three decades. A report released by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation projects that Africa’s youth population will reach 945 million by 2050.
These leaders are largely out of touch with the present needs and concerns of their constituents.
The Elders Still Rule
Conversely, African heads of state continue to be well into their late sixties, seventies, and eighties, and many cabinet members are similarly picked from the older generation. Many of these leaders attained political prominence for their involvement in decolonization efforts or independence wars, as was the case for Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe and Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos.
This preference for liberation heroes is understandable, but these leaders are largely out of touch with the present needs and concerns of their constituents, the majority of whom have no memory of the colonial era. And in a number of cases these leaders, driven by a desire to maintain their hold, resort to changing their countries’ constitutions to erase term limits or lift age restrictions for political office.
It is time for young people like Emma Theofelus to take leadership roles in government. Fresh ideas, youthful energy, and knowledge of technology are essential for peace and sustainable development on the continent. And more representative of the young population, too.