ISSUES | Why Africa’s Youths Are ‘Conspiring’ With Old Leaders – By Ohimai Godwin Amaize
By Ohimai Godwin Amaize
Over the past few years, the world has witnessed a radical shift in the emergence of new economic and socio-political paradigms. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring and more recently, Brexit, the hunger for change continues to define and redefine the quest for a new world order.
At the heart of the revolution sweeping across the world is the power of youth, further accentuated by the explosion of new media.
Several analysts have made attempts to establish the argument of ‘youth frustration’ with ‘bad governance’ as the key driving factors for the dramatic switch from younger to septuagenarian democracies. But the argument is not exactly that straightforward. There are deeper dynamics at play; the conspiracy of the power elite, illiteracy, and poverty.
First, let us appraise the concept of elite conspiracy. In the Nigerian context and by extension, across the African continent, politics is still largely in the hands of the resident power elite, usually less than 1 percent of the electorate. They are the governors, senators, ministers, former governors, former senators, former ministers, former military heads of state and former presidents. This bloc of power brokers is organised around a cabal of kingmakers who determine the nation’s political future. Within this cabal are recycled leaders who refuse to vacate the political scene for emerging younger and more competent leaders. In the case of Nigeria, some of them have been in power since 1960 and are the ones so famously referred to by the late great African music legend, Fela Anikuplapo-Kuti in his song, Army Arrangement.
Whereas in Nigeria, young people under 30 account for nearly 60 percent of the population, that numerical strength does not amount to real electoral power. The reason is simple. The major political parties that control the political structure with enough resources to run a general election campaign are in the firm grip of the power elite. This power elite control the political party machinery and determine the candidates that are presented to the electorate for validation on election day. The implication of this set-up is a prevailing paradox where the real power brokers are not the electorate but those who control the processes that produce the candidates in the first place.
In the course of marketing their choice candidate(s) to the electorate, youth participation is then mobilised across two categories; the more enlightened elite youth class and the uneducated youth. Some of the elite youths are recruited as consultants and celebrity advocates to package, re-package and promote old, archaic and unsalable candidates to their various youth constituencies where they wield considerable influence as opinion shapers. The second category of youths often ends up as political thugs for electoral malpractices.
At the end of the day, the worst candidates win elections not based on any sound development blueprint but more interestingly, based on who is best able to mobilise the greatest political capital available to the power elite; money, media, and propaganda.
Second, illiteracy and lack of sound education continue to constitute critical barriers to the emergence of an informed electorate. 85 percent of public schools in Nigeria have been classified by the government as failing. With Nigeria’s illiteracy rate standing at over 50 percent, what this means is that the absence of an informed electorate creates the existence of a political context where the worst candidates can emerge and waltz into the corridors of power with little or no scrutiny about their programmes, policies, pedigree and antecedents.
In the case of Nigeria and Ghana, the then opposition candidates, Muhammadu Buhari (74) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Nana Akufo-Addo (72) of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) won their elections despite refusing to participate in presidential debates. Comparatively, it is not likely that any of the two leading presidential candidates in the 2016 US presidential elections would have dared to shun presidential debates and get away with such brazen slap on the faces of the electorate. There would have been questions; from an inquiring and informed electorate.
Worse still, illiteracy serves as a potent breeding haven for poverty; the third critical factor responsible for the resurgence of Africa’s timeworn leaders. At a 62 percent poverty rate, Nigeria’s population parades an electorate that is easily a willing tool in the manipulative hands of the power elite. Voters are compromised with as little as branded bags of rice, clothing material and cooking salt.
For Nigeria and by extension, Africa’s power elite, maintaining a solid grip on political power, notwithstanding the quality of candidates imposed on the electorate, is a game of political survival anchored on the existence of a people perpetually enslaved by sheer poverty and illiteracy.
Ohimai Amaize is a Nigerian media personality, political strategist and publisher. He served in the Nigerian government from 2011-2015. He is the Coordinator of the Ghana At Work project. He tweets at @MrFixNigeria.
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