By Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Governance, leadership and democracy are on the march in Africa. This is great news but there is still a long way to go, and no room for complacency.
Participation in the democratic process is one of the most improved areas measured by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. But according to current available data, democratic participation is still mainly assessed by the ability to hold “free and fair executive elections”. This is not enough anymore. In this world of global, immediate information, of growing social networks, of uprisings and street occupations, we must, together, think about offering new, contemporary versions of democracy, which are not simply confined to elections and the culture of “winner takes all”.
A few months ago the Ibrahim Prize Committee chose to award the 2014 Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba. Commenting on its choice, the Committee described a quiet and humble leader who wisely chose to deepen and widen democracy and development in a young country just coming out of transition and the fight for freedom. President Pohamba takes his place alongside a strong cohort of role models for our young continent. In Mandela, Africa can claim one of the outstanding leaders of our time. Joaquim Chissano, Festus Mogae and Pedro Pires, all former winners of the Ibrahim Prize, can each also point to their support for democracy, concern for their people and a remarkable record of achievement in most difficult circumstances. But there are still some leaders who do not govern in the interest of their citizens, who rig elections or refuse to step down at the end of the constitutional term, who have blood on their hands or have diverted national wealth into their own bank accounts.
In this march to strengthen democracy and governance we also need to close the gap between young people and their leaders. Africa’s greatest resource is the energy and talents of its youth. The young generation is becoming the overwhelming majority, the one that is going to vote… or not. We must not let it lose faith in “democracy”. Here lies one of our greatest challenges for the future. All too often, our young people find themselves devoid of economic prospects and political voice. Political power lies in the hands of ageing leaders with little knowledge or understanding of the ambitions and concerns of younger generations. In many countries, if young people find themselves increasingly locked out of decision-making and debate, the danger is they will turn their backs on the political process. Frustration can then easily turn to anger and violence.
We need to find ways of listening to our young people, our citizens’ majority. It is their potential, after all, which will decide our continent’s future. Let’s not waste it.
This article was previously published in the Mo Ibrahim foundation’s May 2015 newsletter. Reproduced with permission from the organization. Edited by Kemi Osukoya.