By Denrele Sobowale
“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”- African proverb.
The former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, died at the age of 80. There was an extraordinary outpouring of genuine heartfelt condolences the world over, and was indicative of the positive impact and legacy this consummate diplomat and man of peace left the world. He was first and foremost, an African but also a man of the world, a gentleman and an envoy of goodwill. Prior to his passing, he was very present on the world stage, used his position to set up a foundation to build bridges and helped shaped the lives of others- he showed great concerns of the state of the world and in particular, he had some advice for Africa leaders. Most importantly, he spoke directly to young people and their participation in leadership, that young people must rise up to take leadership positions. This man wanted the young people to aspire to greater height as any decent elder would. Kofi was a quiet intelligent man with dignity and vision.
According to him, he dispelled the myth that young people could not take key leadership positions in today’s world. Speaking at a youth conference in the Colombian city of Bogota last year he said: We need hope but also strong leadership. And this is where everyone must play a role. In societies emerging from conflict, it is up to each individual and institution to stress that which unites us over that which sets us apart.
“And let me repeat: you are never too young to lead and never too old to learn. So I call on the young generation to put its remarkable energy, insight and passion in the service of reconciliation and peace. The path is yours to construct and pursue.”
As an elder, he was handing down the baton and encouraging young people to take on the mantle of responsibility and leadership. Who better than Kofi Annan to show young people that they have the means and the potential to achieve greatness. A great person lifts others up and shows them the way and Kofi, in his quiet and very experienced manner, was generous and very wise.
He was very forward thinking and left no verbal stones unturned as he freely handed out invaluable gift of his lived experience: he spoke of the impact of climate change, political unrest in conflict areas around the world and the need to need to integrate global economies.
He was always very hopeful and offered solutions: “First, trust is the essential element for getting beyond conflict. It must be built, step-by-step, into a momentum of confidence that takes any peace process forward. I wish we take note, whatever dire situation we are in, we can get through the dire situation, like Kofi said, if Nigerians build step by step and engage in the peace process, progress is possible and everyone will benefit.
He reserved a number of his advice for African leaders and I mention this in my column in May.(see below) I wrote in: Time for change, May 2018.
Time to change the old guards, it is not cruel, it is simply a pragmatic and forward thinking to have younger people take the reins of power. The old chestnut simply won’t wash, that young people do not have experience, perhaps the realisation here is how will they have experience if they are not allowed to participate?
Forget the sleight of hand tactics, where-ever the old guards ‘retire’, and are replaced by their heir. It is a case of replacing old wine in new bottles. Nothing much changes. What the country needs and calls for is a new approach and thinking. It is lunacy to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results; this is why there is little shift in changing the narrative of the nation’s direction.
Now the big question is: are the young people ready? Nobody knows as they have not being tested but we need to take the leap of faith; we have tried everything else. Our former and illustrious politicians were young people once who not only fought for independence but they helped in building the nation and unbelievably, they were in their twenties and thirties. Having said that, what an incredible legacy they left: good education, functional governance, and they taught us to have ambition, to be stoic and passed on a healthy dose of moral compass. It was not a million years ago. We were a people of strong culture and with a sense of togetherness.
We are Nigerians and we need to rebuild our national moral backbone.
We have to build a better future for our children and their children to live in. It should be the aspirations of every adult or is it not?
The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, a young man himself is an exemplar new broom and unfortunately, he received the arrogant and belligerent reception from the old guards who refused to accept a young man in a major role. He has maintained dignity and earned respect both nationally and intentionally for opening and promoting the Yoruba culture.
The Ooni also lent his voice and called on government to give more to growing cultural value in the country, stressing that no nation grows without value for its cultural heritage and young people, he stressed that young people in the country make up 60 per cent of the country’s population, and the government needs to ensure that they were fully engaged; “Youths of this nation owns this country. This country does not belong to the leaders and elders of this nation. Let the youths takeover, go and rest and rest very well.”
He stated that it is about time for the youths to have a sense of ownership by rising up to what belongs to them naturally, saying, “Very soon, the youths would start claiming what belongs to them as this country does not belong to anybody else except the youths. “The youths of this country should please come and take charge. We should all come together and say enough is enough. You cannot tell us what we should be doing, we would tell you what we want you to do.” Admonishing Nigerians who make their money in the country and take such monies abroad to invest, the monarch said: “Stop making money in this land and continue to spend it outside the shores of this land. It is not good, it is not adding value to this nation, and it’s not making any impact in this nation.
“It is a big shame because you are not laying good example for the youths that own this country. You spend the money that you are making outside the land that is blessing you. Let us believe in this country, we do not have any other country or anywhere to go the Ooni said and rightly so. After all these decades, it has been same of same. It is really not getting anyone anywhere. The trouble of course is that the argument has been that the young are not ready? Seriously, when will there be time be for the young to let go of the apron string and go out?
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a recent speech alluded to the same; that the current poor politicians of Africa is as a result of old aged men in power. It was diplomatic of Kofi but it was said to inspire Africans to choose a younger and better men and women into power rather than old men.
He is right. He said: “Africa has great values to depend upon, Africa could be independent, but we have too many old men at the presidency, some are above 70yrs, and what do you expect them to do?”.
This is the fact that most African politicians must learn to retire at a minimum age of 70yrs, and the population must also refrain from choosing old men as leader, old does not mean leader material. Time to draw the line; old men should be chased before they step down, better still they should give way to younger and current ideas for the digital age. It is really their time”.
His words are more so relevant in the light of the coming general election. We should take heed and listen to Kofi who highlighted the role of elections and then five challenges that must be overcome to ensure them including strengthening the rule of law, professional and independent election bodies, stronger institutions, political equality and prevention of vote buying and bribery of candidates.