When it comes to age and leadership, I am always reminded of two controversial statements.
By KWENDO OPANGA
One was made by a sitting American president at a serious, globally watched public function.
The other is often uttered casually around the world by many an ordinary folk in many a public arena.
Rewind to the 1996 presidential debate between incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole.
President Clinton was 50 and Mr Dole was 73.
Age immediately became a factor in the contest.
When asked if he thought his challenger was too old to be president, Mr Clinton responded that he believed the Republican was qualified to be president. But, he said, he was worried about the age of Mr Dole’s ideas. Count me in Mr Clinton’s corner.
Fast forward to the present and you will have recently heard, or are about to hear it said, that age is just a number.
Age is, indeed, conveyed by a number but, it is that number that is the story because numbers have surface and deeper meanings.
Now over to Zimbabwe, the governing Zanu-PF last week officially declared President Robert Gabriel Mugabe its presidential candidate for the 2018 election.
My immediate reaction to the news on TV was one of bafflement. Is the party short of younger men and women to take over and lay the transition infrastructure to the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe?
Come that election, the old warhorse and spearhead of the liberation struggle that culminated in independence in 1980 will be 94. Now at 92, he is the world’s oldest head of state.
Suffice to say that in 2000 Kenyans were demanding that President Moi, who is Mr Mugabe’s age mate, name his successor enroute to his long overdue retirement two years hence.
Mr Moi was then 76 and had ruled for 22 years. But as early as 1992 during Kenya’s first multi-party polls in a generation, the clarion call by the spirited, albeit splintered, opposition was that it was time to rid Kenya of Moi fatigue.
Mr Moi got the message, but when he eventually retired in 2002 he had been in power for 24 years. President Mugabe has been in power for 36 years.
Like Winston Churchill, I believe it is difficult enough to understand the politics of one’s country and almost impossible to understand that of another. I also know that Kenya is not Zimbabwe.
But I am not persuaded that an old Mugabe is good for Zanu-PF and Zimbabwe.
In terms of ideas for economic revival I am afraid that Zimbabwe has been broke and broken since the past decade to the point where it cannot pay its civil servants on time and borrows to pay.
Mr Mugabe stubbornly, but wrongly, refuses to take responsibility for this economic meltdown and blames the West for it.
Mr Mugabe is a hero of Zimbabwe’s freedom; a paragon of Africa’s campaign for dignity, and of the dignity and respect for Zimbabweans; an iconic voice that stands up, sticks up and speaks up for Africa’s right to a slot on a reformed United Nations Security Council and an African Union that is the vanguard of the struggle for economic emancipation of Zimbabweans and Africans.
But Zimbabwe must move on beyond the exploits of the great and the good of its freedom struggle; past the reasons and the people that earned it the ire of the West and the resultant sanctions; from the past into the present with a view to conquering the future. It is ideas that will inform and lead this conquest.
However, on the basis of available evidence and in the public domain, what Mr Mugabe could do as a sexagenarian he can no longer do, let alone think, because he is a nonagenarian. Because the number is 92 and not 62, Mr Mugabe frequently slips into sleep, or to the ground, at local and international meetings.
Surely Zanu-PF cannot have forgotten the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that Harare hosted in 1991. After President Mugabe’s opening address, His Excellency Life President, The Ngwazi (Lion), Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda ungracefully fell as he ungainly walked from his seat.
At 93, Banda fell because of the frailty that comes with being a nonagenarian, than thinking about 93 great things he wished done for Malawians.
Zanu-PF simply refused to think, and kicked the can of President Mugabe’s succession down the road. After all, it is Mzee Mugabe who tells his party what to think. – The Nation (Kenya)