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By Ronald Austin Jr.

The demands for youthful leadership should come with conditions.


Attaching conditions and requirements to youthful leadership is highly necessary. If there is a a carte blanche affixed to the youthful leader, he or she may assume that once there are no wrinkles, you may do as you wish. In this, dangers lie because the leader begins the slow march into authoritarianism. We must demand conditions. There must be a consideration for the ability to consult with followers. We must insist on consensus building and the art of gaining influence through persuasion and not at the barrel of a gun. Despite the muscles, energy, and good aesthetics, there must be a demand for the leader to espouse good democratic leadership. Though we may be in awe with the physical presentations, the ideas and style being espoused must receive equal attention and focus. There is no point in celebrating energy and freshness when the policies being advocated are consistent with the old order. It makes no sense to be jubilant on the sole basis that the new leadership is youthful but yet it embodies the interests and wishes of the old order. The policies of the old leader can make him youthful and the policies of the youth can make him old.


I have consistently argued: there should never be a perpetual adversarial relationship between youth leadership and senior leadership. The African proverb, ‘young men for war, old men for counsel’ is timeless. Forever reminding us that the relationship between the youth and those who hold senior positions, ought to be symbiotic. The energy, innovation and adventure of youth have their benefits and their disadvantages. Conversely, the wisdom, experience and foresight of senior leaders are oftentimes indispensable with their concomitant advantages and disadvantages. However, it is important that no amount of succor is given to the argumentation that youth is the only basis on which credible claims to accede to the top are made. At any stage of a leader’s existence, character and the virtues of leadership are still very important and cannot be subtracted from the conversation. Insofar as one possesses the energy to lead the people and carries the aspirations of followers, being advanced in age should have zero consideration. If there is a free and fair democratic process, all the choices available to the people must be put forward.


The oldest known law, I have discovered, passed on the minimum requirement on age when attempting to hold public office is the Roman law, Lex Villia Annalis which stipulated several years of experience in various fields. Once the years of experience requirements were met, invariably, it resulted in the minimum limit being not below age 35. As stipulated by this law in the Roman Republic, it was 36 years to qualify for Aedileship (elected office in the Roman Republic), 39 years to qualify for Praetorship (Commander of an Army or Magistrate) and 42 years to qualify for Consulship (the highest elected political office in the Roman Republic). This law prevented youthful candidates from dominating public offices but what undergirded the passage of such laws was the point that there is much more to leadership than solely juvenescence. Today, the constitutions of major global players have followed the same legislative thrust of the aforementioned. The US Constitution stipulates that you must be 35 to run for the President, the Constitution of Brazil (Article 14, Section 3 (VI)) defines 35 years as the minimum age someone can be President, in Germany, the minimum age to be Chancellor is 40 and China’s minimum age to be President is 45. It must be noted, countries such as Australia, Canada and France have set an age limit to ascend to the highest office in those countries at 18. It is reasonable to deduce that the framers of such legislation which requires minimum age limits were of the view that youth cannot be the only qualification for positions of leadership. Compassion, courage, service, honesty, persistence, humility, selflessness, hope, vision, experience and above all, integrity should never be erased from the equation.


The orbit of modern and past Presidential leadership is replete with a treasure trove of examples across various periods. There is a constant demonstration of the fact, youthful leadership does not automatically translate into good leadership. Louis XVI (1774-1792) of France became king at age 21 and presided over one of the most destructive leadership on display in history. Jean Claude Duvalier became the President of Haiti at age 19 and reigned Presidential terror on the people of that French-speaking island. Kim Jong Un became the Supreme Leader of North Korea at the relatively tender age of 30 and immediately surpassed all his predecessors in his scale of brutality and bad rule. The list of these examples is infinite. It is for this reason and others mentioned above, one cannot stake a credible claim to leadership solely on the sole basis of being youthful.

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