16 February, 2013

Of Popes, Dinosaurs and Elder Statesmen

by Hussein Solomon

In a shock announcement, Pope Benedict XVI stated that given his advanced years, he felt it wise to resign the papacy since he felt unable to continue his demanding job on account of his physical frailty. This was the first time in over 600 years that an incumbent resigned from the papacy and for this he needs to be commended for his honest and courageous decision.

This resignation however raises questions regarding Southern Africa’s own breed of dinosaur elder statesmen who whilst fossilizing remain clinging onto the reins of power. The octogenarian Robert Mugabe is standing for election once more despite ruling his country for over three decades. In similar vein Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos who has remained in power for an even longer period of time shows no sign of stepping down.

There is no honesty amongst southern African politicians that their advanced age makes the exercise of power an increasingly difficult task to undertake. There is no honesty that during their respective reigns and that of their respective political parties that they have led their countries to ruin and that the lot of ordinary citizens have actually deteriorated. There is no honesty that perhaps it is time to pass on the baton to someone younger, more competent and who have the interests of the nation at heart.

The perpetuation of the rule of the Mugabes’ and Dos Santos’ also serve to undermine the polity – politics increasingly takes on the personality of the “Big Man” as opposed to being conducted along more bureaucratic line. Indeed, the polity increasingly becomes the fiefdom of the “Big Man” as is seen especially in Angola with the political and economic prominence of the Dos Santos family. Such a situation undermines the rule of law, undermines the well-being of ordinary citizens and undermines the state itself.

To Southern Africa’s political class: follow the lead of Pope Benedict, take a bow and exit the stage in the interests of your country and the region!

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