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Is Your President too old to Govern?

Yaounde (National Times) – Your President and Ministers’ ability to effectively govern the country or the ministry is related to his/her age, people below 70 do a better job than their older counterparts several new researches have shown.

Talk of the President’s or a government official’s age in Cameroon is a sensitive topic. Just mentioning the fact that the President is 86 years in some quarters is seen as being anti-Biya. This may even get you into prison or risk police action.

This is understandable. In Africa, most people associate age with wisdom, the ability to discern right and wrong and to administer justice fairly. In this context, the older the ruler, the wiser she/he becomes, which also makes him or her more fit to rule a country.

In addition, in most African countries, the old are seen as the closest to the ancestors who own and control knowledge and understanding. And it is only right that those close to the gods rule, just as the kings and queens’ rule in the west because of the myth that they were the closest kin to god.

But new research from cognitive sciences is challenging these traditional assumptions, old people are not fit to govern a country. According to this research, age affects an individual’s ability to engage in simple and sophisticated analytic acts which is fundamental to the three cardinal tasks of leadership- motivating followers to achieve agreed goals; clarifying, explaining and informing followers; and transforming followers to set goals and see beyond their narrow purview.

Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was ostensibly unfit to govern after suffering from a stroke

A study in the Mayo Clinic in the US showed that people between 62 and 100 years finding it increasingly difficult to learn new skills, to multi-tasks and to systematically analyze information, the older they become. For people in this age bracket who are leaders, this makes it increasingly difficult to explain, to clarify and to impart their followers with new information, to systematically analyse the import of this new information to the organisation.

Robert Kaiser, a former managing editor of The Washington recently observed, “Research has shown that conception of information, abstraction, and mental flexibility decline with age, especially after age 70, as older adults tend to think more concretely that younger adults”.

This new debate supports other academic research that shows that successful leaders are attentive, excited, strong and active, and entrepreneurial. And that these traits are more common among people below 65, than people above that age. Evidence suggest that most leaders who have been able to transform their countries, successful entrepreneurs did below 50.

The talk on age and a leader’s effectiveness is controversial because, implicitly it assumes that people above certain ages should not hold top political offices, which is a form of ageism. For some people seem to think the older the better.

However, if you want  an effective leader who is sharp, who is enthusiastic and charismatic, and who can deliver results, you need to dish the old blood. That does not mean however, that all young people are good leaders. So watch out.

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