Diminishing returns

21 April 2017

We have been following reports of the recent public appearance by the highly respected, but infirm, 82-year-old King, Immaunel Elifas. here is a plethora of credible information about the interference of the King’s wife in official responsibilities which has caused general confusion and dissatisfaction amongst his subjects.

We understand that kings and queens serve for a lifetime, and becoming aged is an eventual part of that tradition, but questions remain about his ability to effectively execute the duties of his position.

This royal controversy relates to our concern about whether elected or appointed public officials, who are 70-80 years old (or more), are able to adequately execute their strenuous duties due to the physical and mental limitations that are a natural part of the ageing process.

There are numerous cases in history and currently in other countries where wives (or other family members) of aged or incapable leaders, illegally and inappropriately take on the mantle of their husbands’ responsibilities, thus undercutting the elective process and subjugating official lines of authority.

The former First Lady of Cote d’Ivoire, Simone Gbagbo, is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for “attacking the safety of the State.” This sentence stems from her unelected ‘power’ role in executing her husband’s official duties.

The First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, is virtually running the office of the president in light of her 93-year-old husband’s inability to execute his constitutional duties. She made an outrageous claim that Mugabe could contest the next election as a corpse.

While we are neither sexists in denigrating wives who give special support to their husbands, nor are we ageists who believe that someone’s age alone automatically dictates their usefulness, we are resolute in that, when a leader has reached advanced age while occupying a demanding political position of power, the question of diminished capacity must be addressed.

Skilled geriatric doctors conclude that by our 60s, our brains have literally begun to shrink. There is a reason that most countries have public service retirement ages spanning from 60-70 years.

The volumes of data and information about the challenges of aging are well-known. We cannot pretend that older leaders are in their prime when they are not.

We must ask the question of whether the president, in his late 70s, should pursue a second term in 2019 and possibly serve as president until he is over 80 years old.

Having an octogenarian as president, does not serve the nation well.

Will Namibia have a cabal of State House insiders, whose daily bread depends on the president, making decisions that an aged elected leader may be no longer quick-thinking or energetic enough to make?

President Geingob has a strong rhetorical gift, but has not articulated a vision for the Namibia of tomorrow. He has spoken of a ‘new Africa’, but has not embraced the fact that this term is for a visionary, young and vibrant African using the modernity of the 21st century to uplift the continent.

This point matters in Namibia as our current president and vice president are a combined 156 years old.

While our current honoured Vice President will not be in another administration, we look at the potential disservice to the nation of having an 80-year-old president serving a second term.

We refuse to accept that there are no other viable, capable, forward-looking candidates for high office in Namibia that are under the extended civil service retirement age of 67.

Along with experience and maturity, long-serving leaders carry negative baggage accumulated from their decades of service.

Hillary Clinton’s biggest detriment in her failed presidential bid was that issues from her previous roles such as a human rights lawyer, First Lady in Arkansas and later, in the White House, a Senator from New York and the Secretary of State, dragged her down.

Controversial actions taken and statements made along with past scandals of her own and from Bill Clinton hounded her during the entire presidential campaign. It is part of the reason that Trump won.

Our current president, in his extremely long career, carries some of that same type of credibility baggage. His own half century track record prevents him from taking the high ground on a range of issues plaguing the nation.

Geingob can never criticise the lack of payment of municipal bills, non-payment of high levels of personal debt, public servants’ receipt of hundreds of thousands in S&Ts and State funds used for first class travel and accommodation, shady land deals with foreigners, doing business with partners and friends who are accused of corruption or who have run away with millions in State funds, and other subject areas as well.

SWAPO leaders speaking about the party’s 57th anniversary have stated they do not want the ruling party to end up like the ANC. SWAPO must not end up being detached from its members and the wider national constituency; we agree.

In order to stay relevant, younger leaders who can implement new and innovative growth plans instead of providing diminishing returns by focusing on yesterday for leadership strategies, also must be considered for higher office.


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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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