Our Youngers and Betters (part 2)
The polarisation and tribalisation in today’s politics exacerbates a loss of confidence in the established parties. Increasingly, daily life is mediated less by the traditional and divisive political parties that continue to frustrate us from day to day, and much more by the connections and decisions that are made online and shared by like-minded people from all over the world.
Shaking The Old Establishments
This desperate but challenging need to skip a generation of leadership has already started to manifest itself around the world, with a new, fresh and vigorous group of young heads of state that are shaking the old establishments everywhere.
New Age National Leaders
The 39-year-old President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has become the standard bearer of this new energetic and hugely collaborative national leadership. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada took over at the age of 42, with Leo Varadkar becoming Prime Minister of Ireland at 37 and Jacinda Ardern, the new Prime Minister of New Zealand, is also 37 years old.
This may not be that new. Perhaps Tony Blair may have been the prototype new age national leader. He was a young 42-year-old political novice, that was a huge break from the past of the Labour party he was now the leader of in the UK. He broke with traditional left leaning socialist policies of the Labour heartland, and reached out across the political divide and embraced ‘what worked’, as opposed to the ideological dogma that had brought down so many previous Labour governments.
Despised by the Elders
He would go on to transform the political landscape with a new pragmatism that went beyond anything that went before. He was despised by the much more tribal older generation, who saw him as a ‘sell out’. He embraced the capital markets and took a very pro-business stance. His appeal crossed the age old political divide and saw him win three elections and transform politics in the UK. All was well until he tripped over his alliance with the very traditional and divisive, President George W Bush, of the USA. His desire to blindly support an ally who could not escape the pull of the past, led to misjudged decisions over Iraq that would bring his downfall and sully his legacy.
Barack Young-One Obama
Barack Obama might have been the next of these ‘Young Ones’ to pick up the mantle against all the odds. We sometimes forget that he was a young and untried 42-year-old first time, rookie senator. Here was a community organiser, a Harvard trained lawyer, who had no huge political experience, but had a new and visceral vision for the USA. He beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidacy despite being a huge long shot at the outset of campaigning.
It wasn’t just the huge backing by the people of colour of the US that got him to also beat John McCain, the most traditional and establishment elder generation republican nominee that one could have designed. It was the mobilisation of the young, who came out for him in unprecedented numbers. McCann was a Vietnam war hero, and 72 years of age, but appeared completely out of touch with huge changes that were occurring simultaneously across the world.
The vibrant and hope-filled Arab spring had given a strong insight and clue that a better educated younger generation, empowered and so much better informed by social media and the internet, soon realised that they had a voice that could be mobilised into hard hitting movements that could make a telling difference.
With the downfall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was the unyielding and belligerent President of Tunisia from 1987 to 2011, it was perhaps the stalled beginning of the mobilization of the youth. He led Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years before being forced to step down in January 2011, due to massive protests, mainly by a newly emboldened and technology enabled younger generation demanding his exit.
This brings us back to Cyril Ramaphosa and the many challenges he faces, especially if he is to take the courageous step to confront President Zuma and look for his early removal. This is seen as vital by many within South Africa, and I think it’s fair to say, by nearly all outside of South Africa. This may not matter to some of the inward looking, but should matter to all wanting a more powerful, influential and successful South Africa.
Nelson Mandela set the example not just for Africa but for the world. He stood down at the height of his powers and after waiting for a lifetime including 22 years in prison. He wanted the 41 year old Cyril Ramaphosa to take over from him, that might have changed everything for the better.
The best leaders always know when it’s time to go.
If you have an interest in the future of South Africa then you may be interested in our next Inspired Leaders Network event:
South Africa 2020: what does the future hold for Africa’s most advanced nation?
25 April 2018, 6-9pm – London Venue and broadcast live on Facebook