As Uganda gears up for general elections next year, we hear the young telling the old to give way. They say that our time has passed, that it’s their turn now. It’s time for new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing. And I see (mostly) old men, telling the young that they are not about to leave, that wisdom comes with age, that they fought hard to liberate this country so they can’t just be shunted aside as though they don’t matter. It seems like the old are saying they are entitled to the positions of leadership they hold and that they should not be questioned or challenged about their past or present record. I hear our 70 year old President saying he feels like a 30 year old. I heard another general say, not too long ago, that age is nothing but a number. What counts is how old one feels, not how old one is. Our President was also recently quoted as saying he will hand over power to the young. He didn’t give his definition of young.
A few of those that recently picked up nomination forms for the Presidential race, were turned away by the Electoral Commission, because they were not yet 35 years old – which is the lower limit for any one who wants to run for President in Uganda. One of the aspirants was quite enraged and asked why age matters for the highest political office in the land.
These days when I attend meetings, almost always, one of the speakers will ask about our ages. They will say something like “those who are below 30 put up your hands”. The under 30’s are usually few and far between (at the meetings I attend), and the speakers will ask where the young people are.
I’ve started to think about my own age and aging, about my own mortality and how this should shape the way I think about and do life. I’ve started asking myself if it is time for me to leave and let go. When is old too old? When and where can we have a sober discussion about the role and place of the different generations in the body politic of Uganda? How do we have a sober conversation about what giving way means? How do we have a sober conversation about the age of our President and the longevity in power and what this means and breeds in Uganda? What does age mean and how is age described in our culture? Is it still relevant in our times?
For now, the debate has been cast into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mode. The old should go. The young should take center stage. How do we depolarize the atmosphere?
Fact is, we need each other. Uganda needs all of us – young and old.