After several years during which younger leaders have come to power across Africa, 2020 could hold challenges that may force many of the newcomers to take a step back.
Not all the young politicians are progressive, or even pro-democracy. But they are all representative of sweeping changes across the continent that have destabilised long-standing regimes and forced out some veteran leaders.
They include a 34-year-old female finance minister of one of Africa’s biggest states, a 37-year-old dissident rapper and opposition leader and a dynamic 43-year-old Nobel-prize-winning prime minister.
Two “dinosaurs” who were forced out of politics in 2019 – Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year-old president of Algeria, who had ruled since 1999, and Omar al-Bashir, 75, in power in Sudan since 1989 – fell victim to mass movements spearheaded by young protesters, though in each case the once-powerful rulers were left vulnerable when armed forces withdrew their support.
The huge numbers of young people reaching adulthood across Africa have fuelled a powerful desire for change and has pushed forward a new wave of younger political figures who could dramatically influence the continent’s future.
One of the most striking recent appointments was in Angola, where its president, João Lourenço, appointed Vera Daves de Sousa, a 34-year-old former researcher and analyst, to be the new finance minister. The political system in the former Portuguese colony has long been dominated by elderly men, especially senior soldiers who fought in the decades-long civil war.
Alex Vines, director of the Africa programme at London’s Chatham House, said Lourenço’s appointment of a swath of younger people, including many women, to senior positions within the government was a gamble.
“He has leapfrogged a generation to appoint more technocratic, able people, including many women, to key posts. He sees them as change agents … Next year will be the litmus test for the reform process,” Vines said.