“I know what this job takes and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. After going on six years of some big challenges, I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can, and then it’s time and for me, it’s time.”
With these words, Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Having risen to the top job at the young age of thirty-seven, being the second leader to give birth while in office and steering the country through certain perilous times, one would not be far from correct if he asserts that Jacinda Ardern has made an indelible mark in the history of New Zealand’s leadership.
In a rare moment of expressing vulnerability, Ardern acknowledged that spending five and a half years in office has taken a toll on her and has left her exhausted. At just 42 years old, Ardern bows out of office.
Unlike many political leaders, especially African leaders, who wield unto power for too long; some refusing to relinquish their firm grip on power even when their term is due and are forced out by rebellious colleagues; Ardern, however, knew when to quit.
Some leaders refuse to admit that they’ve lost elections even when the results are glaring at them in the face and then plot their return or resort to autocracy.
The political terrain in Africa is awash with coups, family leadership, gender imbalances, corruption and tyranny. Fueled by their obsession of power, some African rulers alter the constitution, crush the opposition and use fear and violence to maintain their political seats.
Current ruler of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, for example, has been in power since 1979. In the past few years, President Obiang has come under fire from human rights groups for his continued domination of the people of Equatorial Guinea.
In 2014, there were accusations of him using the country’s oil wealth to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family. President Obiang has given his family members key positions in governance. His son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, is presently the Vice President and is allegedly being prepared to succeed his father.
The long-time ruler started his sixth term in office last December after securing almost 95% of the votes in the previous month’s elections. He has been criticized for allegedly rigging elections to stay in power. Despite the criticism, President Obiang shows no signs of stepping down soon, even at age 80.
Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, has been in power since 1982. Denis Sassou served a previous term as President of Congo from 1979 to 1992. He was re-elected in 1997.
Yoweri Museveni has been the President of Uganda for 34 years. He first came to power in 1986 and has since been re-elected three times. In recent years, there have been calls for term limits in Uganda, but Museveni has resisted these efforts. In 2017, he amended the constitution to remove the president’s age limit, effectively allowing him to stay in power for life.
The world, Africa especially should reconsider their stance on youth leadership. The scope of African rulership must be restructured, with more opportunities being handed to the youth to serve in diverse positions. The youth, with their intellect and strength can further advance the progress of their nations.
A youthful leader can think on his feet and respond to unexpected circumstances more swiftly than a leader who is long in the tooth. Most African leaders are 55 years old or older, with some as old as 77. This signifies a great age gap between those who make policies and those that the policies affect. A minute percentage of lawmakers in African parliaments are below 44 years. Old leaders should make way for the intelligent young ones to have a say in governance.
Moreover, women leadership is very much needed. As a woman younger than most heads of state, Ardern’s leadership was phenomenal, guided with empathy.
For example, Ardern’s speedy response in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and tenacity in the aftermath of the 2019 Christchurch shootings, should prompt Africa to do away with its prevalent bias against women being in governance.
Following the Christchurch shootings, Ardern promised to change her country’s gun laws and she fulfilled that pledge in less than a month, with New Zealand’s parliament banning military-style semi-automatic weapons. Under her leadership, New Zealand also passed legislation to fight climate change and tackle child poverty.
Even in this modern era, a lot of Africans subscribe to the stereotype that men are better suited for political leadership than women. Countries that currently have a woman as an elected head of state are few. This is very disheartening, given that there is plenty of data to prove that women are more effective leaders. At the moment, only Ethiopia and Tanzania have female presidents; Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia and Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania.
Ardern has relayed a “message for women in leadership and girls who are considering leadership in the future” that “you can have a family and be in these roles”, adding “you can lead in your own style”.
Knowing When It’s Time To Call It A Quit
Ardern’s critics may argue that she resigned due to her dwindling popularity; her popularity has faded and her center-left Labour Party trailed in the recent polls amid rising crime, high inflation and falling home prices. However, there would have been time and opportunity for Ardern to mount a comeback before the general election that she called for in October, instead she chose to step down.
There have been African leaders who blatantly refused to let go of the reins of leadership even when the electorate have expressed, through their outcries, that they (African leaders) should step down. Rather, they devise ways to silence all forms of opposition to their governance.
“I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.”Jacinda Arden
Some African leaders ignore the fact that they are no longer capable of properly executing their roles.
In Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to his rival, Alassane Ouattara. The electoral commission declared Ouattara as winner. The UN recognized Ouattara’s victory and the European Union, France and the United States urged Gbagbo to stand down yet, he refused. Gbagbo was arrested before Ouattara could be sworn in. Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Gabon have had cases of election disputes.
Recently, some Ghanaians, institutions and politicians called for the resignation of their Finance Minister, Honourable Kenneth Ofori Atta, following his inability to perform to their satisfaction.
However, Ardern has spared herself the ignominy of outstaying her welcome or being coerced by rebellious individuals to leave office.
Can leaders who know when to quit be found in Africa?
Knowing when you no ‘longer have enough in the tank’ to lead is a critical moment to step down from leadership.