Editorial: Why age limit should be introduced in politics.

The re-elections of  octogenarians, 84-year-old Hon Cavaye Yeguie Djibril as Speaker of the National Assembly and 89-year-old Senator Marcel Niat Njifenji, as President of the Senate, last Friday, has sparked a swirling debate in the country why there should be age limit for politicians.

Such a debate is not limited to Cameroon, as it is currently raging in the United States, where incumbent President, Joe Biden, who will be 81 in November, and challenger Donald Trump, 77, are running for election in November.

Both are above the maximum retirement age of 65, for executive positions in most countries around the world.

Why does age matter in politics like all other human endeavours? Can politicians be too old to serve in office? Should a country make retiring at a certain age mandatory for elected officials who vie for president, senators, parliamentarians and mayor? 

According to neurologists, "Brain volume diminishes over time. In healthy people, the prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain with the most age-related volume loss, of roughly 5% per decade. Through its connections to other parts of the brain, it helps manage executive function: a complex set of mental processes that has been likened to a thermostat or the conductor of a symphony. It's key to discussions of leadership capacities because it's involved in areas like problem-solving, goal-setting and impulse control. Executive function declines gradually during a person's 30s, and this accelerates as we enter our 70s".

Medical specialists are also unanimous that as people age, they face heightened risk of chronic disease and of having multiple chronic conditions. 

"Chronic health problems can interfere with daily functioning and put older politicians at higher risk of performing poorly on the job," medical specialists say, noting that this adds to falling and memory loss.

There is no doubt that cognitive decline starts as one gets older, and if a politician is holding an office for life, what use will he/she be to the public?

If there are minimum age limits to be president, senator or parliamentarian, why shouldn't there be a maximum age to retire?

Why should old people continue to bank on "experience" when expertise, especially in a swift changing generation of technologies, make it difficult for the grandparents to keep pace with?

Those are some of the questions on the debate, not just in Cameroon and other African countries replete with old people in power but in the United States, which claims to be the moderator of democracy.

A 2022 YouGov poll reported that 58% of Americans want a maximum age for politicians. Those who support age limits usually say that politicians holding office should not be more than 70 years old. That would make 71% of current U.S. senators ineligible to hold office.

Increasingly, people everywhere will be forced to confront questions about whether a person can be too old to hold public office. 

Another survey showed that only 3% of U.S adults say it’s best for a president to be in their 70s or older. The poll conducted last June, indicated that half of Americans (49%) say it’s best for a president to be in their 50s, while another 24% say it’s best for a chief executive to be in their 60s. There are relatively modest partisan differences on this question.

The Guardian Post can vouch that if such a survey is conducted in Cameroon where, according to the last population count, only 3 percent of Cameroonians are above 60, the vast majority will vote to send deadwood politicians on retirement to their villages for a deserved rest.

The only positive point being made by the sycophants who are supporting politicians to die in office is that they have "experience".

Experience is good, but it can never be better than the dynamism, vigour and creativity of the youth in an era ICTs have made the world a global village with constant innovations and inventions, which old people cannot cope with.

Did National Assembly House Speaker, Hon Cavaye, not refer to the social media, with all its research, learning and communication advantages as a "form of terrorism"?

Could any young politician who should rely on it to perform his job use such a pejoratives description?

The problem is that to put an age limit in politics will require politicians to change the law. But given the egocentric nature of most of the lawmakers, such an initiative, even from the executive, could end up just being a dead letter.

The only way that can be done is to elect young politicians into both houses. But that has to begin by changing the rules that only 30 percent of political lists for municipal and legislative elections should be allocated to youth and women.

Even then, women in such lists are often dominated by grandmothers. To further limit participation, young people who make up the vast majority of Cameroonians are often prevented from holding political posts, yet, they are flattered and referred to as "leaders of tomorrow".

As it is said, "power is never given on a platter of gold". The Cameroonian youth have the duty and responsibility to register, vote massively and become lawmakers and pass legislation that makes them truly innovative and creative leaders of tomorrow.

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