Godfatherism in Africa: Do women and young people stand a chance to lead?

Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede

There is no surprise that political systems in African countries present a multitude of issues that inhibit young people to actively engage. One particular issue is this notion of ‘Godfatherism’, a form of political corruption in which an influential member of a party assists another person in the climb to leadership. Most importantly “godfatherists” are the gatekeepers that determine who gets nominated and who wins. We should not make the mistake in comparing mentorship with Godfatherism. The two are not the same.

In many African countries it has become quite impossible for one to ascend to political success without having an influential godfather to “knight” you into politics or someone of political clout to sponsor you into politics. The concept of Godfatherism is a guiding principle and reference to contemporary politics in Nigeria. This type of political quagmire has held the true virtues of democracy and free and fair elections hostile. The interesting thing about Godfatherism is that it is often referenced to politics in African countries; however, this is a global phenomenon affecting most countries in the world in various degrees. And it is no surprise that Nigeria’s polity is filled with Grandfather/Godson duos.

There are two groups of people that are often left out of the equation and conversation when it comes to politics in Nigeria—ambitious young people and women. Nigeria is still very much considered to be a patriarchal society where a woman’s success may sometimes be relegated to that of a man/godfather, her farther or her husband. I believe we are trying to deliberately change the tides of respecting women who are self-made, gifted, ambitious and successful on their own accord. In addition, there is a tendency to despise young people for their age, assuming that because they are young they are naive, ill prepared and “not serious.” You often hear older politicians saying, “Politics is not a child’s play.” However, every politician started from somewhere. A true democracy or that which anchors itself in liberty, equality and justice is one that unifies every member of society and creates a space where all ideas, talents, and skills are nurtured and welcomed.

Any government that runs its political entity on the foundation of Godfatherism is doing itself a disservice. What ends up happening in a government that has been unable to rid itself of such, is that it often finds itself unable to resolve political, social, economic and cultural issues over time. No matter the leader, the problems facing the country never come to a resolution or completion period. You have generations of people facing the same issues carried over by previous generations. And the sad part of it all is that every society has a number of individuals, groups and civil societies that have the answers and solutions to solving pressing issues facing its nation. However, a whole segment of a population is ignored due to gender and age discrimination.

The only reason why Godfatherism still exists is because there is a need to maintain a certain status quo that only benefits a small number of people in a society in which the vast majority are not able to take part. The only way to disrupt Godfatherism is for every woman and young person to continue to step up, stand out and use their voice as an instrument of change. Change does not happen overnight, but I am hoping that there will be one, perhaps two out of the millions of young people and women around the world, who will rise to the highest seat in the land and change the narrative and picture of how a global leader should look.

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