AGE IS BUT A NUMBER. With Emmanuel Macron,39, as the president –elect of France, GILLIAN NANTUME digs the archives for past and present heads of state who assumed power at 40 years and below. We bring you the details
Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France last Sunday in an internationally popular presidential election. It is believed that the election was a disguised referendum on the European Union (EU) in France. If his opponent, Marine Le Pen had won, chances were high that France would leave the EU. France had last had a young leader in the 1880s when Napoleon Bonaparte led the republic. Macron’s election has generated a debate over a new generation of presidents taking power. While this seems to be the norm in Eastern Europe, the West is only just waking up to young leaders. Africa has had its share of young presidents, but apart from Muteesa II and the current Tunisian Prime Minister, all came to power through military coups.
He became Prime Minister of a debt-ridden Greece on January 26, 2015, aged 40. An atheist, he refused to take a religious oath of office. Seven months after the election, Tsipras lost his majority in the Hellenic Parliament after intraparty defections. He resigned and called for a snap election, which his Syriza party – a coalition of left-wing parties – party won again in September 2015.
In his teenage years, Tsipras joined the communist youths and was active in the students’ movement. He served as Member of Parliament representing Athens A and in June 2012 become leader of opposition. As prime minister, Tsipras has presided over the difficult Greek debt crisis and bailout referendum. He is a known for his love for informal attire.
Apollo Milton Obote
At 36, he was the first executive Prime Minister of Uganda on April 25, 1962. His Uganda People’s Congress party had formed a coalition with KY to control a Parliamentary majority. When Obote and the deputy army commander, Idi Amin, were implicated in a gold gling scandal, he suspended the constitution, declared himself president in 1966, and declared a state of emergency.
In January 1970, Amin overthrew Obote, however, he won a disputed December 1980 election and returned to power in a term marred by repression and civil war. He was overthrown by the army on July 27, 1985.
Maj Gen Sir Fredrick Muteesa II
Muteesa II was already Kabaka of Buganda for 22 years. At 37, he became ceremonial president of Uganda after Independence.
His unofficial party, Kabaka Yekka (KY) had formed a governing coalition with the prime minister, Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress.
In 1964, the coalition soon collapsed and in 1966, when Obote ordered the storming of Muteesa’s palace, the latter fled into exile.
He died three years later.
She was the first woman to lead a Muslim-majority country and also the first to lead the Oxford Union. Her father had also served as Pakistan’s prime minister in the 1970s only to be overthrown in a military coup, and hanged in 1979.
In December 1988, after a four-year exile in London, 35-year-old Bhutto led the People’s Party to victory. As prime minister she funded national defence and security projects, expanding the atomic weapons programme her father started.
Two years into her term, after a battle of the egos, president Ishaq Khan accused her administration of corruption and nepotism, and dismissed her. She became leader of opposition.
In 1993, at 40, Bhutto won another election and became prime minister again. Corruption charges ($100 million and a 350-acre estate) dogged her, though, and the president once again dismissed her in 1996. After another exile in London, Bhutto retuned to Pakistan in 2007 and stood in the general election.
She was assassinated in Rawalpindi after a campaign rally. Her party won the election and her husband became president.
At 27, he became supreme leader of North Korea after his father’s death in 2011. He is widely believed to have ordered the execution and assassination of his uncle and brother, respectively.
Under him, North Korea has expanded its nuclear weapons development programme, boldly testing the weapons in international waters, much to the chagrin of the West. Besides North Korea’s long-time ally, China, no other government seems to know what to make of Jong-Un.
Col Muamar el Ghadaffi
At 27, he came to power through a coup on September 1, 1969, organised by a revolutionary cell he had founded in the army. Ruling by decree, he strengthened Libya’s relationship with Arab nationalist governments.
When his call for a Pan-Arab political union failed, he turned his eyes to Africa. Unlike other dictators, Ghadaffi worked to increase the revenues of Libya by nationalising the oil industry and implementing social programmes, such as building houses for employees and offering them free health care and educational services.
In 1977, he transformed Libya into a socialist state. However, his relations with the West were hostile; branded him a human rights violator who funded global terrorism. He was swept aside by the 2011 Arab Spring.
Capt Thomas Sankara
He was 33 when he swept into power on August 4, 1983 in a Libya-backed coup organised by Blaise Compaoré. In the four years he was president, his supporters viewed him as an iconic revolutionary figure. He aimed to eliminate corruption and curtail France’s dominance. He rejected foreign aid, nationalised land and mineral wealth, and changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (land of the upright man).
His best policies were; encouraging villages to build dispensaries and schools with their own labour, outlawing female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and polygamy.
Sankara was authoritarian and he banned a free press and tried his opponents in revolutionary tribunals. A darling of the poor masses, the middle-class and cultural leaders (whose powers Sankara had heavily reduced) hated him.
He was overthrown and killed on October 15, 1987 in a coup led by his former friend, Blaise Compaoré, and engineered by Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
He became president of Madagascar on March 21, 2009 at 35. The previous year, Rajoelina, the son of a prominent and wealthy army officer, had been mayor of Antananarivo.
In his teenage years, he was a DJ, before graduating to a music promoter. Before he became mayor, Rajoelina was a successful businessman.
In December 2008, the government closed his TV station over an interview aired with a former president living in exile. In January 2009, Rajoelina held rallies calling for the resignation of president Marc Ravolimanana.
On February 3, 2009, the government dismissed him from the mayoral position and on February 7, he led demonstrators to the presidential palace to oust the president. The presidential guard shot and killed 31 and injured 200. Rajoelina took refuge in the French embassy.
In March, 2009, the opposition stormed army headquarters and forced the chief of staff to resign. The army switched allegiance from government to Rajoelina. There were rumours that he bribed the army. The army stormed the presidential palace, forced the president to resign, and handed power to Rajoelina.
His assent to power was condemned by the usual suspects, who immediately cut donor aid, crippling his presidency. In January 2013, he announced that he would not run in the general elections but in May changed his mind. His opponents ran to court, which ruled that his candidature was invalid.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
At 33, he became Emir of Qatar on June 25, 2013 after his father’s abdication. He was the first emir to take power in Qatar without instigating a coup against his father. He is the youngest sovereign in the world. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1998.
Before he became Emir, he served in various high positions both in the security and economic sector. He has boosted his kingdom’s profile through organising international sports events.
He is known for his anti-immigration stand. Orbán became Hungary’s Prime Minister in 1998, at 35. He is a founding member of Fidesz, a radical liberal political party originally composed of students.
Orbán gained prominence after a speech he gave in Heroes Square in Budapest, in 1989, demanding free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. In 1993, he turned Fidesz into a centre-right conservative party.
After he was ousted in 2002, he spent eight years as leader of the opposition. Orbán stood again for election and became prime minister in 2010 – to-date. He has described the European refugee influx as a poison. Orbán is one of the most influential leaders in the EU.
Joseph took office 10 days after his father, president Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s assassination in 2001.
At 29, he was the world’s first head of state born in the 1970s. Five years earlier, when his father launched a rebellion against the Mobutu regime, Kabila commanded a kadogo unit, participating in the battle for Kinshasa.
In 1998, at 26, his father appointed him deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and in 2000, appointed him chief of staff of the Land Forces.
On July 30, 2006 a presidential election was held and Kabila won it. He had just turned 35.
In 2011, he was reelected for a second term in a highly disputed election. Violent protests have rocked his second term and on September 29, 2016, it was announced that the November 2016 general election was rescheduled for 2018.