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JEAN-JACQUES CORNISH: The generational battle in African politics

The election this week in Malawi perfectly illustrates the generational battle in African politics.

Peter Mutharika, vying for a second and final term as president, has a record of achievement to show voters. He’s brought down inflation over the past five years from 14% to 9%.

He is promising the people of one Africa’s poorest countries that Malawi is going the way of Singapore or Malaysia. This is somewhat hyperbolic given that more than half the nearly 19-million Malawians live under the poverty line. Food shortages dog daily life and the 11% of the population with electricity suffer frequent power outages.

Mutharika’s image has been further dented by his having to return a $200,000 campaign donation from a businessman implicated in a $3-million scam involving the contract for supplying food to the police force.

There are seven faces on the presidential ballot paper competing for the votes of seven million electors.

Mutharika’s main rival is his former hand-picked vice president Saulos Chilima who broke with him last year when it became clear he was running for a second term.

The incumbent, who is a former law professor, is 78 years old.

His sister-in-law Callista, widow of former President Bingu Wa Mutharika, is among those who have advised him that he has passed his sell-by date.

This is a telling argument with more than half of the electorate younger than 35 years.

Former telecoms executive Chilima is 46.

The third frontrunner is Lazarus Chakwera who ran second to Mutharika in 2014.

He has revived Hastings Banda’s Malawi Congress Party and secured the endorsement of former President Joyce Banda. Chakwera is 64.

Age has been a determining factor in a number of recent African political contests.

In South Africa, Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane, both 38, made much of the fact they were running against 66-year-old Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, 74, is going to extraordinary and unconstitutional lengths to ward off the challenge of pop-singer-turned MP Bobi Wine, who is 37.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 76, had his work cut keeping 41-year-old Nelson Chamisa at bay.

Two African presidents have fallen to popular protest this year. In Sudan, Omar Al Bashir is 75. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 82.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish

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