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Young leaders in their 40s are changing the world

Posted October. 16, 2019 07:31,   

Updated October. 16, 2019 07:41


Volodymyr Zelensky, former actor who played the protagonist of a political satire TV comedy series, was actually elected President of Ukraine in April this year. Emmanuel Macron of new political party “La République en Marche” has been pushing for reforms since he became the youngest president in French history. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending the country’s civil war with Eritrea. All these leaders in their forties are attracting the world’s attention while driving innovation domestically.

World leaders in their forties are also changing the existing political landscape. Prime Minister Abiy filled half of the cabinet positions with female officials, a first in the history of Ethiopia. He also sought a policy of tolerance to accept nearly one million refugees and release a large number of political prisoners. With domestic affairs being more stabilized, Abiy successfully worked to negotiate with Eritrea, becoming a Noble Peace Prize winner and one of the most admired world leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is another leader in his forties seeking reforms. His cabinet reached gender parity and included officials who were former refugees and natives.

Experts say that leaders in their forties emerge when there are stronger demands for a change amid a worsening social polarization. Leaders in this age group can communicate with the public and drive innovation in the political arena based on experience that the youth does not have and a will to make changes that the elderly lack. In fact, the emergence of 40-something leaders has been repeated throughout history. In the United States, presidents in their forties took office when the public increasingly called for a change. John F. Kennedy proposed a “New Frontier” to revive the country after World War II, while Bill Clinton drove changes to find a way out of the economic crisis in the 1990s. Barack Obama, with his catch phrase “Yes, we can,” also took the lead in taking up on the challenges of the time such as the country’s economic slowdown followed by the September 11 attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis.

These young leaders are thought to be the antipode to the world’s strongmen including the incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump (73), Chinese President Xi Jinping (66), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (67). Some speculate that the world, fatigued with the leadership of strongmen, will soon witness the emergence of young leaders in their forties again.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com