Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No former African leader worthy of Mo Ibrahim prize this year

Sudanese-born British mobile phones billionaire Mo Ibrahim has denied the GFC forced his foundation not to award a $5 million prize for good governance in Africa this year. "The prize committee do not pay any attention to my bank statement," he said. "This is an award for excellence. Jury meets and they set the bar some way and decide. There's no way to know where the bar was set." (photo of Mo Ibrahim by World Economic Forum)

Ibrahim was bristled by the questioning of British journalists about his role in the Prize that bears his name. Ibrahim has made $2.5 billion from two successful business ventures and his second Celnet provides mobiles for 25 million Africans. His foundation is aimed at “re-branding” Africa, he says. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership is awarded to a democratically elected former African head of state or government who has left office in the past three years. The foundation has awarded two former African leader the prize in 2007 and 2008 but could not find anyone who matched their confidential criteria this year. Former Botswanan president Ketumile Masire said the prize-giving committee had "considered some credible candidates" but could not select a winner.

The ceremony will go ahead next month in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania despite the lack of a winner. Ibrahim said he respected the decision of the committee and said it did not mean that Africa was not making progress in governance. He claimed he had no input to the decision “I am not privy to the conversation, I don't know on what basis they decided not to award it this year, and I don't want to know. Their deliberation is confidential," he said. Nevertheless, the decision means a timely and considerable saving to Ibrahim. The Prize is the richest individual prize in the world. The Winner receive $5 million plus paid over ten years and then another $200,000 for each year of the rest of their life. It is designed to encourage African leaders to be less corrupt.

The key factors in the award are measured using the Ibrahim Index. The index was developed under the direction of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard with the help of African academics and ranks African countries according to five criteria. These are: sustainable economic development, health and education, transparency, democracy, and rule of law. Ibrahim calls his Index a tool to hold governments to account and frame the debate about how we are governed. “Africans are setting benchmarks not only for their own continent, but for the world,” he said.

The two previous recipients are former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano (2007), and Botswana's former president Festus Gontebanye Mogae (2008). Chissano served two terms in office and helped end Mozambique’s 16-year-old civil war in 1992. He also stepped down voluntarily even though he could have run for a third time. Meanwhile Mogae's Botswana is Africa’s most stable country and has had multi-party elections since independence in 1966. Mogae stepped down in 2008 after two successful terms in office.

African Affairs Analysts Cameron Duodo (see Al Jazeera youtube clip at 5:50) says the prize-winning criteria is too narrow. Duodo says it is not just presidents and leaders who do outstanding work. He said independent media and the judiciary who scrutinised the powerful and bring governments to account over corruption also play a major part in ensuring good governance. Leaders are already pampered and don’t need any further financial inducements. The enormous power vested in the executive office is a major reason why Africa has so many failed states. The year’s gap should give the Ibrahim Foundation the pause it needs to re-evaluate its intent.

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