It’s the biggest cash prize available to former leaders of African countries, and no one was worthy this year — again.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced Monday that it will not award its $5 million prize that recognizes democratically elected African leaders who excel in office and — critically — leave when they are supposed to. The prize committee said it reviewed “a number” of eligible candidates but decided that none met the award criteria. The group did not reveal who was considered, but any African leader who left office in the last three years was eligible.
Mo Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, said he was not disappointed that the prize was not given away this year.
“Not at all. This is a prize for exceptional leadership, and we don’t need to go through the motions to just find anybody,” he said by telephone. “We have a wonderful prize committee which comprises some wonderful men and women, and they set really high standards.”
The cash prize has been awarded three times in its six-year history. Former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires won last year. In 2008 Festus Mogae of Botswana won; In 2007 Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique won. No award was given in 2009 and 2010.
Ibrahim says he believes the award has helped increase conversations about positive leadership in Africa instead of talk about the continent’s murderous or corrupt leaders.
“We wanted to bring the issues of governance and leadership to the centre of the table, for the issues to be discussed by African society and African leadership,” Ibrahim said, adding later: “Bad stories make news. That brings an unintended bias in the media coverage, and that is not helpful for the casual listener.”
Africa on the whole is making rapid political and economic progress. But many of the more than 50 countries on the continent are still ruled by autocrats who stay in office for decades. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has ruled Angola since 1979. Cameroon has been ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982. Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986.
Many people around the world know about bad African leaders like Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, he said.
“But nobody knows the good guys. The prize is to bring forward a picture of the good side of Africa,” he said. “Africa is not necessarily a terrible place.”
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, also released Monday, found that governance in Africa has improved since 2000, especially in the health and gender sectors. But the index found that many of the continent’s regional powerhouses — Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa — have experienced poor governance since 2006.
In declining to hand out the $5 million award this year, the foundation’s prize committee said it had “reviewed a number of eligible candidates but none met the criteria needed to win this award. The award is about excellence in leadership. In the first six years the Prize Committee has selected three very worthy Laureates who continue to be an inspiration and whose examples, we hope, will be emulated.”
Earlier this month Ibrahim’s foundation said it would give a $1 million grant to anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for “speaking truth to power.” When the one-off award was announced, the foundation said Tutu “is and has throughout his life been one of Africa’s great voices for justice, freedom, democracy and responsible, responsive government.”