The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was established in 2007 to honor outgoing African leaders who, having been democratically elected, brought development, raised the living standards of their people, and stepped down at the end of their terms.
Since it was established, however, only four African leaders have won the prize: unquestionably, Nelson Mandela of South Africa (2007); Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007); Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008); and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde (2011). Since Pires won it in 2011, this is the second year in a row that the prize has not been awarded, and the fourth silent year in total since its inception. There were no winners in 2009, 2010, 2012 and now 2013.
When the prize was first established, part of the logic, as many saw it, was to provide an anti-corruption incentive to which African leaders could aspire. The logic of it was that poor governance, corruption and the refusal to leave office were brought about by a fear of going broke after relinquishing power. As such, African leaders amassed millions of dollars in wealth for themselves; and as they continued to spend lavishly, the need to amass more increased. Focused on that, most did very little, if anything, for their countries.
So instead of a plaque or some other form of recognition, the prize is monetary, amounting to millions of dollars -- US$5M over ten years plus an additional US$200K per year thereafter for life. An additional US$200K is available upon application for post-presidency development work. It was established as a counter-incentive to corruption.
But did it work? Has it been effective?
For dictators and warlords such as those who deal in blood diamonds and exercise personal control over their countries’ wealth of natural resources, US$5M is probably pocket change. Furthermore, the Ibrahim prize is a long-term benefit that requires a patience the likes of these do not care to have. Despite one’s best efforts and accomplishment, which are subject to the opinion of the panel, there is also no guarantee that one will win the prize in the first place. The intention here is not to play the devil’s advocate but to weight the realities.
Those who have won the prize so far were probably not influenced by the money. Mandela’s presidency was over by the time the prize was even established, as was Joaquim Chissano’s. Festus Mogae was one year away from the end of his presidency. As such, it would seem that the Ibrahim prize can at best only reward and encourage those who are already good leaders.
That still leaves us with the issue of how to establish good governance in Africa. Perhaps one way to look at it is from the electorate standpoint. Perhaps more resources should be pumped into creating a much more educated electorate in every African nation -- a “How To Choose A President” campaign across the continent. A list of requirements every candidate must meet in order to stand a chance of getting elected.
Why would this be necessary? Because in much of Africa, presidents, lawmakers and other officials are elected based primarily on personality and paltry gifts -- a bus stop here and there, a few bags of rice to the poor, soccer jerseys, and many times based on empty nothing but promises. How sad!
It is time we educated our people -- if on nothing else, on how to elect their leaders. This does not require a college degree. Just civics lessons in every town, village and municipality. Civil society organizations could teach our people how to demand resumes of those running for office and independently verify them. Too often, CSOs are busy demanding that corrupt presidents step down and hand over power. Who will replace them? More of the same.
So let us build ourselves a foundation for good governance by setting high standards for being elected into office, so that we are not surprised by wolves who ran for office in sheep’s clothing and are now ready to show their true colors after inauguration. This way, instead of having no candidates for the Ibrahim prize, the panel is faced with tough competitors every year.