Washington, DC — After a professional career spent proving that investing in Africa can be profitable, telecommunications entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim has embarked on a new task: to improve the quality of African leadership. To that end, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced today a $5 million annual prize for African leaders who were elected fairly, improved their country's standard of living, and handed over power peacefully to the next elected government.
Recipients of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will get $500,000 a year in their first 10 years out of office, and $200,000 a year for the rest of their lives. The prize will be the world's most generous award, according to the foundation.
"The message is that we, Africans, it is time for us to take charge of our issues," Ibrahim said. "It is our responsibility to look after our continent, to look after our kids."
Ibrahim told AllAfrica that he hopes the award will spark a debate on the role of governance in Africa, and provide the means for former leaders to stay engaged in the national life of their countries.
"You don't need the power of the office to do things," Ibrahim said. "Civil society is so rich. We need to get engaged there."
More than anything, he said, the prize will be a reward to leaders who deliver to their people. He hopes to make the first award by the end of 2007.
"It's important that the citizens of Africa take the leaders to account," he said.
The prize's selection committee will choose winners with the help of a governance index that is being developed by Dr. Robert Rotberg at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The foundation will spend about $500,000 a year to develop and update the index. Rotberg has previously written on governance indices and has been developing new measurement methods with students for years.
Rotberg told AllAfrica that most existing measures rely on interviews and other forms of documentation for comparison, but that he will use only quantifiable, objective measures. For example, in measuring changes to the national infrastructure, the index may count the miles of paved road in a country. To measure political freedom, team members may identify the number of journalists or opposition leaders held in prison.
Details of the selection process still need to be hammered out, but Ibrahim said he is pushing forward so African leaders will be prepared before next year's award.
"If you're going to start a measured competition, you need to tell the players," he said. "There's a competition going on and these are the terms."
Because the prize is awarded over the lifetimes of recipients, initial expenditures will be relatively small in comparison to the amounts the foundation expects to spend in coming years. Ibrahim said his financial models assume that leaders will live 25 years after leaving office, making the estimated net prize worth $8 million. With new winners being added each year, the cost to the foundation will quickly rise into the tens of millions, but Ibrahim said he is not worried.
"I have put all my proceeds and wealth behind this," he said. "We are fully funded. We are not seeking money from anybody."
Much of Ibrahim's personal fortune comes from last year's sale of his African telecommunications company, Celtel, to Kuwait's MTC for $3.4 billion.