The No-Winner Verdict

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All around the world, people waited with bated breath to know this year’s winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for excellence in African leadership. The prize is conceived as an incentive to spur African leaders to commit themselves more and more to improving the economic and social prospects of the African. In 2007, the Prize Committee of the Mo Foundation had conferred the prestigious award on Joaquim Chissano, former leader of Mozambique. This was followed by Festus Mogae, who ruled Botswana for a while.

Naturally, it was expected that another African leader would follow in the footsteps of the previous Mo Ibrahim laureates. But the committee, ably chaired by Kofi Annan, an illustrious son of Africa, declared yesterday that none of the nominees was fit for the African leadership prize this time around.

“This year the Prize Committee has considered some credible candidates. However, after an in-depth review, the Prize Committee could not select a winner,” a press release by the Foundation said.

Considering the fact that the award is conferred on a democratically elected former Executive Head of State or Government from sub-Saharan African country who has served their constitutionally mandated term and has left office in the last three years, it is hardly a surprise that no-one was chosen as winner this year. The last three years have been years of acrimony in Kenya and Zimbabwe; of great reluctance on the part of Olusegun Obasanjo to quit power in Nigeria; of President Mamodou Tandja of Niger overstaying his welcome; of Capt Musa Dadis Camara overseeing the massacre of his own people; of a vicious cycle of violence in Guinea Bissau; of political instability in Mauritania; and of the forced resignation of Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. If anyone should have been considered for the award at all, it should have been John Kuffour of Ghana. But the Prize Committee knew better.

African leaders should be motivated by this prize to use their executive position to foster good governance and sustainable development for their people. The prize offers them an opportunity to continue serving humanity on a big scale even after quitting power. It also guarantees personal comfort. A lucky winner is worth US$500,000 over ten years and US$200,000 a year for life. A further US$200,000 a year, for ten years, is also available for public interest activities and good causes promoted by the winner.

A true and committed leader should take enough inspiration from such an incentive to drive their country up the development agenda, knowing that their stewardship would not go unrewarded. Without being presumptuous, the initiator of the award had designed it as a way of curbing greed and selfishness among African leaders while in power.

That no winner was selected this year shows two things. First, the Prize Committee knows what it is doing. Its members are not out to pander to anyone; clearly, merit is the cornerstone of its operations. Second, there has been no inspiring leadership on the continent for the past three years. It is therefore a call to action for incumbents to work even harder for the betterment of the African people who they have sworn to serve without fear, favour or ill will. 

“Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate”.

G.K. Chesterton