African business, politics and lifestyle
Are African leaders too bad to win the Ibrahim prize?
An expectant crowd packed the room on the 11th floor of London’s City Hall, which has a spectacular view over Tower Bridge, for the announcement of the winner of this year’s $5 million Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership.
The prize committee, including Mary Robinson, former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and Salim Ahmed Salim, one-time secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity, files in.
A hush falls over the room as former Botswana President Ketumile Masire goes to the podium to read the prize committee’s statement. And the winner is … nobody!
Although they had considered some “credible candidates”, Masire said the committee could not select a winner for the prize which rewards former African leaders who set examples of democratic government.
Despite repeated questioning from journalists, neither Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born telecommunications magnate who funded the world’s richest individual award, nor any member of the prize committee would say why they had not awarded the prize for the first time in its three years of existence.
Unless the committee was so deeply divided it could not choose between several equally deserving candidates, which seems unlikely, the only possible explanation appears to be that none of the 11 or so African leaders who stepped down between 2006 and 2008 met the standard to win the Ibrahim prize.
Although Ibrahim denied it, that appears to be a snub to former presidents such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Sierra Leone’s Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, who all stepped down between 2006 and 2008 and therefore were eligible for the award.
Africa has well-documented problems with corruption. Six of the bottom 10 nations in watchdog Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions index were in Africa. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has long had to struggle with endemic corruption, shambolic infrastructure and weak regulation. Tanzania’s anti-graft agency is set to bring two or three big cases to court soon as part of a drive against corruption that has already claimed several senior officials. A minister in Sierra Leone said in May he was running one of the most corrupt government departments in the country.
Despite the bad headlines, there have been glimmers of progress. Improvements in governance are often cited among reasons why the investment climate in Africa has been getting better.
The 2008 index of African Governance, released by Ibrahim’s own foundation, said governance had improved in almost two thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In this year’s survey, Mauritius ranked first in Africa for governance, followed by Cape Verde and Seychelles.
Former World Bank governance head Daniel Kaufmann said recently that the global financial crisis would widen the gulf between countries in governance and corruption, with some states hastening reforms but others using economic distress to justify doing nothing. In Africa, he predicted a growing divide between troubled Kenya and countries like Ghana, Rwanda and Liberia, which were improving.
But are rich countries in Europe and North America in any position to preach to Africa on corruption or governance?
Britain, for example, has been riveted for months by tales of how its politicians spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money cleaning their swimming pools or repairing their tennis courts. In 2006, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation of allegations of bribery of Saudi Arabia officials in an arms deal. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said the probe threatened national security.
Nevertheless, by refusing to say why they decided not to award the prize this year, the Ibrahim Foundation has squandered a great opportunity to highlight problems of poor governance in Africa. By being open and stating clearly that African leaders had fallen short of the standard required to win the prize, the committee could have focused attention on the problem of poor governance and started a debate about what to do about it.
Do you agree with the decision not to award the prize?
Do all African leaders who stepped down in the last three years fall short of the standard? Who do you think should have won it?
Is it a good idea to reward a leader with $5 million for doing the job they were expected to do?