Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Are African leaders too bad to win the Ibrahim prize?

October 19, 2009










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?


You do not always need to use a Foghorn to make a point. And sometimes, when The World is waiting for an Announcement, The Point is well made and counterintuitively magnified as it is being here.I commend Mr. Ibrahim [you might disagree with the methodology as I do in regard to Malawi - marked way too low - Bingu's Malawi Fed its People for several consecutive Years now - and Rwanda - where I feel Kagame has singlehandedly had Rwanda punching way above its weight] on putting an Index out there. it is like a Torch being shone in the Dark. He shone his torch first and that is commendable.Aly-Khan alykhansatchu


I myself fail to see the point in awarding a prize of $5 million to someone for doing a job for which they were well paid and while doing it stashed away millions of Dollars in various accounts across the Globe as their own private Nest Egg!!! Many of these people now strut across the world stage and looking like butter would not melt in their mouths while at the same holding out their hands for a $5 million prize????Perhaps it’s just me that is unable to see all the wonderful things that these past Presidents have done for their impoverished people??

Posted by Peter Schwarz | Report as abusive

I most definitely agree with the decision not to award the prize! It’s a very sad state of affairs that the leaders are “out for themselves” putting selfish gain above their fellow human beings welfare which is so frustratingly narrow minded & reveals such lack of maturity. They have no idea nor do they care in how to run a country for the goodness of mankind and with this lack of conciense another thing is revealed – that they aren’t true visionaries as they can’t see further than their own noses!!! Unfortunately as well as being selfish, greedy people they are also bitter about life & only think about forgiveness when it comes to their own wrongdoing or that of their corrupt counterparts which makes them out to be the biggest hypocrites of all. for example rather than wasting money on changing street names to make a statement they should be investing in keeping the standards of the maintanence of the country up to scratch so it doesn’t deteriorate as they all have done!Yes, they all fall short. Is there any leader out there who has a true, genuine understanding about what his role really is all about – in serving his country?!Reward can be a good incentive but I think in this context considering a leader gets more than enough in salary the reward should go to funding a charity/charitable initiative within the country & this could count in honour of his/her name.

Posted by Kim Wilson | Report as abusive

One so-called ‘snubee’, Thabo Mbeki, is hardly an inspiring candidate anyway – true, he had a hard act to follow, but he’s not provided the leadership on HIV/AIDS that he should have, he’s not been the key instrument for change in neighbouring Zimbabwe that he could have been and levels of literacy, poverty, etc, in South Africa are little changed.The panel took a brave decision but it would have been braver still to have spelled out the exact reasons for their decision.

Posted by Citiboy | Report as abusive

But what about Namibia’s Sam Nujoma? Liberated his nation, introduced national reconciliation, and got democratically elected, maintained peace, progress, development and rule of law, stepped down and now once again his nation awaits new elections that has become a phenomena in this beautiful and stable south west African nation (as was discovered by Brad Pitt and Jolie, and chose to have their first baby born here). If the population size in a given country is anything to go by, I suppose this statesman deserve an award of some sort.


This prize was unsustainable from the day of its inception.The current generation of African leaders we have are just not embodiments of the ideals such a prize upholds.I think anybody would be hard-picked to find someone worthy for such a prize. At best it could perhaps have been awarded posthumously to Levy Mwanawasa and the funds to his family or to a foundation assosciated with his name.Otherwise, it becomes indistributable~

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

Mo Ibrahim’s prize is utterly misguided for one simple reason: it completely misunderstands the nature of corruption in Africa.Like most commentators, Ibrahim assumes that African leaders are corrupt because they want to accrue personal riches for themselves and their families. This is only partially true – and of much less importance than other primary reasons.Top of the list why corruption – i.e. public office used for private gain – continues to flourish in Africa is its INSTRUMENTAL use in building POLITICAL SUPPORT to stay in public office.Public office, like in colonial times, continues to be the primary site of accumulation and distribution (broadly similar to pre-modern Europe). The state is king.Thus access to public office becomes the be-all and end-all of politicians’ survival – and that of their constituencies. In many African countries literally so.This promotes a zero-sum-game – whereby corruption becomes a coalition-building instrument used by politicians to prolong – at all costs – their incumbency.Until Africa develops a strong independent private/entreprenurial class – highly unlikely given the material conditions of many countries – this won’t change.

Posted by Chris Thompson | Report as abusive

To think that no African leader deserved to win this year’s MO Ibrahim leadership prize is interesting. Far from singing the praise of the Ghanaian Statesman, John A. Kufuor immediate past president of Ghana.I am certain the speculations and indeed those mentioned and indeed John A. Kufuor deserved the honours of winning. For some few ovious fact he desrved this award.Governance- Over the past few years he brought government to the people. He made the presidency open, interacted with the people through the people’s assemblys. Human Right, there is no doubt this florished under his care, notable amongs them was the right to free speech. Nana Akufo-Addo incidentaly the flagbearer of the NPP pushed this through-repealing the crimilisation of speech-seditious and criminal libel.Kufuor through his personal engagement has grown the economy from stagnation to a steady improvement.It is sad the advent of this “failed Award” has brought about a discussion of his legacy of which some people have gone as far as denegrating his name and accusing him of serious issues. Indeed, African leaders are not angels, leaders in general are not angel. It is in this light that we hail the Nkrumah’s,Bismarks,Reagans, Churchills, Thartchers,Clintons etc. These were leaders who made a mark, yet they had their own faults. Mr Kufuor falls into this lot.He has done a lot to move this nation forward.He deserves commendations not CONDEMNATION.

Posted by Abeiku John Hammond | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see