No 2012 winner for foundation's US$5m award for good governance in Africa

Former leaders deemed to be unworthy of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation award for governance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 4:19am

It's the biggest cash prize available to former leaders of African countries, and no one was worthy this year - again.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced yesterday that it would not award its US$5 million (HK$38.8 million) prize for good governance that recognises democratically elected African leaders who excel in office and - critically - leave when they are supposed to.

The prize committee said it reviewed several former leaders but decided that none met the award criteria. The group did not reveal who was considered. Any African leader who left office in the last three years was eligible.

Africa on the whole is making political and economic progress but some of the more than 50 countries on the continent are still ruled by men who stay in office for decades. And some leaders who have stepped down from power over the past three years had blemished records.

Mo Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, said he was not disappointed that no winner emerged.

"Not at all. This is a prize for exceptional leadership, and we don't need to go through the motions to just find anybody," he said. "We have a wonderful prize committee which comprises some wonderful men and women, and they set really high standards."

The prize has been awarded three times in its six-year history. Former Cape Verde president, Pedro Pires, won last year. In 2008 Festus Mogae, of Botswana, won. In 2007, it was Joaquim Chissano, of Mozambique. No award was given in 2009 and 2010.

John Githongo is a former adviser to Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on ethics and governance who resigned and then exposed hundreds of millions of dollars in government corruption. Githongo said it was "absolutely no surprise whatsoever" that the US$5 million award was not handed out this year.

"It does indeed award people for things they are supposed to be doing, but it helps highlight the fact that for too long leaders have not been doing what they are supposed to be doing. It shines the light on the reality in a very stark way," he said. "I don't think Mo Ibrahim is going to be spending much money on this in his lifetime. We are a generation away" from good leaders.

Ibrahim says he believes the award has helped increase conversations about positive leadership in Africa instead of talk about the continent's murderous or corrupt leaders.

"We wanted to bring the issues of governance and leadership to the centre of the table, for the issues to be discussed by African society and African leadership," Ibrahim said. "Bad stories make news. That brings an unintended bias in the media coverage, and that is not helpful for the casual listener."

African leaders such as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who has clung to power for more than 30 years, are well known, Ibrahim said.

"But nobody knows the good guys. The prize is to bring forward a picture of the good side of Africa," he said.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, released yesterday, found that governance in Africa has improved since 2000, especially in the health and gender sectors. But many of the continent's regional powerhouses - Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa - have experienced poor governance since 2006.

Ibrahim's foundation said it would give a US$1 million grant to anti-apartheid hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, for "speaking truth to power". When the one-off award was announced, the foundation said Tutu "is and has throughout his life been one of Africa's great voices for justice, freedom, democracy and responsible, responsive government".