For the fourth time since its establishment in 2006, the Mo Ibrahim Prize has come up empty once again this year, casting doubt on the kind of leadership there is in Africa.
Set up by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim, the prize focuses on the “the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa.” The award is meant to honor “excellence in African leadership.”
Unfortunately, a decade on, only four African Presidents have won the prestigious award. The previous Laureates are Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007, Botswana’s Festus Mogae in 2008, Pedro Pires (Cape Verde) in 2011, and Hifikepunye Pohamba (Namibia) in 2014. Nelson Mandela was the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007.
“It is our belief that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life of African citizens,” Mo Ibrahim Foundation states.
Very high bar
For one to be considered a winner, a leader must have been democratically and transparently elected head of state who served their constitutional terms and also left power legitimately within the last three years.
Additionally, the candidate must have contributed to developing their countries, strengthened democracy and human rights.
Looking at the criteria and the current African leaders, it is clear why the seven-member prize committee failed to select a winner for the 2015 award.
Many African leaders seek to extend their terms through the unpopular constitutional alterations. Others, through questionable elections, have managed to hold to power longer than is expected. Due to all these, there is only a small pool of possible nominees who are also not fit because of failing to meet other requirements.
Commenting on the decision of the Prize Committee, Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Foundation, said: “The Board respects the decision of the independent Prize Committee. When we launched the Prize ten years ago, we deliberately set a very high bar.”
“We want the Prize to shine a spotlight on outstanding leadership to provide role models right across society, as well as supporting Laureates to continue to serve the continent by sharing their wisdom and experience.”
Explaining to BBC why there was no winner for the fourth time, Mo Ibrahim said the award is designed to uphold the prize’s high standards.
“It is not because we’re African that we have to accept some standards,” he said adding that “it is a prize for excellence, not an entitlement or a pension.”
The winner receives $5 million over ten years and $200,000 annually for life and is also allowed to apply for another $200,000 a year for good causes they support. Compared to the monies that could be pooled by some leaders in corrupt deals, this is not motivation enough.
But Mo Ibrahim says the monetary benefit should not be the primary motivation.
“We are not trying to create billionaires,” he said. “The people who compare how much money they will get from bribes and from the prize are not our guys.”
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