Last week the Mo Ibrahim Foundation made its annual announcement on the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
For the fourth in five years no recently retired president won the African leadership prize -- the world's biggest individual prize. The award carries a $5m prize paid out over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life from then on. In addition there is another $200,000 per year for a decade to go to good causes backed by the winner.
Previous winners were former presidents Joachim Chisano of Mozambique, Festo Mogae of Botswana and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde. the To be eligible, a leader should have stepped down in the last three years, come to power democratically and demonstrated exceptional leadership during his mandated term.
Senior members of the foundation said the standards are quite high and even if they were applied to western democracies they doubt they would have a winner annually and as such they do not foresee a lowering of the bar to have an annual winner.
Ibrahim is one of the continent’s few billionaires. A telecom engineer – a few patents in the mobile phone industry hold his name, he made his pile by selling a part of his interest in the mobile phone company Celtel, which became Zain and which we now know as Airtel.
As an investor on the continent the Sudanese born Ibrahim has documented his frustration with corrupt, incompetent and obstructionist bureaucracies around the continent and his analysis is essentially that the fish starts rotting from the head. So if you can improve the quality of the leadership the improvements can trickle down the ranks make his home continent a much better place.
His foundation and the awards are his attempt to harry this progress along.
For a politician the main measure of good leadership is if he did good by his people. This would mean he improved the standard of living during his time, through the policies his government pursued in creating an enabling environment for his citizens.
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, ranking 52 countries according to 94 indicators grouped under safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development, attempts to create this measure.
Incidentally this year the foundation’s index suggests that governance as measured by these indices has improved generally on the continent, so we might see some winners in the future from the current crop of our leaders.
This index should be maintained and the leadership award scrapped, if only because the leadership award is playing to the motivation of that there should be pay back for public service, which is a wrong motivation to encourage and perpetuate.
But the award also falls flat on its face because if the intention is to “bribe” these men and women to relinquish power, then the $5m is a pittance compared to what they can squirrel away during their time in office.
The logic behind the award seems to be that many of our leaders hang on like grim death to their positions because they know after their term of office they cannot sustain themselves and their extended families in the manner that they are accustomed to.
Not only that, but that that the fear is very real that they are unemployable and cannot run even a corner shop to save their lives.
What happens to the US President, UK Prime Minister or German Chancellor when they finally leave office?
To begin with they continue to enjoy considerable benefits from the state, but over and above this there are million dollar book deals, several-thousand-dollars-a-pop speaking engagements and board positions on corporations to ensure the former leaders lack for nothing. The same cannot be said for retired leaders on our continent.
But probably more importantly is their loss of power after they leave office. After being in power for so long, where your word is the law, you operate above the law and money is no object, to relinquish that is understandably a big deal. It actually maybe more useful to pay for soon-to-retire presidents’ psychological and financial counselling just before and after retirement to better help them cope with seismic shift in their lives.
And finally even the bribe takers never want to seem like they take bribes, there is a fringe element that is absolutely shameless in their pursuit of the kick back but they are in the minority – I think. They will take the money if you offered it but they can’t be seen to be clamouring for it. This is probably a lesser point as there is no guarantee that you will get the prize if you leave office anyway.
Ibrahim’s intentions were obviously noble, but his analysis may have been clouded by his business background where value is assigned a monetary meaning. Politics of course is a whole different ball game. I would like to be wrong but I fear Ibrahim is barking up the wrong tree.