Failing African leadership?


THE MO IBRAHIM prize for African Achievement in Leadership goes unawarded for yet another year.

Sukoluhle Nyathi

What this means is there is no democratically-elected former African head of State who has left office in the last three years after fulfilling their mandated constitutional term who has demonstrated exceptional leadership.

So if you were like the former President FranÇois Bozize who was ousted in a coup you are not eligible for the prize.

You need to have voluntarily stepped down or after having fulfilled your mandate under the constitutional presidential terms.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize is one of the biggest awards in the world with a staggering value of $5 million over a period of 10 years and $200 000 annuity during the recipients’ lifetime.

The prize was established in 2007 by Ibrahim, a Sudan-born telecommunications entrepreneur.

The prize aims to applaud African heads of State that have made sterling strides in the areas of education, economic development, health and security.

Furthermore, leaders need to have democratically transferred power to their successors.

To date, the prize has had three recipients. President Joachim Chissano was the inaugural prize winner for his achievements in bringing peace, stability, reconciliation and reconstruction to Mozambique following years of civil war in that country.

Former Botswana President Foestus Mogae won the prize in 2008 for the role he played in maintaining and consolidating Botswana’s economic prosperity in light of the country’s HIV pandemic.

The last winner was the former Cape Verde President Pedros de Verona Rodrigues Pires in 2011 who was attributed to transforming Cape Verde into a democratic and economically stable country.

So in its seven-year existence, only three African presidents have made the grade and won the award. What does this essentially say about African leadership?

Does it mean Africa does not have the calibre of leaders who have risen to the occasion to address challenges that affect their countries?

Often when there is talk of African leadership, the words that colour this narrative are corruption, violation of human rights, lack of vision, human exploitation, bad governance and lack of accountability.

For the longest time Africa’s economic and social demise has been attributed to bad leadership and bad governance.

It would appear myopic to believe that in a continent with 53 States we have no leadership that has risen above this common narrative.

Or maybe it could simply be that all the sterling leaders are still occupying office and hence are not currently eligible for the prize?

One could also argue that the prize money does not provide enough motivation.

Five million United States dollars is pocket change for a president who might decide to overstay his welcome in power and continue to pocket the nation’s wealth.

If you rewind to Mobutu Sésé Seko’s tenure in power from 1965 to 1991 as president of the Republic of Congo which later became Zaire; one of the most outstanding features of his rule was the amount of money he embezzled.

In 1984, his personal wealth was estimated at a staggering $5 billion. This was equated to the country’s foreign debt at the time.

By today’s standards, he would have certainly been listed as one of the richest men in Africa.

Had the Mo Ibrahim Prize been in existence then he might have dismissed it as child’s play.

However, money should not be the motivator in promoting good governance.

Maybe a silver trophy or gold medal should be awarded instead.

Then again it might also be wrong to perceive the prize as an indictment on African leadership.

Mary Robinson, former Irish president sitting on the board of the foundation aptly, points out that if there was a European prize for leadership, it might also fail to find recipients year after year!

Let’s not forget that dictators and undemocratic leaders are found all over the world; not just in Africa.

Bad governance, corruption and lack of accountability are not just an African anathema, but a global one.

Nonetheless, I think it’s early days yet. The prize is in its still infancy and the foundation is based on good ideals which should be the tenet of leadership.

When all is said and done, the Mo Ibrahim award still remains a worthy initiative.

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter