$5m prize for good governance goes unclaimed again in Africa

An attractive cash package of $5 million (£3.4 million) over ten years awaits the winning applicant, including $200,000 annually for life thereafter. There is also an incentive of a further $200,000 per year for a decade to support public interest activities of the candidate’s choice. This position has remained vacant for some time and urgently needs filling.

Sadly, and despite the generous terms, this prize to reward outstanding democratic leadership in Africa went unclaimed yesterday for the second consecutive year.

The $5 million incentive, the world’s largest individual award for statesmen, was initiated by Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese communications entrepreneur who began the scheme three years ago in an attempt to encourage good leadership on a continent with a history of poor governance, corruption and despotism.

Previous winners include Festus Mogae, the former President of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Nelson Mandela, who was made an honorary laureate in 2007.

This year, like last, the prize committee headed by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General and a Ghanain, found itself in the embarrassing situation of having no winner for 2009. Mr Ibrahim refused to be discouraged, arguing that the prize should remain an aspirational achievement and was not to be given away lightly.

“Whether there is a winner or not the purpose is to challenge those in Africa and across the world to debate what constitutes excellence in leadership,” he said. “The standards set for the prizewinner are high and the number of potential candidates each year is small. So it is likely that there will be years when no prize is awarded.”

Although the foundation does not publish a shortlist of eligible candidates, analysts say that 2009 was a bleak year and that there were more changes of government in Africa by the gun or death in office than by a peaceful transfer of power at the ballot box.

Because the prize is eligible to any leader who has stood down after a full term in the past three years Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria might have been considered. However, they had already been rejected from the 2008 candidates because Mr Mbeki was forced from office by his own party while Mr Obansanjo had wanted to stand for a third term.

“I would have been surprised if there had been a winner this year,” said Joel Kibazo, an associate fellow of Chatham House and a consultant on Africa. “It is important for the prize committee to keep high standards of eligibility because it means that those who win, deserve it.”

Several leaders of sub-Sahara Africa states have clung to power for decades and used constitutional means to prolong their hold on power.

Robert Mugabe, 86, has been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, 65, came to power in 1986. Others who have sought third terms include Paul Biya of Cameroon, 77, who has served since 1982, and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia.

To encourage a new generation of leaders, Mr Ibrahim said that his foundation was to start a scheme to prepare young Africans with leadership potential for office.

“The programme will seek to attract a number of highly qualified and talented professionals each year to serve in leading institutions whose core objective is to improve the prospects of the people of Africa,” he said.

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