Foreign Policy Blogs

No laudable leaders in Africa this year?

The 2010 Ibrahim Prize for excellence in African leadership goes to…no one. The prize committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced last week they are not granting the award this year, as they found no suitable candidates.

The Ibrahim prize is granted to an African leader who has achieved positive developments in their country, and, significantly, has legally and democratically relinquished power at the end of their term. The foundation views poor governance as a key hindrance to African growth and development, a reasonable assessment given the statistic that $148 billion, a quarter of the continent’s GDP, is lost to corruption each year.

Difficulty accomplishing democratic transitions and power sharing can have a profound impact on human rights on the continent, as human rights abuses have typically accompanied elections as leaders hold fast to power whatever the cost. The excessive repression of opposition voices in Zimbabwe in 2008, Ethiopia last month, and Rwanda ahead of elections next month are just a few examples.

Laureates receive $500,000 yearly for ten years and $200,000 annually for the rest of their lives. Winners can also tap into $200,000 per year for ten years to invest in public interest projects. It is an interesting model, the largest annually awarded prize in the world, and some critics call it bribery. However given the difference in opportunity for former leaders in western states, where speaking tours and other endorsements can bring in millions of dollars, and African leaders, who rarely have such financial opportunities, it seems like a reasonable sum.

It is disheartening that no leaders fit the criteria for the second year running. Since Mo Ibrahim created the foundation in 2006 only two leaders, Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique (2007) and Festus Mogae of Namibia (2008), have been recognized. But the foundation does additional work toward making lasting changes in leadership. They announced fellowships this year for up and coming leaders, and they release the Ibrahim Index each year which ranks countries based on four main criteria: safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development.

The foundation continues to work towards improved governance, whether or not they find leaders to laud. Still, the prize serves as a useful tool to gauge African governance. When the prize is awarded, it serves to promote a positive image of the continent, in stark contrast to the typical media focus on war, famine and corruption. When it is not awarded, like this year, it serves as a wake up call that African leaders are not doing their jobs.



Allyn Gaestel

Allyn Gaestel is a journalist focused on international affairs and human rights. She is currently in the United States finishing documentaries from India and the Caribbean. Previously she was based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and earlier worked as a United Nations correspondent in New York. Her background is in political science, public health, women's issues, and development. She has worked in Haiti, India, Senegal, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania and the Bahamas. You can follow Allyn on twitter @AllynGaestel