Mo Ibrahim (c) with musicians Youssou N'dour (l) from Senegal and Angelique Kidjo (r) from Benin, at the 2011 award ceremony in Tunis. (Photo/ Flickr/ Mo Ibrahim Foundation)

Ibrahim Prize for Governance In Africa; Of Shallow Pools And Southward Forces

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THIS year marks the fifth time the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has not been awarded, it was launched in 2006.

The prize recognises excellence in African leadership, and candidates are all former African executive heads of state or government who have left their office during the last three calendar years, having been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term.

But more than that, the Prize organisers say, winners have to be truly outstanding – the jury is looking for transformative impact their leadership had on their country and on their people. They say that the decision yet again not to award it is more of a reflection of the exceptionally high bar set for potential winners, rather than any disappointment with the overall quality of leadership on the continent.

“We expect candidates, through their leadership, to have left a very strong legacy with their country, including its democratic culture, in a far better state than when they took office. It goes far, far beyond requiring leaders to step down willingly at the end of their constitutional term,” Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, chair of the prize committee for the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, said in a recent statement, commenting on the latest non-award.


But even with single criterion of stepping down willingly at the end of their constitutional term in the past three years, the data reveals that the committee is working from a very narrow pool – in the past three years, just four former presidents in Africa fit this profile.

These are Yaya Boni of Benin, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Armando Guebuza of Mozambique.
In all the other countries, presidents have either died in office, been deposed in a coup or revolution, lost at the ballot, or changed the constitution to extend their term in office.

Since the prize was launched, there have actually been more years when the prize has not been awarded, than when it has. The previous laureates are Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007).  Nelson Mandela was an honorary laureate in 2007.

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Still, Sophie Masipa, head of communications at the Ibrahim prize, put her best forward, saying in a statement, “Given the standard of the criteria, it is even comforting that the Prize has already been awarded four times since 2006.”

Notwithstanding, the data suggests some kind of southward force for prize winners – four out of the five previous laureates are from southern Africa. One could say that the prize finds it difficult to cross the equator, for some reason. And we may have to wait until at least 2019 to have a woman laureate, when Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s second term in office ends in 2018.

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