Swans Commentary » swans.com November 30, 2009  



Mo Ibrahim Africa Leadership Award


by Femi Akomolafe





(Swans - November 30, 2009)   The dearth of quality leadership on the African political terrain was recently brought into sharp focus when the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Leadership Award committee said that it could not find a suitable candidate to nominate for this year's award!

No one can accuse Mr. Mo Ibrahim of not trying to do his finest for his fatherland, Africa. In October 2006, the Sudanese mobile communications magnate launched the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The major remit of the Foundation was to promote excellence in leadership in Africa.

Recognizing that lack of quality leadership has robbed his continent of good governance over the years, Mr. Ibrahim endeavors to do his best by trying to improve the quality of leadership on the continent.

With her vast resources -- human and mineral -- patriotic Africans keep on looking in shame and bewilderment as their beloved continent continues to be the world's laughing stock. A graphic example of how an insanely corrupt elite, in cahoots with their Western partners, continue to rob the continent dry, literally as well as figuratively, can be found in the November 2009 edition of the London-based New African magazine.

As people in other regions continue to reveal nature's darkest secrets, pictures of starving Africans continue to adorn the pamphlets of aid organizations. Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders can mobilize their people to fight useless wars over dry patches of land, yet they lack the vision and the wisdom to construct dams and build irrigation systems. Kenyan leaders managed to promote avarice to scientific levels, yet they lack the capacity to plan to stem the drought ravaging their country. Led by their comatose president, the otiose elite misruling Nigeria cannot provide even the most basic of services to their people. Warlords in West Africa were able to chop off their compatriots' limbs, but no one there is clued to find solutions to the perennial problems afflicting the region.

Mr. Ibrahim surveyed these sickening scenes and thought he could do something about it. He set up the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to reward African leaders who are deemed to have given quality leadership to their people. The prize is to be awarded to elected presidents and prime ministers who have left office within the last three years, to encourage African leaders to emulate the way Dr. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, left office. The prize, the largest individual annual award in the world, consists of $5 million to be paid to the recipient over a period of ten years, and $200,000 yearly for life thereafter. Another sum of $200,000 yearly is also applicable for good causes initiated by the winner, as may be granted by the Foundation during the first 10 years.

The mission of the African Leadership Prize, as stated by the Foundation, is "to stimulate debate on good governance across sub-Saharan Africa and the world, provide objective criteria by which citizens can hold their governments accountable, recognize achievements in African leadership and provide a practical way in which African leaders can build positive legacies."

Mr. Ibrahim laudably set up the award to promote good leadership in a continent where quality leadership is as scarce as chickens' teeth. Former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano won the maiden prize in 2007 "for his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy." He was deemed a worthy winner. Festus Gontebanyes Mogae, former president of Botswana, won the 2008 edition to loud applause. Botswana has, over the years, consistently topped Africa developmental indices, and it remains one of the few African countries where official corruption has not been promoted to national ethos. No one quarreled when Nelson Mandela was made an Honorary Laureate in 2007 for his extraordinary leadership qualities and iconic achievements.

But in what is considered a damning indictment on the quality of leadership in Africa, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided not to award the 2009 leadership prize. Because of the confidential nature of the committee works, we will never know the reasons why the decision was made not to award this year's prize.

Former president of Botswana Ketumile Masire, speaking for the selection committee, merely said, "The prize committee could not select a winner."

Although Africans held their breath for the announcement of the 2009 winner, there was little surprise when the committee announced that there would be no winner for the year!

Whatever spin one might put on it, this is a very serious indictment on the continent's political class. It speaks volumes that none of the leaders who left the scene in the past three years was deemed qualified for this award. This, however, will not surprise any serious Africa watcher.

Since the euphoria of the 1960s when African nationalists wrested political control of their land from European colonialists, Africa has sorely lacked visionary and patriotic leaders. In the 1960s, Africa could boast of political and intellectual giants like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Senegal's Leopold Senghor, etc. Those were leaders with clear-cut ideas about how to move their nations forward. They were giants among men who were able to totally mobilize their people to greater heights. The results of their efforts are still there for all to see.

Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere were humanists of the highest order; their humanistic philosophy informed all the actions they took as leaders. Senghor was believed to be the best French grammarian of his time and nothing but the best in French was good enough for him. Kwame Nkrumah still remains the most outstanding leader Ghana (nay, Africa) ever produced. He was among the post-independence African leaders in great hurry to make their nation catch up with the rest of the world.

These were leaders equipped with sufficient intellectual acumen and self-confidence to challenge European colonizers pretending to be engaged in some gigantic philanthropic work to bring some savages to god and to civilization. The colonizers' hollow claim of being motivated by some altruistic reasons was laid bare when they exposed their fangs as soon as the natives started clamoring for uhuru (Kiswahili for freedom). We saw it Algeria; we witnessed it in Kenya, Angola, Guinea, Ghana, and Mozambique.

The legacies of Nkrumah's nine-year rule are still visible forty-three years after the US Central Intelligence Agency instigated the coup that overthrew his government. Ghana's government has declared a year-long festival to celebrate the centenary anniversary of the man Africans voted the African of the Millennium in a BBC-organised poll. Much to the shame and chagrin of successive Ghanaian governments, the carcasses of Nkrumah's industrial projects littered the length and breadth of Ghana. The highway he built from Accra to the port city of Tema (which he also built) still remains the best in the country. The Akosombo Dam he built remains the world's largest man-made lake.

All in all, the immediate post-independence period was Africa's golden age in contemporary history. The leaders were galvanized; the people were motivated -- all geared up towards building better nations from the ashes of slavery and colonialism.

African deriders always failed to mention how these leaders were able, within a few years, to transform their nations from vassalland and mainly agrarian societies into modern nations with remarkable (even if modest) industrial achievements. No mention is made by these apologists of imperialism that in their over a century of rule, no European power built a single university in any of its colonies. In contrast, Nkrumah built two universities plus a university college. He also built two modern teaching hospitals.

Nyerere was able to mold his potpourri of a nation into a coherent country equipped with a national language. He formulated the "Ujamaa policy" (see Essays on Socialism published by Oxford University Press) where Africans were enjoined not to copy either capitalism or Marxism (in all reality state capitalism) but to embrace their traditional communalism. Western ideologues dismissed Ujamaa as too simplistic for modern (read dog-eat-dog, man-eat-shit) society. What Nyerere succeeded in doing was the total mobilization of his people to strive to build an egalitarian society; one that tries to live within its means. Nyerere left a rich legacy of educated, healthy, and disciplined society. He did not leave behind a country of haves and have-nots.

However, the greatest legacies these three leaders left behind are lives of totally selfless services to their countries and peoples. What cannot be challenged is their total commitment to alleviating the poverty of their people. Nkrumah did not have a single building to his name; the Ghanaian government had to scurry to find a building for his family when they returned from exile.

Visitors to Nyerere modest manse were often taken aback by the Spartan, almost martial lifestyle the Nwalimu (teacher) lived. This is what a journalist recollects from meeting the Nwalimu: "I sat down beside Julius Nyerere at the hour before sunset on the terrace of his house by the sea, the mango and the papaya trees and tropical flowers around us in profusion. He has lived in his own house in Dar es Salaam for the past twenty years -- from soon after independence. Behind me was a blackboard where his children used to write and in the corner was a huge receiver-set through which he can follow debates in Parliament. There were no carpets on the floor; the leather-covered chairs were old. I called him 'Mwalimu Nyerere' as his own people do. He is kind-hearted and has a sense of humour. He laughed frequently while commenting on the contradictions of our world. I forgot I was with a head-of-state. The hour-and-half passed by very swiftly. And so I began with my questions." (Nawal El Saadawy of Egypt's El Mussawar first published on 19 October 1984.)

Kenneth Kaunda's political foes tried but failed to impugn his character with allegations of corruption.

What these three leaders also had in common was their great vision to see that the liberation of their countries is linked to the liberation of all of Africa. Africa was their passion. The redemption of the African Personality was their battle cry. They were great men who dreamt big things for their beloved continent.

On Ghana's independence, Nkrumah declared that Ghana's independence was meaningless unless it was linked to the total liberation of Africa. It was a view shared by both Nyerere and Kaunda. Ghana's Nkrumah was the Mecca of Africa and all anti-imperialist revolutionaries. Both Nyerere and Kaunda threw their countries open to all Africans fighting for their nation's independence -- especially in Mozambique, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, and Angola. And despite the great havocs wreaked on their nations by the Boers in South Africa and the Rhodesians plus their Western backers, they remained steadfast.

Looking at the political landscape in Africa today, one can only feel great pity at the caliber of men and woman (in Liberia) at the helms of Africa leadership. What we have today are self-serving, greedy stooges of imperialism who are satisfied with the crumbs from the table. Contemporary Africa has simply gluttonous leaders motivated only by desire to loot their countries dry. It is ironic that these so-called leaders do not see anything ironic at the opulence with which they surround themselves and the mind-bending poverty around them.

Cameroonian leader Paul Biya continues to behave like an absentee landlord; he allegedly spends more time in France than in Cameroon. Senegalese President Wade spends long stretch of holidays in France and continues to allow France to maintain a huge military base in Dakar. Nigeria's President Yar'adua continues to junket between Germany and Saudi Arabia in search for a cure for his illness.

From the Cape to Cairo, the continent cries out for true, patriotic leadership that would have the interests of Africa and Africans at heart. Here I have to disagree with President Barack Obama that Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions. Sorry, Mr. President, but it is only strong men that can build strong institutions. Mr. Obama can use his own country as an example where one strong leader, FDR, left strong legacies of solid achievements. Africa needs strong men in the mold of Nkrumah and Nyerere.

Africans are appalled by the current crop of intellectual Lilliputians and mental dwarfs misruling their countries. I have lamented in this very column how bad leadership continues to be the bane of Nigeria. I have also touched on how insatiable greediness and wanton corruption continues to drive much of Ghana's politics.

Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim must have felt the same. But unlike most African entrepreneurs, he:

i. Made his money without government patronage, and,

ii. Believes in giving something back to the society that nurtured him.

Those of us who love Africa and wish her well must applaud this commendable decision not to bestow the award on an undeserving person. It would have cheapened the prize somehow.

It is sad that despite much publicized achievements in leadership of the last decade, Africa continues to be besmirched by the likes of Niger, Chad, Uganda, and Cameroon, where the countries' constitutions have been adjusted to satisfy incumbent rulers' desire for an extension of their rules. As though that were not serious enough, the continent appears to be lapsing back to the bad old days of military interventions in politics.

The elected president of Madagascar was chased out of office; he now resides in exile in South Africa. Guinea relapsed into its old autocratic ways when a captain unconstitutionally seized power and promptly killed over a hundred people protesting his illegal usurpation of power. A military junta also seized control in Mauritania. To win needed Western approval, the leader successfully linked his takeover with the Global War on Terror.

In what is emerging as DYNACRATIC rule on the continent, three African presidents have been succeeded by their sons (Gabon, Togo, and Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire). This is likely to be followed in Egypt and Libya where the sons of the incumbents are openly waiting in the wings.

According to the man who instituted the award, Mo Ibrahim, the choice of the committee not to give the award this year was an independent decision, which fulfilled the anticipation of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation at its launch. He said: "The Prize Committee is independent of the board. It is the Prize Committee's decision not to award a prize this year and we entirely respect it. We made clear at the launch of the foundation that there may be years when there is no winner. This foundation was established to stimulate debate around, and improve the quality of, African governance. Although there is much focus on the prize, the foundation is engaged in many other activities to help improve governance. Central to these is the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which the foundation published earlier this month, which gives powerful information to all citizens about the performance of their countries."

Let us touch briefly on the believed front-runners: Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, and Ghana's John Kufuor. For reasons not made clear, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, former president of Sierra Leone, 1996-97 and 1998-2007, was not mentioned at all.

Nigerians would have been scandalized had their former president been awarded the prize. Olusegun Obasanjo was among the luckiest human beings on earth. He remains one of the few men who've had the honour and the privilege of ruling their countries twice. He was a man plucked literally from the jaws of death and made president -- a military tribunal under Nigeria's former strongman, General Abacha, had found him guilty of coup plotting. In his early life, General Obasanjo ruled Nigeria as a military head of state from 1976 to 1979 when he handed power to civilian government to much international acclaim. After his retirement he became a much sought-after African elder statesman. His second coming was not so sterling. The first election that brought him to power was much maligned. To win a second term, he introduced blitzkrieg into Nigeria politics. It was Operation Totality as his People's Democratic Party literally bulldozed its way into power. As though winning dubious elections were not enough, Obasanjo schemed to have an unconstitutional third term. This attempt was thwarted and he left power a disgraced man. He also left a legacy of monumental corruption. Revelations have since been revealing multi-billion-dollar corrupt scandals enacted under his watch. Contracts worth ten billion dollars were said to have been awarded to revamp Nigeria's road with nothing to show for it. Obasanjo's government also claimed to have spent about sixteen billion dollars on electricity; Nigerians continue to live in darkness.

Thabo Mbeki's failure to win the prize was also largely self-inflicted. Easily the most admirable philosopher-king on the African continent in recent times, Thabo Mbeki is highly regarded as the man behind finding African solutions to Africa's problems. He was instrumental in brokering peace deals in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, and the DR Congo. Mbeki was the man the West loved to hate; an independent-minded African patriotic. He refused to toe the West's line on AIDS (insisting that science ought to be open, non-parochial and scientific). He also refused to follow the West in demonizing one of Africa's elder statesmen, Robert Mugabe -- the West's favorite whipping boy.

Mbeki's star dimmed when a South African court indicted him for interfering with the judicial process involving his arch-rival, current President Jacob Zuma. He fell on his sword when he inelegantly lost his party's support in parliament.

Ghana's Kufuor would also have made a controversial winner of the prize. Ghana's highly polarized politics aside, Kufuor's gluttonous personal greediness billed him out of any prize for exemplary leadership. Kufuor was a man that turned his country into a classical vassal state of the imperialist West.

At the end of his insalubrious term, Mr. Kufuor spent good money in crafting a golden award for himself. As though that were not enough, he had his friends award him an ex-gratia package that sent the normally placid Ghanaians baying for blood. The lids have started blowing on huge corruption deals perpetrated under his watch. And he has been shown not to be entirely above the fray as revealed in recent disclosures at a hearing on a telecommunication deal involving Ghana Telecom (GT) and Vodafone (a UK company).

It was alleged that President Kufuor refused a higher price from another company and went for a lower price from Vodafone and hastily agreed to the sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone within 24 hours of their offer. It was alleged that while one competitor offered $947 million or 66.7 percent shares for GT, Mr. Kufuor opted to sell GT to Vodafone, which had offered only $900 million for 7O percent shares. He was also alleged to have accepted the indemnity clauses in the agreement, which were in violation of Ghanaian laws and undermined the principle of probity and accountability.

It was further alleged President Kufuor attended one of the negotiations with Vodafone in the company of only the deputy British High Commissioner on his side. In addition, Mr. Kufuor threw the Ghana Telecom University and Ghana's Fibre Optic backbone to Vodafone for free.

It is to be hoped that African leaders will see this year's NO SHOW as a call to wake up. We live in a much compacted world today, and no leader can cocoon himself in a presidential palace and have his gofers telling him how wonderful he is doing. Africans are watching and, thanks to Mo Ibrahim, the world is watching with us. This year's embarrassment should not be allowed to repeat itself.

According to Smart Awa, spokesperson of Renascent Africa, a socio-political group with headquarters in Lagos, the decision of the committee cannot be faulted:

The awarding body has set a standard, which it cannot compromise, that was a good reason not to give out the prize if none was found worthy. You think of Nelson Mandela, a past recipient, that is when you realize that the prize is intended for political role models. How many of them are there on the continent, among those who have been fortunate to be heads of government? Quite few. So, there would, obviously, have to be some years when nobody would be given the award. If Africa had as many leaders to be awarded the prize for leadership each year then it would not be where it is now. Honestly, I don't think anybody can convincingly fault the judgment of that committee. Their decision mirrors the reality, and it is to a very large extent an expression of disapproval of the quality of leadership we have in Africa.


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.



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Published November 30, 2009