African News

Good African leaders to get award

7 November 2006 at 23:12 | 28557 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau Chief

Initiators of the award for African leaders - former presidents to be precise - have highlighted good governance as the main pre-requisite to achieving this financial prize. Critics of African affairs are however unimpressed with the prize tag.

Launched recently in London, the rewarding of ex-African leaders financially for carrying out their official duties democratically is first of it kind in the 21st century. Many past and current African leaders have stooped so low in the execution of their presidential mandates that monetary incentives are now used to urge such leaders to stand up and be counted.

The launching ceremony, which took place in London on Thursday, October 26, 2006, brought together an array of prominent personalities including former South African President Nelson Mandela, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Bill Clinton, ex-US President. Each endorsed the 5 million US dollars allocated for this award. A stipend for life is also included in the package for former African leaders who prevent the plundering of national coffers or rig elections.

A London based telecommunications tycoon, Mr. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese National, is the pioneer of this prize scheme. Mr. Ibrahim’s award foundation is gradually gaining a broad appeal from people from many walks of life. He owns Celtel, an African mobile phone company with branches in many parts of the continent. Celtel is the first established mobile phone in Sierra Leone and has the largest network in the West African country. Mr. Ibrahim is worth £340 million.

Mr. Mandela said this award for former African leaders who have shown excellence in leadership, will contribute immensely to Africa’s political and economic renaissance.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who also embraces this challenging initiative, noted that this award for good African leaders is an effort that will encourage exemplary leadership on the continent.

The London Guardian newspaper of October 26, confirmed that Mr. Mo Ibrahim, the main sponsor of the award scheme, said doling out this prize to deserving African leaders is necessary because it encourages African rulers to consider a fourth alternative to those they currently face when nearing the end of their term, namely relative poverty, term extension, or corruption.

“Nothing is as important as good governance in ensuring development and reducing poverty. Africa’s leaders face many challenges and this award will help recognise those of them that have done well,” Mr. Ibrahim, 59, noted.

The first award ceremony will take place in 2007. It will continue to be an annual event. The winner will be chosen by members of a board, which will include the former Irish President, Mary Robinson. The annual winner will receive $5 million divided over a 10 year period and $200,000 a year thereafter. Winners will also get an additional $200,000 a year for charitable causes.

Critics of this prize are having a field day. Reports say the head of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group in South Africa, Mr. Hassan Lorgat, has opposed a partial aspect of the idea behind this award because it puts more emphasis and responsibility for good governance on one person.

“It doesn’t read Africa’s problems correctly. Those who keep governments accountable are the ordinary people and that accountability needs to be strengthened. That’s where he should put his money. Or in to the parliaments that could hold leaders accountable,” Mr Lorgat opined.

Blasting further, Mr. Lorgat said many of the worst leaders remained in power with the backing of powerful foreign governments. He cited the late Zairean leader Mobutu Sese Seko and Nigeria’s military rulers who plunged their countries in to poverty through theft of government coffers. “These guys were useful tools to powerful foreign governments. Everyone knew Mobutu was stealing but they turned a blind eye,” he said.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Dr. Mo Ibrahim is the founder of Celtel International and one of Africa’s most successful business leaders. Originally from Sudan, Dr Ibrahim is a global expert in mobile communications with a distinguished academic and business career.

In 1998, he founded MSI Cellular Investments, which was later renamed Celtel International. The company now operates in 15 African countries, under licences that cover more than a third of the continent’s population. The company has invested more than $750m in Africa, helping to bring the benefits of mobile communications to millions of people across the continent. In 2005, Celtel was sold to MTC Kuwait for $3.4bn, making it one of Africa’s most successful companies ever.

Dr Ibrahim holds a BSc in electrical engineering from the University of Alexandria, Egypt, an MSc in electronics and electrical engineering from the University of Bradford, and PhD in mobile communications from the University of Birmingham. He is a member of the Africa Regional Advisory Board of London Business School.

Photo: Dr. Mo Ibrahim.