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On the Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership

Dear Mo Ibrahim,

If you were to ask me, I’d just scrap the prize altogether.

There’s been a lot of debate in the past week about the Prize Committee’s decision not to award a prize this year.   From those who feel that this says a lot about the dire state of leadership in Africa, to those wondering why Kufuor the former president of Ghana didn’t qualify for the prize and what this means as far as the idea that the prize is meant to serve as an incentive.

And lets not forget the brouhaha about the governance index and how (whether?) to “Africanize” it.   My two cents, while I’m at it, why not feed it to the Nepad African Peer Review Mechanism?   It’s still slow but most countries are cooperating, there’s a whole infrastructure supporting it, and there’s that slight advantage of you know – the data being compiled in places that are not Cambridge, Massachusetts and Washington DC.

But I digress.

As far as the motivations behind the prize, you have written:

I have faced some criticism, with people suggesting I am trying to bribe leaders to do their jobs, and therefore patronising them, to others asking me why I have not spent the money on bed nets and boreholes. The critics are failing to take into account how central governance and leadership are for Africa’s development. In addition, western leaders have a future after their time in office – they can sit on the boards of companies, take up speaking engagements or write memoirs. But what do decent, hard-working African leaders have to look forward to once they retire? This is part of the importance of our prize. It provides African leaders with the option of continuing a life in public service.

I don’t get how the prize enhances governance and leadership in Africa – the problem is that most African leaders today are thieving, corrupt, buffoons who spend their time in office lining up their pockets so deep that the Ibrahim prize is chump change and that issues of legacy are irrelevant (see e.g. “I have no regrets”Moi),  but I do get the part that decent leaders need a plan B – post retirement…although the fact is that most of them are voting themselves very nice “exit” packages anyway (see Mozambique, Ghana) .   But, rather than rewarding African leaders for doing what they should be doing as a matter of course, why not set up a fund where e.g. if they want to build a library, or write a book, or set up a business – they have to apply for the money.   So they have a plan B, it’s just not automatic.

Better still.   Just shift the foundation’s focus away from things that have a minimal impact on the future of African leadership…I mean the index and the prize are just as about as impractical you can get if you are serious about changing the face of African leadership…if you ask me.

What should you be doing then you ask?

Well, any organization that is trying to do any serious work around leadership in Africa has make young people the core of any programming.   Otherwise you haven’t looked the demographics of Africa yet and seriously thought about the implications.   Convincing the Mugabe’s of the world to step down, is only part of the problem – you have to ask who is replacing the old guard?  Is there a pipeline?  Are the replacements different?  Or are they just a younger, hungrier, more cynical version of the same (see Kenya’s parliament today).

I see that your foundation does offer scholarships to rising leaders, that’s a good start.   But if the intention is to grow leaders at home, I would offer scholarships to enable students to attend local institutions as well.

And scholarships are so inside the box.

How about a fund for young Africans who are running for office – they have to come up with a plan, sign a commitment to good governance, and commit to being open with their campaign and if they get elected with their voting records in Parliament, public declarations etc….sound a bit crazy?  Maybe.  But in comparison to a index of democracy…hhhm.

Or if that’s too political – a travel fund/scholarship for young Africans to travel within Africa and spend a month or 6 months or a year – living in a different country, doing community service, writing a book, taking pictures…whatever – the underlying idea being that they would have the opportunity to get to know their own continent, to expand their worldview in a different way, to network with their fellow Africans, and to start building cross-border relationships which are critical to the future of the continent (think trade, ease of travel, etc.).  Really, the AU shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of opportunities for Africans to engage meaningfully.

Or, if that’s too wish wishy – an Africa corps then – sort of like a peace corps for Africans by Africans – open to those in Africa or the diaspora.

You get the point.   The Mo Ibrahim foundation needs to jazz it up and be more disruptive, if you are really serious about more Mandelas, and not Mobutus.



*KP readers, what you do differently?  Indulge me please.

26 comments to On the Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership

  • nairobinotes

    this is great. i think that sending african students or aspiring politicians around to other african countries is a fantastic idea – certainly a much better plan than some fake political unity ala gaddafi.

  • Mo is trying… and the idea is to attract the ‘reformers’ to compete for the prize. Of course, most of the current crop (including kibaki, museveni, etc) have already voted themselves off the list!

    Kufuor was on the list… until he designed a ridiculous package for himself!

  • I may have missed something about this leadership award. Should it not be enough reward that one is chosen to serve a nation?

  • Hi KP.

    This constant criticism of initiatives is what is killing Africa. Look Mo started something which in his opinion was mean’t to bring change in Africa. He should be getting gratitude for what he has done if only by bringing this issue to the forefront.

    If KP or someone else has a better idea that is jazzy and more sexy then by all means go ahead and implement it with your resources or look for resources from donors. If you do we will all support you though I can’t guarantee there won’t be another KP out there with a post critisizing the very idea you have begun.

    My point is we are adept at finding holes in our leadership or any initiatives whether started by locals, govt or donors, but we hardly do anything ourselves. What are you personally doing to help in finding good leadership? I mean it could be something as simple as presenting yourself as a candidate to replace the leaders you criticize so much. Alternatively the wonderful initiatives you propose you should be pushing for their implementation instead of asking Mo to scrap his initiative. If I recall correctly Mo hasn’t stopped anyone from starting a similar initiative or competing idea.

    The so called young and tech savvy elite of Africa have taken the western style of looking down on African initiatives as somehow substandard or ripe for constant criticism. When you ask them why they are constantly critical the only defence you get is that it’s my democratic right to speak out. The question is why don’t you roll up your sleeves and get to work? Let’s hear you speak out by doing things not constant yapping. As they say faith without works is a dead faith. I say talk without action is empty talk. Talk is cheap, young Africans let’s standup, create, build and act then everyone will begin to respect us. Africa yes we can.

  • Jellyfish… amen… re: your comment. Let others provide alternate rewards… and let Mo do his bit… his award/program does no harm…

    Now, my friend… what harm do gays do to Kenya versus the politicians we keep on re-electing?

    Why is it considered more ‘unafrican’ to reject panga gangs (Kenya 2004) than gayism?

  • Ory Okolloh

    Um, Jellyfish…first Mo has said/written in various forums that the prize is meant to inspire change in governance. And just because I am critiquing the effort, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it…this attitude of woishee at least someone is doing something and of defaulting to the lowest common denominator I don’t agree with. And if I ever start something, critiques that seek to help me improve on what I’m doing will always be welcome. I’m personally cultivating and supporting several initiatives that enhance transparency in governance and I’m mentoring two young women at the African Leadership Academy. What are you doing, personally, if I may ask?

  • Mo is trying, but I agree that the prize is chump change to most African leaders who have spent 10 years in office. still it was a bold move to (I) create the prize (ii) not award a winner this year as a statement (will zenawi or mugabe stake a claim to the prize next year?) there are prizes and opportunities for young leaders, and Mo set out to incentivize retirement of hippo’s. I agree it would be nice to feed into APRM to keep ex-leaders busy as they also crave recognition, status & dignity (not harassment/prosecution) in retirement’ and not just cash, otherwise they will take their prize and go live in Saudia or France.

  • Joyce muhavi

    Well I agree with some of you on this issue of MoI,though a big critique of his way of awarding african leaders.

    Firstly,I view this prize as humiliating and undermining to the african leadership, because in my opinion, if a leader has served well,completed his service and wants to leave a trail of dignity, respect and quality leadership (Mandela), then he deserves to be given no money but a big applause from his own countrymen etc. This prize shows again how money hungry and power hungry african leaders are perceived in the world. Why should we bribe our leaders to step out of office?Isn’t that promoting more corruption?

    Secondly if MoI says african leaders have nothing to look up to after their term compared to the western leaders,I totally disagree, because this guys have big pensions, saved and invested enough to live on till death, considering they all get out office when their life expectancy is diminishing.If they would leave office younger, then I would consider a strategy of maintaining them as advisers to governments, companies etc, but not giving them cash. If it is a must, then I think a trophie will do, so that family members and a people of that nation can also live to remember those qualities.

    Lastly, we should blame ourselves for this shame we put ourselves into, because we are the ones in possession of the voters card.

    Jellyfish, I’ve never heard of any african elite who defends himself with democractic right, quite to the contrary,I don’t know who you deal with. There are many africans who are ready or have even tried to roll up their sleeves and get to work. However they search for a stepping stone in vain and the moment they get one they experience rigidity and frustration. So how do you explain that? And why should power be a thing of struggle, scramble and partition in Africa to this hour! I thought this left with the mzungu colonialist! but as we continue discussing here asking ourselves what is right and wrong, the western ally is coming back,only that this time without force, indirectly and with a very sweet tongue in the name of development in Africa. Did you realize we are developing since 50 years, how far are we? putting in mind that Korea was at the same level with us in the 60s, they are now talking nuclear language and we are still talking micro-credits which is no different to subsistence farming only in a modern socalled politically correct language. What about all this subsidies politics, don’t we have experts on the african soil? Even if we get to work it will always be for our own good and that of our families and not of the people, unless we change our attitude, arrogance and greed………..

  • orangasli

    I actually like the idea behind Mo’s award and hope he doesnt ditch it. Why on earth would anyone brand that “lowest common denominator?” What makes you think that what you’re doing is by any means “better”? This level of arrogance by someone whose name is yet to resonate is frankly speaking quite embarrassing.

  • UzoA

    @ Orangasli – and so is your belief that one’s name has to first resonate before one’s opinion is to be considered or of any benefit.

  • UzoA

    meant to say

    @ Orangasli – what is actually embarrassing is your belief that one’s name has to first resonate before one’s opinion is to be considered or of any benefit.

  • orangasli

    You see, I am yet to hear of a croaking frog that prevented a cow from drinking water in the stream.

  • I like Mo Ibrahim, but I found the award demeaning – as if you have to bribe someone to do the job s/he is getting paid for anyway (and yes, it’s petty cash: Gado did a fantastic cartoon with Mugabe leaning over to Museveni, saying ‘USD5m? That’s what I clear in a year). I don’t buy the argument that outgoing presidents have nothing to look forward to: Apart from the fact that they earned way more than the vast majority of their citizens during their tenure, they usually have a pension that is very cushy indeed. That alone should be enough, period. And someone extraordinary like Nelson Mandela then of course has lots of speaking opportunities etc.

    I’d have liked some sort of African equivalent of the Nobel Prize: for achievements in peace, human rights, science, economics, …. and any other useful category that you can think of. Possibly not just for individuals, but also for institutions.

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  • Richard Okech

    African leaders and people are doing the wrong things everyday. Mo Ibrahim has stirred change (albeit in a small way) to change our collective mindset (if not to remind us that we are on a roller-costa to hell) and instead of building upon his trials we are telling him how meaningless his efforts are?!

    I think the graetest setback to Africa’s development isn’t a lack of resources or leadership but our own mindset, that is fixated on ideals, perfect solutions which do not exist anywhere on this imperfect world.

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  • […] about the merits and relevance of the award have always been sharply divided. In 2009, Ory Okolloh said she did not see how the prize enhances governance and leadership in Africa: I don’t get how the […]