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.