For the second year in a row, the prize committee for the Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership have decided that no one merited the award. The Ibrahim Prize, which is paid for by the Sudanese telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, but decided by committee, is the largest cash prize in the world, amounting to $5m over 10 years and then $200,000 annually for life.
It is awarded to African leaders who provide a strong role model to others and who have stepped down voluntarily from power. Since the prize was launched in 2007 it has only been awarded three times, to Cape Verde’s President Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires (2011), Botwana’s President Festus Gontebanye Mogae (2008) and Mozambique’s President Joaquim Alberto Chissano (2007).
Speaking at a press conference in London, Salim Ahmed Salim, the chairman of the prize committee and ex-prime minister of Tanzania, refused to reveal whether any ex-presidents were close candidates for the prize. Mo Ibrahim added that he was “hopeful” that he will hand out the award soon, and even suggested they may in future years have to split the prize between several deserving candidates.
A financial reward seems like a strange way to encourage leaders to turn away from corruption - $5m may be the world’s biggest cash prize, but it’s pocket money for the average kleptomaniac dictator. Then again, you could equally argue the prize money is too large. It is intended to allow winners to 'use their skills and experience at the continental level once they have left national office.' Which is an interesting idea, although it's not clear whether the prize would need to be quite so generous to support this goal.
Ibrahim, however, insists his prize is having an effect, even on years when no one is awarded. He says it has generated interest from incumbent leaders, who are keen to implement democratic reforms, telling journalists at the press conference that “a new generation of African presidents are coming forward, who are very serious and who are taking these things [accountability and good governance] very seriously.”
Overall, Ibrahim, believes that across Africa governance is improving. His eponymous foundation produces an annual report, also launched today, which ranks African countries in terms of governance, where governance is seen as a function of improved safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development. His report has found that 94 per cent of Africans have experienced improved governance since 2000, but that while human rights, economic growth and human development have all got better across the continent, personal safety and the rule of law is deteriorating.
The picture also varies from country to country. According to his report, Mauritius, Botswana and Cape Verde experienced the best governance, while Eritrea, DRC and Somalia are the worst governed countries. While Liberia showed the best improvement in governance this year, Libya fared the worst.