And the 2013 Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership goes to...

No one won the world's biggest cash prize this year. Again.

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.

Sudan-born telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim introduces the 2013 Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African Leadership. Photo:Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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We can't rush to war in Syria without a plan for peace

A recent visit to Iraq has left me doubtful that the Prime Minister's plan can suceed, says Liam Byrne.

As shock of the Paris lifts and the fightback starts, all eyes are now the prime minister and, at last, the 'full spectrum response' we were promised months ago.

But what's needed now is not just another plan to bomb the ground -  but a plan to hold the ground we win. Four days in Northern Iraq has made me deeply sceptical about air strikes alone. It's convinced me that after the mistakes of Iraq and Libya, we cannot have yet another effort to win the battle and lose the war. Without politics and aid, projectiles and air-raids will fail. It's as simple as that.

After the horror of Paris it's easy to ignore that in Iraq and Syria, Isil is now in retreat. That's why these animals are lashing out with such barbarism abroad. In the ground war, Kurdistan's fighters in particular, known as the Peshmerga - or 'those who face death' -  have now shattered the myth of Isil's invincibility.

A fortnight ago, I travelled through Northern Iraq with a group of MP's arriving on the day the key town of Sinjar was stormed, cutting the umbilical cord - route 47 - between Isil's spiritual home of Mosul in Iraq and Isil HQ in Raqqa. And on the frontline in Kirkuk in north west Iraq, two miles from Isil territory, Commander Wasta Rasul briefed us on a similar success.

On the great earthwork defences here on the middle of a vast brown plain with the flares of the oil pumps on the horizon, you can see through binoculars, Isil's black flags. It was here, with RAF support, that Isil was driven out of the key oil-fields last summer. That's why air cover can work. And despite their best efforts - including a suicide attack with three Humvees loaded with explosives - Isil's fight back failed. Along a 1,000 km battle-front, Isil is now in retreat and their capitals aren't far from chaos.

But, here's the first challenge. The military advance is now at risk from economic collapse. Every political leader I met in Iraq was blunt: Kurdistan's economy is in crisis. Some 70% of workers are on the public payroll. Electricity is free. Fuel is subsidised. In other words, the Government's bills are big.

But taxes are non-existent. The banks don't work. Inward investment is ensnared in red tape. And when the oil price collapsed last year, the Government's budget fell through the floor.

Now, in a bust up with Baghdad, cash has been slashed to Kurdistan, just as a wave of 250,000 refugees arrived, along with over a million internally displaced people fleeing Da'esh and Shiite militias in the south. Nearly 6,000 development projects are stalled and people - including the Peshmerga - haven't been paid for months.

We have brave allies in the fight against Isil - but bravery doesn't buy them bullets. As we gear up the battle against Isil, it's now vital we help boost the Kurd's economic strength - or their sinews of war will weaken. There's an old Kurdish saying; 'the mountains are our only friends'. It's an expression born of years of let-down. In the fight against Da'esh, it's a mistake we can't afford to repeat today.

Second, everyone I met in Iraq was clear that unless the Sunni community can find alternative leadership to Isil then any ground we win may soon be lost, if not to Isil, then “Isil II”. Let's remember Isil didn't just 'emerge'. It grew from a tradition of political Islam decades old and mutated like a Frankenstein monster first by Al-Qaeda, then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Al-Nusra front and now Isil.

Crucial to this warped perversion has been the total breakdown of trust between Iraq's Sunni residents - and the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad. In Mosul, for instance, when the Iraqi security forces left, they were stoned in their Humvees by local residents who felt completely humiliated. In refugee camps, it's not hard to find people who didn't flee Da'esh but Shi'ite militia groups.

Now, tracking surveys in Mosul report tension is rising. The Isil regime is sickening people with an obsessive micro-management of the way everyone lives and prays - down to how men must style their beards - with brutal punishment for anyone stepping out of line. Mobile phone coverage is cut. Food prices are rising. Electricity supplies are sporadic. Residents are getting restless. But, the challenge of gaining - and then holding a city of 3 million people will quite simply prove impossible without alternative Sunni leaders: but who are they? Where will they come from? The truth is peace will take politics.

There's one final piece of the puzzle, the PM needs to reflect on. And that's how we project a new unity of purpose. We desperately need to make the case that our cause is for both western and Islamic freedom.

I serve the biggest Muslim community in Britain - and amongst my constituents, especially young people, there's a profound sense that the conduct of this debate is making them feel like the enemy within. Yet my constituents hate Isil's violence as much as anyone else.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, I heard first-hand the extraordinary unity of purpose to destroy Isil with total clarity: “Your fight,” said the Kurdistan prime minister to us “is our fight.” In the refugee camps at Ashti and Bakhara, you can see why. Over a million people have been displaced in Kurdistan - grandparents, parents, children - fleeing to save their children - and losing everything on the way. “Da'esh,” said one very senior Kurdistan official 'aren't fighting to live. They're fighting to die. They're not battling a country or a system. They're battling humanity".

Here in Europe, we are hardwired to the fortunes of Central Asia, by trade, energy needs, investment and immigration. It's a vast region home to the seminal struggles of Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia and India/ Pakistan. Yet it's a land with which we share traditions of Abrahamic prophets, Greek philosophy and Arabic science. We need both victory and security. So surely we can't try once again to win a war without a plan for winning a peace. It's time for the prime minister to produce one.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.