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Opinion: No African leadership prize for 2 years in a row

Mo Ibrahim Foundation decides there is little to celebrate

Thabo Mbeki and Joachim Chissano
One wins and the other doesn't. Former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, right, won the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African leadership. But former South African president Thabo Mbeki, left, did not. Here the two embrace in Maputo July 10, 2003. (Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced for the second year in a row that it has declined to award its prize for excellence in African leadership.

The Ibrahim prize seeks to highlight and celebrate positive leadership on the continent and to encourage African leaders to leave office in a constitutional way.

Regrettably, the prize committee's decision again not to make the award underscores that there is little to celebrate about the commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law by many African heads of state.

The Ibrahim Prize, established by Sudanese-born telecommunications magnate Mo Ibrahim, is awarded to a democratically elected leader who has served his or her term within the limits set by the country's constitution and has left office within the past three years.

The prize committee draws on a wide range of evidence about good governance or its absence, including the foundation's own Ibrahim Index of African Governance. The prize, perhaps the most lucrative one of its kind, pays $5 million over 10 years and $200 thousand per annum for life thereafter.

In addition, the foundation considers granting a further $200,000 per year for ten years toward public interest activities and good causes espoused by the winner. In 2007, the prize was awarded to Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique for his post-civil war reconciliation policies and his stepping down from the presidency after two terms.

In 2008, it went to Festus Mogae, who also stepped down after two terms as president of Botswana.

The award committee emphasized the contributions of both those leaders to democracy and the rule of law.

Nelson Mandela, perhaps the most deserving African leader, had been out of office too long to be eligible for the prize when it was established. So, the prize committee made him an honorary laureate.

The highly distinguished prize committee, chaired by Kofi Anan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, is independent of the foundation. Its other members are Martii Ahtisaari, former president of Finland; Aicha Bah Diallo, former minister of education in Guinea and director of basic education at UNESCO; Mohammed El Baradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela's wife and the chancellor of the University of Cape Town; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general of the now defunct Organization of African Unity and former prime minister of Tanzania.