JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Cape Verde's former president, Pedro Verona Pires, has won the 2011 Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership, after a two-year drought in which the $5 million prize was not awarded due to a lack of suitable candidates.
The prize committee hailed Pires' role in transforming Cape Verde, an archipelago of 500,000 people off West Africa and a former Portuguese colony, from single-party autocracy to multi-party democracy.
Under Pires's leadership, Cape Verde was reclassified from the U.N.'s "least developed" category to middle income status, only the second African country to have done so, after Botswana.
"The result is that Cape Verde is now seen as an African success story," said Salim Ahmed Salim, chair of the prize committee, during an announcement broadcast from London to Dakar, Nairobi and Johannesburg.
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The prize is supposed to be awarded each year to a democratically elected African leader who showed excellent leadership and a commitment to good governance, and who has voluntarily left office. Previous winners of the prize are Botswana's President Festus Mogae and Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano.
Sudan-born telecom entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim established the prize in 2007 to celebrate excellence in African leadership. The monetary award also serves to encourage leaders of African countries to leave office after their terms expire, and build positive legacies on the continent instead of trying to hang onto power.
The $5 million award is given over 10 years followed by $200,000 a year for life.
Pires, who was notified of the prize in a phone call from previous winner Chissano, played a prominent role in the fight against Portuguese colonial rule, and became Cape Verde's first prime minister at independence in 1975.
He was elected president in 1991, while in office building up the country's tourism industry and improving infrastructure, before stepping down after two terms, rejected suggestions that he change the constitution to stay in office.
Chissano called Pires "a quiet man, but a man who thinks very deeply about issues."
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