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Mo Ibrahim prize and depletion in leadership qualities

No doubt, the non-award for the second successive year of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize for African leadership again reaffirms the argument that there is…

No doubt, the non-award for the second successive year of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize for African leadership again reaffirms the argument that there is depletion in the leadership qualities in Africa.

In Africa, political mismanagement, corruption and disregard by the authorities for the bulk of the people have prevailed, indeed flourished, in the last half century that has followed the first withdrawal of colonial rulers. What African leaders such as Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Mengistu, Moi and a host of others, both old and new, have created in their various countries are conditions that are distinctly unfavorable for the development of people’s abilities, political institutions as well as an all round development across the continent.

Clearly, most African potentates have ruled their countries like medieval lords, looting their faltering economies and through shocking mismanagement created hardships and famines for people who do not have the opportunity to vote them out due to weak structures and corrupt systems.

Based on the ideals and standards of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Leadership Prize, it is clear that African leaders are not worthy of the prize at stake.

 It is against this backdrop that the Prize Committee informed the Board of the Foundation that it has not selected a winner for this year.

 Last year, the Prize Committee announced that it had considered some credible candidates, in the person of chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki and John Kuffour, but after an in-depth review, could not select a winner. This year, the Prize Committee told the Board that there have been no new candidates or new developments and therefore no selection of a winner has been made. This is seen as a resounding vote of no confidence on the leadership class in the continent.

Responding to the Prize Committee decision, Mo Ibrahim, the founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said:

“The Board respects the decision of the Prize Committee not to select a winner for the 2010 prize.

“The Prize Committee, which is independent from the Board, is a unique repository of experience and expertise.’’

“Whether there is a winner or not, the purpose of the Foundation is to challenge those in Africa and across the world to debate what constitutes excellence in leadership.’’

“The standards set for the Prize winner are high and the number of potential candidates each year is small. So it is likely that there will be years when no prize is awarded. In the current year, no new candidates emerged.’’

The depletion in the quality of leadership in the continent is in a serious state with so many perspectives leading to what it is.

 Even though the lapses in the practice of democracy in Africa can be attributed to many factors both internal and external to the respective countries, there is the unquestionable evidence that the lapses are mainly as a result of bad political leadership. At the top of this failure of leadership is the scant respect that many of the leaders have for the constitution and constitutionalism. The ease with which extra terms of office are pursued by certain leaders and the ruthless manner in which the illegal or unconstitutional objective is pursued has made this failure particularly objectionable and attributable to failed leadership.

Democracy is not only the observance of certain norms and traditions; its first requirement is the upholding of the integrity of the electoral process itself. Inseparable collateral to the respect of the electoral process is the assurance of a peaceful and constitutional transition from one government to another.

Today, African governments, by and large, continue to pay lip service to industrialization and the promotion of production bases. Most African countries and economies continue to make very slow progress towards integrating their production bases into the sub-region’s economic blocs of the continent with poor basic lessons of economic self reliance.

The building of roads, railways, harbors and communications as well as the rehabilitation of dams and electricity plants have become more of a mirage in most parts of Africa. The reason why only a few are able to emerge out of this particular difficulty is the pervasive and debilitating nature of corruption which makes those involved see this need only in terms of what is in it for them.

For instance, the African Union (AU) estimates that approximately 140 billion dollars (about 25% of official gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa) is lost annually in the region due to corruption.

In its essence, corruption serves to undermine visionary leadership and responsible governance arrangements by destroying or weakening the capacity of nation-states and societies to deal effectively and holistically with the challenges and opportunities that confront them.

Not surprisingly, the net effect of Africa’s governance and leadership crises over the last four or five decades, are reflected broadly in: the high levels of political tension and instability and the associated violations of human rights and refugees; weak overall economic performance and the near-decimation and exit of the middle class and vast hopelessness among the lower class in the wake of severe joblessness, declining real incomes and inflationary pressures; collapsed or retarded education facilities, transport and communications infrastructure, and healthcare systems; social bonds and values that have left bare or fallible, the bases for collective normalcy and push for transformative national and regional development.

These are in contrast with the requirements and standards of the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Foundation Prize which is significant for its attempt to encourage good governance by seeking to correct the anomalies for which millions of Africans have suffered deprivations and life of penury.

Of course, much of these dysfunctional outcomes are linked to the attendant costs, not only in terms of vast lost opportunities, but also in the millions of lives lost to violence, hunger, diseases, accidents and ignorance. In essence, through endemic corruption, African leaders and public officials are engaging in what we must describe as de facto financial violence against the African people. There is no way a prestigious award could be won within such a framework and failure.

African leaders have continued to fall far short of the legitimate expectations of their people as well as a simple development indices for basic things such as improved life expectancy, food security, personal safety, healthcare, electricity, housing, potable water, education and employment. While many African countries have recorded substantial progress in many of these areas since independence, most of these countries have fallen far short of realistically achievable targets due to greed, corruption, negligence and incompetence.

Clearly, a good or strong leadership is typically the child of challenging circumstances. So far, it seems African leaders and public officials are failing to measure up which in turn, are failing to grab the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize which was designed as the biggest annual prize in the world.($5miilion over ten years and an additional $200,000 thereafter for life)

A strong leadership as reflected in the political will of principal actors is crucial and indispensable

Historically, very little has ever been achieved in any society without good leadership. Basically, good leadership is a fundamental requirement for meaningful social change. Thus, it would be futile to expect transformative change in Africa without good leadership and governance arrangements.

The first winner of the Prize was Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, in 2007; this was followed by Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana in 2008. In addition, Nelson Mandela was made an Honorary Laureate in 2007.

After the emergence of these previous winners, it is somehow clear why the Mo Ibrahim prize has eluded African leaders.

Dr. Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim is a Sudanese-born British mobile communications entrepreneur. He worked for several other telecommunications companies before founding Celtel. He is currently on the board of the Foundation. Ibrahim created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation In 2007; the Foundation inaugurated the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership which currently gives the prestigious prize.

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