No Winner for $5 Million African Leadership Prize

Louise Watt, Yahoo! News, October 19, 2009

In a snub to recent ex-presidents and heads of state in Africa, organizers of a multimillion-dollar annual prize for good governance on the continent said Monday they had decided not to give out the award this year.

The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership is awarded only to democratically elected heads of state who have left office in the past three years. That requirement limits the pool of contenders, eliminating the continent’s strongmen leaders, some of whom have held onto power for decades.

The committee considered “some credible candidates” but could not select a winner, said former Botswana President Ketumile Masire, a board member of the group that awards the prize.

Created in 2007 by Sudan-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, the prize awards $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life thereafter to encourage leadership that improves the prospects of people in the continent.

Ibrahim was asked at a news conference Monday about politicians who meet the award criteria but were not chosen, including former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Ghanaian President John Kufuor.

Ibrahim, the founder of the African telecommunications company Celtel International, said the foundation had “full respect” for those leaders. It was unclear why the committee, which is independent of the foundation’s board, was unable to choose one for the prize.

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“We’re seeing in places from Senegal to Libya attempts to pass power from father to son, and it’s been a year of coups in places like Madagascar and Mauritania and Guinea,” said Reed Brody, a Brussels-based legal counselor for Human Rights Watch. “It hasn’t been a great year for democracy in Africa. Maybe that’s what they were trying to say.”

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This year’s prize committee was chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and included Nobel peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, and former Irish President Mary Robinson.

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