Monday, April 02, 2007

The easiest, and hardest, $5 million in Africa

Via African Path comes news that former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan will be named chairman of the committee that hands out the world's biggest prize. And what prize is that, you may ask?

It's the truly prestigious Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

If you've never heard of this prize, don't worry - you're not alone, but read on - this is a prize that could, in theory, revolutionize world politics. Founded last year by Sudanese born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's $1.3 billion dollar endowment is larger than even the Nobel Prize, and he's dedicated the money to one single purpose: to get successful African leaders to leave on time, and transfer power peacefully.

If this sounds unusual to most of my readers, consider this: Africa has the largest number of dictators any continent on earth, and many in office for three decades or more. Mo Ibrahim has correctly identified ossified dictatorships as an obstacle to Africa's progress - indeed - to that of an African renaissance, and he's put his formidable wealth to the task of shoring up his vision of politically transforming the political landscape in Africa. If leaders cannot be forced to change, or leave, Mr. Ibrahim will sweeten the pot with a buyout offer.

And what an offer it is: the winner of the prize to be awarded to an African leader who the prize committee decides "has demonstrated excellence in African leadership", and furthermore, transfers power to a successor legally and peacefully. In return, the winner will receive an a cash reward of $5,000,000 and $200,000 per annum for the rest of his or her life. And let's face it - with corruption and embezzlement endemic among Africa's most undemocratic leaders, Mo Ibrahim certainly brought the right package of incentives to the table. After all - why steal a fortune when you can win one from Mo Ibrahim? While this should be the easiest fortune any departing head of state has ever earned, Mo Ibrahim knows that in much of Africa, it will prove to be among the hardest.

Mo Ibrahim may be an idealist, but he's certainly not naive. He realizes that his prize will not transform Africa's political landscape overnight, but it's impossible not to admire his unique way of tackling the problem by going to the source - the leaders. Unfortunately, he seems to be alone in acknowledging that good, and accountable, governance is a prerequisite for Africa's economic evolution, and that poverty cannot be eliminated as long as nations are governed by despotic kleptocrats. His prize might also have been less necessary if large, powerful nations had stopped to consider what propping up some of these fetid dictatorships does to the unhappy subjects of these nations.

Mo Ibrahim has brought a perspective to the problem of bad governance that cannot come from governments or stale international bureaucracies: that of the entrepreneur. The winner of the first annual Mo Ibrahim Prize is set for October 22, 2007, and you can be sure that I'll be paying attention to who wins.

1 comment:

Kenna said...

Hi - I don't think there is a 1.3 bn USD endowment. Mo Ibrahim only sold Celtel from 3.4 bn USD of which Dr, Ibrahim received 1.4 bn. With 1.3 bn USD, his foundation would be almost as large as the MasterCard Foundation (1.7 bn USD).

Also, the foundation would probably have various regulations requiring it to disburse more per year than currently, e.g., given the lack of selection of leaders in the past two years.