The Mo Ibrahim Prize: Yet Another Drought By Sola Ademiluyi

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese Telecommunications Guru decided to do something which is not usually associated with African billionaires when he decided to set up a prize in his name for good political leadership. The prize established in 2007 was borne out of his concern for the African continent which has a dearth of good leadership. The lack of good leadership  is largely responsible for its economic and developmental backwardness with the concomitant effect of grinding poverty, massive brain drain, capital flight and never ending hunger amongst many other crises.

The criteria for the prestigious prize is the fulfillment of the social contract espoused by John Locke by ensuring the provision of health, education, security and economic development to the people they are responsible to and the handing over to a democratically elected successor. The reason for the prize being the highest in the world – $5 million to be paid over a span of ten years and another $200,000 annually is not surprising. African Leaders still have the toga of royal imperialists who view their countries as mere fiefdoms to be mercilessly plundered and raped. Politics still remains the fastest way to make a fortune in most African countries. The trappings are too alluring. Too much power is vested at the centre in many States in the continent which makes the Helmsman a tin god who can do no wrong in most cases. There is also the problem of the sit tight syndrome which has been a recurring bane since most Nations attained political independence. Many Nationalists have failed the test of leadership and succumbed to the temptation of a lifelong presidency. The greatest advocate of Pan-Africanism, Dr. Osayegfo Kwame Nkrumah ended up as a dictator by declaring himself President for Life, outlawing opposition parties, banning trade unions which ironically greatly aided his swift ascension to power as an upstart, jailed political opponents – Joseph Danquah, who ensured his return from the United Kingdom in 1947 and made him the Secretary-General of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) died in detention in 1964. He reduced the power of the supreme courts by making himself the last course of appeal. Some of his economic policies brought disaster to Ghanaians. His attempt to rapidly industrialize Ghana ended up in a fiasco as the debt profile rose to about $1 billion at the time of his overthrow. He also converted the windfall which the cocoa farmers enjoyed in 1954 to finance capital projects which greatly alienated him for a key power base that enabled him outwit other longer established political rivals. The cocoa farmers in the south were also heavily taxed to raise funds for the Akosombo dam in Eastern Ghana.

Robert Mugabe emerged from being a nationalist hero to an international pariah. He has vowed to die in office as he is still there at 89 with virtually nothing to offer his beleaguered people. He was incarcerated for a decade and came to office at independence taking advantage of his tribal numerical strength to scheme out the more urbane Joshua Nkomo. His land reform attempts in 2000 brought nothing but pain to his countrymen. While not condemning the act of land restoration as the injustice of the colonial system turned the natives into squatters, the modus operandi was ill-timed. It was a mere populist agenda to reward his loyalists to consolidate his grip on power. The blacks were not well prepared to manage the farms and this only brought hunger and needless economic sanctions from the west. Zimbabwe slid from the food basket of Africa to a land where a loaf of bread is more valuable than a wheel barrow of Zimbabwean dollars. On 3 August this year, he won a scandalous 7th term in office.

Nigeria, being the most populous country in the continent cannot be ignored. Fate made former President Olusegun Obasanjo rule the multi-ethnic nation three times as a military and civilian ruler. His 1979 handing over endeared him greatly to the hearts of democracy lovers the world over and this made him automatically a world statesman. He was so sought after that he contested for though lost the United Nations Secretary-General ship in 1986. His African Leadership Forum was a Mecca of sorts and enjoyed a chummy relationship with Jimmy Carter and Andrew Young. The nation battered by decades of military rule breathed a great sigh of relief when he came back on board in 1999. Alas the sit-tight mentality caught up with man fondly known as Baba Iyabo as he attempted to have a third term in office in 2007. His scandalous billion naira library launch while still in office was the acme of corruption which rubbished whatever was left of his international image. No wonder he was pelted with eggs by angry Nigerians in a London event! His intervention in Darfur is laughable as he has questions to answer for the destruction of Odi and Zaki-Biam which left thousands dead and many more homeless and destitute.

The prize money though commendable will hardly be enough reason for Heads of States to aspire to it. A councillor who is the lowest political officer in Nigeria can easily become a multimillionaire in American dollars many times over. Why then would a whole Head of Government aspire to a prize that can hardly take care of what they budget for lunch in a year? The political clime is different from what obtains in the United Kingdom where Tony Blair started making his millions after stepping down as Prime Minister in 2007. He spent 24 years in politics. Bill Clinton couldn’t afford a house after over two decades in politics. He had to turn to the soap box and his books to join the millionaires club. Only three leaders so far – Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Festus Mogae of Botswana and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde and they undoubtedly deserved it.

The main problem of African leaders is that of a deep-seated insecurity. Leadership must be thought of in terms of service and the leaving of legacies. Everything must not necessarily reduced to money. Does the world care how much Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohammed amongst other revolutionary leaders are worth? Another reality is that if a leader performs well, he or she wouldn’t grow hungry. Which blue-chip wouldn’t want such on their board? There would be an avalanche of speaking assignments and bestselling books amongst a thousand and one way to make a legitimate fortune. One is tempted to opine that it is in the DNA of African leaders not to imbibe the spirit of delayed gratification.

The much beloved Madiba Nelson Mandela will soon depart this globe and the painful reality is that his successors are so short in supply. His stock needs to be swiftly replenished so that the future of this beleaguered continent can be assured.

 @ademiluyitony on Twitter

The main problem of African leaders is that of deep-seated insecurity