13 June 2010

No Ibrahim Award in 2010 Either

For the second year in a row, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has decided not to award the Mo Ibrahim Award. It had been one of the early criticisms of the award that the talent pool of ‘democratically elected former African Executive Head of State or Government who (have) served their term in office within the limits set by the country's constitution and (have) left office in the last three years’ would run out pretty quickly.

So the foundation is now in a bind: if they keep not awarding the prize, then it quickly becomes at best irrelevant. If they water down their own criteria to award it – it becomes irrelevant, too. In fact, when Mo Ibrahim was asked about the award at the Nation Media Conference in March, he got surprisingly defensive over what were fairly straightforward questions. The impending launch of the ‘Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships, a selective programme designed to identify and prepare the next generation of outstanding African leaders by providing them with mentoring opportunities in key multilateral institutions’, seems an effort to work around this hitch with the award.

Of course it’s Mo Ibrahim’s money, and so he can do whatever he well pleases with it. Still, that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion:

That it’s just not a very good idea to concentrate on presidents of all people: It’s exceedingly difficult to become and stay president and be clean around here.

I also find the concept that African presidents need to be paid off to keep their hands out of the till questionable, on two levels: They need to be bribed to rule properly? A bit of an oxymoron.

And if that is so, then USD5m are just not going to wash: The Nation’s Gado drew a fantastic cartoon in which Mugabe leant over to Museveni, whispering to him: ‘USD5m? I can clear that in a year’. It’s petty cash for anyone running an oil economy: Gabon’s Ali Ben Bongo – who took over the presidency from his father - has just bought property in Paris for GBP85m.

The argument that they need to have a perspective for the time after their tenure is nonsense, too, I find: For starters, they have spent years earning a salary and perks vastly above that of their average citizen, and get a neat retirement package on top of that (how many cars and staff does former president Moi have again courtesy of the Kenyan tax payer?). I don’t see how anyone still owes them any more ego stroking after all that.