Why The Fuss about Mo Ibrahim’s 2015 Leadership Prize? By Salome Mohammed
In 2006, Sudanese born British mobile telecommunications billionaire, Mo Ibrahim, created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation with a focus on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa.
The foundation in 2007 initiated the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, a prize which awards a $5 million initial payment, and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of state who deliver “security, health, education and economic development to their constituents and democratically transfer power to their successors”.
The prize is believed to be the world’s largest, exceeding the $1.3m Nobel Peace Prize. In 2007, the inaugural prize was awarded to former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, for his role in leading his country from a season of conflict to one of peace and democracy. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, a key player in his country’s anti-apartheid struggle was also made an honorary laureate in recognition of his extraordinary leadership qualities and achievements.
This year the Prize Committee did not select a winner. When asked why no African leader was selected, the Chair of the Foundation while speaking with the BBC News Day said the prize is a “prize for excellence, it’s not an entitlement or a pension”, inferring that no past African leader was worthy of the prize.
But, is this the first time that the prize has not been awarded?
The answer is NO! In the years 2009 and 2010 the Prize Committee did not award the prize. Speaking in 2010, Mr Ibrahim said, “The purpose of the foundation is to challenge those in Africa and the world to debate what constitutes excellence in leadership. The standards set for the prize are high, and the number of eligible candidates small. So it is always likely that there will be years when no prize is awarded.”
In 2012 and 2013, there was no recipient again. So I begin to wonder what the fuss is about that 2015 did not produce a winner. In the prize’s history there have been five winners and five years have produced no winner.
During the same interview Mr Ibrahim was asked why the award was restricted to only former African presidents and not ministers such as Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who ‘single-handedly added value to the financial process in Nigeria’ to which he replied, “We cannot just keep shifting our focus here. There’s no doubt the president is really the focal point for decision-making.”
I would not begrudge Mr Ibrahim’s stance that the president is the focal point of decision-making, however it is sad that the media tried to twist Mr Ibrahim’s response and turned it into an attack against the person of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
It is a thing of pride that Dr Okonjo-Iweala has been recognised by many far and wide as one who did an exceptional job in making Nigeria’s economy viable and suitable for investors. And for her to be singled out from among other ministers across the continent is a major feat.
Till date she remains the only Nigerian to have served as a member of the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee (2007- 2008).
Her detractors should see this and many other achievements and accolades as enough reasons to steer clear of her and allow her enjoy her time out of public service in peace.
Salome Mohammed is a social commentator and she writes from Jos