One of the world’s most exclusive awards is proving to be near impossible to win.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, named for its billionaire Sudanese founder, announced on Feb. 28 that the prize committee could not settle on an African leader worthy of the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership for 2016.
In the prize’s existence since 2006, only four leaders have been honored.
“We recognize and applaud the important contributions that many African leaders have made to change their countries for the better,” committee chairman Salim Ahmed Salim said in a statement. “But the prize is intended to highlight and celebrate truly exceptional leadership, which is uncommon by its very definition.”
The prize is awarded to former heads of state, who must have left office in the last three years. To be considered exceptional, the president or prime minister must have developed their country, strengthened democracy and human rights for their people and pave the way for “sustainable and equitable prosperity.”
It is a tall order for any leader on any continent. Africa’s leaders already have the odds stacked against them, by Salim’s own admission. They have fewer resources and weaker institutions with which to achieve their goals.
The foundation must be commended for refusing to lower the bar, sparking an annual debate on accountability and democracy and bringing scrutiny to leaders’ records.
There may be future prize candidates among the current crop of leaders who have shown no loyalty to the post-colonial club of strongmen:
- Botswana’s Ian Khama, a critic of southern Africa’s silence over Robert Mugabe
- Senegal’s Macky Sall, who suggested shorter term limits when other leaders went longer;
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president who united her country and comes to end of her last term in office soon, while criticizing those who don’t.
None are without criticism and term limits aren’t the only measure of good leadership. Still, in speaking out against despotism they have gone some way in dismantling the president-for-life culture that is still a stranglehold on development and equality. The prize committee would do well to keep an eye on them, provided they all step down.
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