The dearth of quality leadership on the African political terrain was recently brought into sharp focus when the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Leadership Award committee said that it could not find a suitable candidate to nominate for this year's award!
No one can accuse Mr. Mo Ibrahim of not trying to do his finest for his fatherland, Africa. In October 2006, the Sudanese mobile communications magnate launched the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The major remit of the Foundation was to promote excellence in leadership in Africa.
Recognizing that lack of quality leadership has robbed his continent of good governance over the years, Mr. Ibrahim endeavors to do his best by trying to improve the quality of leadership on the continent.
With her vast resources -- human and mineral -- patriotic Africans keep on looking in shame and bewilderment as their beloved continent continues to be the world's laughing stock. A graphic example of how an insanely corrupt elite, in cahoots with their Western partners, continue to rob the continent dry, literally as well as figuratively, can be found in the November 2009 edition of the London-based New African magazine.
As people in other regions continue to reveal nature's darkest secrets, pictures of starving Africans continue to adorn the pamphlets of aid organizations. Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders can mobilize their people to fight useless wars over dry patches of land, yet they lack the vision and the wisdom to construct dams and build irrigation systems. Kenyan leaders managed to promote avarice to scientific levels, yet they lack the capacity to plan to stem the drought ravaging their country. Led by their comatose president, the otiose elite misruling Nigeria cannot provide even the most basic of services to their people. Warlords in West Africa were able to chop off their compatriots' limbs, but no one there is clued to find solutions to the perennial problems afflicting the region.
Mr. Ibrahim surveyed these sickening scenes and thought he could do something about it. He set up the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to reward African leaders who are deemed to have given quality leadership to their people. The prize is to be awarded to elected presidents and prime ministers who have left office within the last three years, to encourage African leaders to emulate the way Dr. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, left office. The prize, the largest individual annual award in the world, consists of $5 million to be paid to the recipient over a period of ten years, and $200,000 yearly for life thereafter. Another sum of $200,000 yearly is also applicable for good causes initiated by the winner, as may be granted by the Foundation during the first 10 years.
The mission of the African Leadership Prize, as stated by the Foundation, is "to stimulate debate on good governance across sub-Saharan Africa and the world, provide objective criteria by which citizens can hold their governments accountable, recognize achievements in African leadership and provide a practical way in which African leaders can build positive legacies."
Mr. Ibrahim laudably set up the award to promote good leadership in a continent where quality leadership is as scarce as chickens' teeth. Former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano won the maiden prize in 2007 "for his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy." He was deemed a worthy winner. Festus Gontebanyes Mogae, former president of Botswana, won the 2008 edition to loud applause. Botswana has, over the years, consistently topped Africa developmental indices, and it remains one of the few African countries where official corruption has not been promoted to national ethos. No one quarreled when Nelson Mandela was made an Honorary Laureate in 2007 for his extraordinary leadership qualities and iconic achievements.
But in what is considered a damning indictment on the quality of leadership in Africa, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided not to award the 2009 leadership prize. Because of the confidential nature of the committee works, we will never know the reasons why the decision was made not to award this year's prize.
Former president of Botswana Ketumile Masire, speaking for the selection committee, merely said, "The prize committee could not select a winner."
Although Africans held their breath for the announcement of the 2009 winner, there was little surprise when the committee announced that there would be no winner for the year!
Whatever spin one might put on it, this is a very serious indictment on the continent's political class. It speaks volumes that none of the leaders who left the scene in the past three years was deemed qualified for this award. This, however, will not surprise any serious Africa watcher.
Since the euphoria of the 1960s when African nationalists wrested political control of their land from European colonialists, Africa has sorely lacked visionary and patriotic leaders. In the 1960s, Africa could boast of political and intellectual giants like Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Senegal's Leopold Senghor, etc. Those were leaders with clear-cut ideas about how to move their nations forward. They were giants among men who were able to totally mobilize their people to greater heights. The results of their efforts are still there for all to see.
Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere were humanists of the highest order; their humanistic philosophy informed all the actions they took as leaders. Senghor was believed to be the best French grammarian of his time and nothing but the best in French was good enough for him. Kwame Nkrumah still remains the most outstanding leader Ghana (nay, Africa) ever produced. He was among the post-independence African leaders in great hurry to make their nation catch up with the rest of the world.