Poor Mo Ibrahim.

Well I don’t mean poor as in bank balance… but you knew that anyway.

I mean, you have to pity the poor man. First he sets up this Mo Ibrahim Prize to recognise and celebrate excellence in African Leadership. It is no mean prize, it will pay out five million dollars over ten years and two hundred thousand dollars annually for life thereafter to one retiring, democratically elected, African head of state who has served his term in office within the limits set by his country’s constitution. Now this is no ‘kwashiokor’ prize (it is paid in US- not Zim-dollars) and it is actually the largest annually awarded prize in the world.

The ethos behind the prize is signal:  In the West – and the East for that matter – a retiring head of state has many lucrative options when he leaves office. Like Tony Blair and George Bush, he can pick up a million dollars or two from writing, or ghost-writing, his memoirs. He can take up a lucrative sinecure on one board or the other. And if he is still up for public service, he can – like Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center‘s guinea worm campaign – go about doing good. The Mo Ibrahim prize wants to address this – and so can grant a further two hundred thousand dollars annually for 10 years ‘towards the public activities and good causes espoused by the winner’.

The prize had a rocketing start with an honorary prize to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, just to set the tone. The 2007 prize went to Joaquim Alberto Chissano, Mozambique’s second head of state who ruled from 1986 to  2005 and then disdained the 3rd term allowed by his constitution to step down. (Now, I would have been tired myself after that stint…)  While in power Chissano helped end a 16 year civil war and you can read a citation here. The 2008 prize went to Botswana’s third president (1998-2008), anti-corruption crusader Festus Gontebanye Mogae. He oversaw Botswana’s secure position as one of Africa’s success stories and did not scheme to stick around to milk it.

Unfortunately in 2009 something embarrassing transpired: they couldn’t find a winner. This had to happen sometime of course. It was the biggest prize in the world and the laureates had to be world-class leaders… but it happened again in 2010. Two consecutive years. Fifty-three countries. 48 consecutive months. Yet, no winner was found for the prize.

So what is the fly in the ointment? Why could the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee not find a single head of state who retired within the last few years  from a field of over 50 countries to gift ten million dollars?

The answer is a competing prize which is in point of fact, the richest annually awarded prize in the world. (You’ll have to take my word for this because the exact prize money is the most closely guarded secret in the world, with estimates being outdated even before they are wikileaked.) It is the competing Spoilt Brat Prize for African Leadership. It is awarded annually by prize committees of morally bankrupt armies, sleepy citizens, and timid neighbouring heads of state. Recent winners would include Zimbabwe’s Robert (Lose-an-Election-Throw-a-Tantrum) Mugabe of course.  The 2008 prize went to President Mwai (I’m-Going-Nowhere) Kibaki of Kenya. Ex-President Laurent (Son-of-the-Soil) Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire is a front-runner for the 2010 prize.

Poor Mo Ibrahim. It is hard to see how his prize can compete in the light of the commercial success of the S’B prize. He insists on retirees, but the Spoilt Brat Prize can be won by sitting, squatting or comatose presidents (cue Nigeria’s late president, who was not only in contention, but was granting BBC interviews while allegedly in a coma). The Mo Ibrahim Prize requires some degree of integrity, but the S’B Prize is an utterly egalitarian, non-discriminatory, come-as-you-are prize. Whether you are warlord or thief, if your army is unprincipled, if your people are thick enough to riot as soon as you flash the ethnic card, and if you are surrounded by meek (rub-my-back-I-rub-yours) fellow presidents who will beg you at the climactic moment to agree to an Africana-style power-sharing agreement, you are in with a chance. The bullet in the head for the Mo Ibrahim prize is of course the fate of his short list. The committee awards only one prize a year (if that). The other retirees go empty handed. Consider the S’B prize where every last contender is a winner. So long as you can avoid being eaten like Samuel Doe, if you can hang on to a scrap of country from the resulting war, you can make a decent living from war gems, aid-pipelines, and many other resource permutations.

Now with only a few days left to the year, Kofi Annan and the other committee members of the Mo Ibrahim Prize will be contemplating another bruising attempt to find a winner for 2011. This mind boggles at the millions of dollars backing up at the offices of the Prize Committee. But not, it appears, the minds of African heads of state.

Poor, poor, Mo Ibrahim.

11 Replies to “The Mo Ibrahim Prize vs. The Spoilt Brat Prize for African Leadership”

  1. Ifeanyi Nwachukwu says:

    Thumbs up Chuma! I don’t see a better way of presenting this piece! I pity poor Mo and I weep for Africa!

    Reply
  2. yvonne says:

    thumbs up chuma… hilariously funny but serious, sometimes i wonder if africa really has a bright future. poor poor mo ibrahim thanks for sharing

    Reply
  3. Yemi S. says:

    Those guys will prefer SB anytime. Mo should just start granting scholarships instead. By this, he will empower every year. And not even for a single individual, it’ll be for thousands of African youths. Mo, stop being poor-ideas…

    Reply
  4. Kalahari Doringboom says:

    Surely there are distinguished writers, artists, musicians, scientists, economists and a slew of people who are deserving of a prize. Why politicians? The whiff of money is not even enough to get them salivating and reforming. Why not rather set up an Africa-type Nobel prize, with a distinguished, transparent and understanding board. Prizes of this nature would spread the good to a far wider audience, rather than rewarding so-called great leaders who have been enriching themselves on the sly. It would also bring the wonders of Africa to a far larger local and international audiences. Now that would be an idea.

    Reply
  5. Chuma says:

    @Ifeanyi, Yvonne, Babagana… thanks!

    @Yemi, Kalahari… I actually think that Mo Ibrahim is right in seeking first the Political Kingdom. You can sort out a hundred thousand scholarships, but it takes just one rotten president to put them all to grief. On the other hand, the political kingdom is the most transformative. Sort out that political kingdom and the other bugbears of underdevelopment will fall over like dominoes.

    The great idea behind an African leadership prize is to normalize a culture of transition. He has done his bit. The rest is up to us committee members of the Spoilt Brat Prize to stop awarding it! We just have to show them the door.

    Reply
  6. richard mammah says:

    Maybe the leaders do not really know about the prize! Have you not heard at least one African leader boast about not reading the newspapers!! Can we get Mo and his team to host an emergency summit of the AU with one objective alone: selling the prize

    Reply
    1. Chuma says:

      Ha ha, Richard. Somehow, I doubt that information is our biggest problem here. Laurent Gbagbo has a Ph.D, after all. I bet every government house in Africa has a shiny folder from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. I suspect we the citizens are actually the people in need of training on the rights and responsiblities of the citizen of a modern state…

      Reply
  7. Ngozichi says:

    Excellent, interesting with bouts of humour…absolutely loved it!
    “The answer is a competing prize which is in point of fact, the richest annually awarded prize in the world. (You’ll have to take my word for this because the exact prize money is the most closely guarded secret in the world, with estimates being outdated even before they are wikileaked.) It is the competing Spoilt Brat Prize for African Leadership. It is awarded annually by prize committees of morally bankrupt armies, sleepy citizens, and timid neighbouring heads of state. Recent winners would include Zimbabwe’s Robert (Lose-an-Election-Throw-a-Tantrum) Mugabe of course. The 2008 prize went to President Mwai (I’m-Going-Nowhere) Kibaki of Kenya. Ex-President Laurent (Son-of-the-Soil) Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire is a front-runner for the 2010 prize”
    You could not have said/written it better

    Reply
  8. Layi says:

    Well articulated observation by Mr Chuma Nwokolo on how Poor uncle Mo has become… Not after making so much fortune selling Celtel to Zain(over $3billon)….. Lol

    But on a serious note Poor Mo obviously thought that a monetary incentive could help motivate African leaders to become more competent in leadership and governance. What he may not have fully appreciated is that the ‘chicken change’ on offer is nothing compared to what is available to be made by the concoction and the award of one huge “African elephant” project (the type that litters the geopolitical terrains of most failed African states)by any political leader in Africa.

    Good Leaders are endangered species in Africa and may sadly continue to be. The bad news for a very long time and in the foreseeable future is that Government in Africa unfortunately is still the biggest business. Therefore awards that seek to recognise and reward altruistic leadership values leveraging reasonable financial incentives may not attract any modicum of attention from Africa’s elite VIP’s (Vandals in Power).

    Any effort aimed at helping to dissuade bad leadership and governance through pecuniary means must also be equally supported by efforts aimed at dissuading it through draconian penal measures. China is a good example where bad leadership or its perceived form is brutally punished. Imagine a man found guilty of manufacturing fake medical drugs was executed.

    I bet we will never advocate this type of treatment for bad leadership in our climes; reason being that most of us may suddenly become widows /widowers “daddyless/mummyless”, “uncleless/auntyless”business partnerless” and possibly “mentorless”. The roots and spoils of evil and bad leadership unfortunately has been deeply disseminated across the DNA of our entire existence and any attempt to cast the stone of codemnation in the “market place” may also mean an attempt to stone yourself. So the question to ask ourselves is if we will qualify for any form of noble leadership award in our small constituencies of influence?

    In my view until bad leadership and governance attains a criminal status in our law books and treated as treason against the state, Poor Mo’s award may not become a profitable alternative.

    By the Way what will be the fate of the Governors of Osun and Delta State who illegally enjoyed the spoils of the state and tax payer’s money for close to 4 years and obviously walked free without any consequence whatsoever after their elections were declared illegitimate?

    I was bemused when i read that the governor of Osun recently had a thanksgiving service/party to celebrate only God Knows what? A quick guess would be to thank God that “we had the good health, “EFCCless”peace to at least enjoy our loot for nearly 4 years”. This is the reason why a Mo Ibrahim’s prize will not be attractive to anyone who is seeking public office.

    The loot of corruption far outweighs the comparative widow’s mite of a Mo Ibrahim price for good leadership and the consequence of bad leadership is truly nonexistent at least within the boundaries of the African continent. You are only in danger when you are “Iboriluded”(which is a new English word for making a grave mistake or error of irreparable consequence, that may lead you into the hands of your dangerous enemies who are hell bent on dealing with you)
    So both sides of the coin unfortunately may be sending a green signal to the next bad leader to continue this dynasty of bad governance orgies in Africa and leaving the pool for a Mo Ibrahim type of award consistently depleted.

    Reply
  9. iheoma says:

    nice one, but my brothers no send uncle Mo, for the prize to be attractive it must be at least a billion dollars, anything less is unacceptable. The days of millions in Africa is gone o.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.