Let us honour Africas thieves, despots, megalomaniacs and killers

robert_mugabe_cartoonThe Mo Ibrahim Foundations $5-million award to an African leader for statesmanship has for the second year in a row gone begging. (The Robert G Mugabe Prize for Implosion, to the leader who furthest reverses the UN Human Development Index achievements of his/her nation)

That is unsurprising, since politicians are motivated more by greed and fear, than by a desire to serve their people. Trying to foster leadership by awarding prestigious prizes is admirable but futile. Nor does this apply only to Africa. Take how threadbare looks the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, only months after he first took office, as his presidency limps from one mid-term low to another. Inspirational words have yet to be matched with the inspirational diplomacy for which he was made Nobel laureate.


(The Omar al-Bashir Prize for Genocide, given to any leader who can rival the 400 000 of Sudans six million population killed and the 2,5-million displaced as refugees)

Obamas was not the only Nobel prize that tried to influence good behaviour with premature praise. Think back to 1994s award of the Nobel to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin for peace in the Middle East. Please sirs, can we have our money back? All $1,5-million.

In similarly misguided vein, Jacob Zuma was in 2009, only months after taking office, declared African President of the Year. This was a bit of a lucky-packet award, sponsored as it was by the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation and a Sandton public relations company, but Zuma with his lacklustre leadership record could hardly afford to be picky.


(The Moammar Gadaffi Prize for Vanity, to the leader who without any trace of embarrassment can rival his self-introduction at the UN General Assembly as leader of the revolution, the president of the African Union, the king of kings of Africa)

Contrary to the perception of pervasive corruption, there are significant variations in African governance, with some countries remarkably well governed. Oxford University economist Paul Collier said in an analysis of the latest Ibrahim index. Were the standards of the best [African countries] to become general, Africa would be a well-governed region.

The difference can be ascribed to leadership, which in much of Africa leadership is venal and inept. As Moeletsi Mbeki has put it, African leaders sustain and reproduce themselves by perpetuating socioeconomic systems of exploitation.

Hence the Mo Ibrahim Foundations laudable aim of encouraging honest, democratic governance by rewarding good leadership and by producing an exhaustive annual index that measures the performance of Africas 53 sub-Saharan countries across a range of social, political and economic indicators.


(The King Leopold Prize for Asset Stripping, donated by the Belgian government in loving memory, to the leader who has most efficiently exploited his/her country as his/her personal estate)

The foundation is throwing a lot of money at the problem and is the biggest annually awarded prize in the world. The exceptional leader not only gets $5-million over 10 years and an additional $200 000 annually thereafter until they die, but the foundation will for 10 years shell out another $200 000 a year for public interest activities and good causes espoused by the laureate.

If Africas leaders are not be galvanised by all this moolah, it can only be because the pickings are even better for free-range despots living off the fat of the land. So along with the Ibrahim Prize, they should add in some name and shame awards at the other end of the leadership spectrum.

Exceptional leaders, all these fellows. Even though they are not quite what the Ibrahim Foundation had in mind. First published in The Times

Post published in: Opinions

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