In February, the Ibrahim foundation announced that, yet again, it would not be awarding it’s famed Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Mo Ibrahim, a British-Sudanese telecom billionaire, established the award in 2006. It is probably the richest international prize in the world. It awards laureates $5 million over ten years, then $200,000 per year for life. In addition, laureates may apply for an additional $200,000 per year for their own philanthropy. The prize appears to have been designed to recognize and encourage African leadership of the highest quality and also to free them from post-presidential financial burdens. The selection committee, numbering seven, is of outstanding quality: it includes former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa Graca Machel, and former president of Bostwana (and laureate) Festus Mogae.
Though it can be awarded annually, the selection committee has only come across a suitable candidate on four occasions. Recipients of the award include Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique (2007), Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana (2008), Pedro De Verona Rodrigues Pires of Cabo Verde (2011) and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014). In 2007 the foundation awarded the honorary prize to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who had left office seven years before the prize was established (because of this he did not meet all of the eligibility criteria). Hence, selected laureates are extraordinary examples of outstanding African leadership. In honor of his leadership and contributions, Archbishop Tutu was also awarded a one off prize from the Mo Ibrahim foundation, though he is not considered a laureate.
For some observers, the inability of the committee to find each year suitable laureates is a condemnation of the overall quality of African presidential leadership. When announcing that the prize would not be awarded this year, Prize Chair Salim Ahmed Salim (former secretary general of the organization of African Unity and former prime minister of Tanzania), tried to soften the implied criticism: “We recognize and applaud the important contributions that many African leaders have made to change their countries for the better. But the prize is intended to highlight and celebrate truly exceptional leadership, which is uncommon by its very definition.” Nevertheless, the committee has awarded the prize only four times over the past eleven years, and it is hard to make the case that it overlooked eligible candidates.
Some Nigerian observers had hoped that former President Goodluck Jonathan would be awarded the prize given that he was democratically elected and did not contest his defeat in 2015 by opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari. Had he contested the 2015 election results there might have been civil war. But, in the face of rampant and accelerating corruption on his watch, the raging Boko Haram insurrection, widespread security-service human rights abuses, it is hard to see him as having “demonstrated exceptional leadership.”