Is Mbeki too rich for prize?

2010-10-10 10:15

There is a very good reason former president Thabo Mbeki stands no chance of winning the prestigious Mo Ibrahim prize of $5 million (R34 million) for excellence in ­governance. South African ­leaders don’t count.

This was evident from a briefing by Mbeki – promoting his Thabo Mbeki Foundation this past week – who, when asked, told stunned senior editors and journalists that Ibrahim had indicated to him in 2004 that South African leaders would not be eligible because the strength of the private sector in this country was such that it could reward its own.

Poor African ­countries were not in that position.

The Mo Ibrahim index has ­assessed South Africa’s performance in governance, along with the rest of Africa, since 2004.

In an initially off-the-record briefing, Mbeki told journalists they could contact the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for further information on the issue, thus placing matters on record.

However, a spokesperson for the foundation, who did not want to be named, told City Press from ­London that South African leaders were not excluded from being ­considered for the prize.

Asked if Mbeki was wrong, he said the Mo Ibrahim Foundation “would not comment on ­discussions between Ibrahim and Mbeki that might or might not have taken place”.

He later issued a statement ­explaining the foundation’s position on awarding the prize.

The statement reads: “Prior to launching his foundation, Dr Ibrahim consulted a range of stakeholders across ­Africa, including Mbeki.

“Upon forming the board of the foundation, the terms of reference for the Ibrahim prize and the ­Ibrahim ­index were established to include all sub-Saharan African countries and ­expanded last year to include all 53 African states.

“In 2007, the foundation ­awarded former president Nelson Mandela an Honorary Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

“Dr Ibrahim does not sit on the prize committee, which is chaired by Kofi Annan and made up of ­other eminent persons.”

The spokesperson told City Press that the award to Mandela was indicative that South African leaders were not ­excluded.

Only two African leaders, former presidents Festus Mogae of ­Botswana and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, have been ­awarded the prize thus far.

The prize has not been awarded for the past two years.

A board member of the foundation, Mamphela Ramphele, told journalists this week at the launch of this year’s index that the award was intended for exceptional ­leadership and “not for also-rans”.

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