Why Mbeki was overlooked for the Mo Ibrahim prize

2011-10-15 18:30

Former president Thabo Mbeki has never won the prestigious Mo Ibrahim prize because, under his leadership, South Africa declined in its rankings on the Mo Ibrahim Index, a senior source in the Foundation told City Press.

This year would have been the last year he is eligible for the prize because it has to be awarded within three years of the prize winner leaving office.

The former president of Cape Verde, Pedro Pires, received the coveted $5 million (R39 million) prize this year.

The Mo Ibrahim prize for Achievement in African leadership rewards African heads of state who stepped down from office when their term was up and under whom the countries showed marked improvement in development.

Under Mbeki, South Africa’s ranking slightly declined and in 2008, the year he left office, it was at its lowest point – 70 out of 100.

Mbeki was always seen to be a top contender for the prize since he left office in 2008. Many, however, were puzzled as to why the foundation declined to award the prize for two years in a row, claiming a lack of eligible candidates, while Mbeki seemed like an obvious choice.

Last year, Mbeki hinted at a meeting with editors there was an agreement between him and Mo Ibrahim that he would not be part of the race for the prize because he advised Ibrahim during the establishment of the foundation. The foundation denied this and Mbeki refused to comment further.

A high-level source with intimate knowledge of the deliberations of the prize committee, said it looked at the progress South Africa had made under Mbeki and decided he was not good enough.

“It’s not just about who you are; it is about how the country developed under your leadership.”

South Africa always features in fifth position on the index, being consistently beaten by the island countries of Cape Verde, Mauritius and Seychelles, while Botswana also always features in the top five.

Former president Festus Mogae of Botswana took the award in 2008.

“Why can South Africa, with all its resources, not do better than these small island states,” the source asked.

According to the source, the committee was especially worried about how South Africa keeps doing badly in indicators like personal safety, where it ranked 44th out of 53 countries.

The foundation said it “focuses only on the laureate and not on candidates passed over”.

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