Let us honour Africa’s despots and killers

2010-10-09 00:00

THE Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s $5 million award to an African leader for statesmanship has, for the second year in a row, gone begging. 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. And this does not only apply to Africa.

Take, for example, how threadbare the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to United States President Barack Obama looks, given to him only months after he 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.

Obama’s award was not the only Nobel Prize that tried to influence good behaviour with premature praise. Think back to 1994’s award of the Nobel Prize to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and 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. It 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.

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 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 Foundation’s laudable aim of encouraging honest, democratic governance by rewarding good leadership and by producing an exhaustive annual index that measures the performance of Africa’s 53 sub-Saharan countries across a range of social, political and economic indicators.

The foundation is throwing a lot of money at the problem — it is the biggest annually awarded prize in the world. The “exceptional leader” not only gets $5 m over 10 years and an additional $200 000 annually thereafter until he or she dies, 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 Africa’s 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.

How about the Omar al-Bashir Prize for Genocide, given to any leader who can rival the killing of 400 000 of Sudan’s population of six million, and the 2,5 m people displaced as refugees?

The Robert G. Mugabe Prize for Implosion, to the leader who furthest reverses the United Nations Human Development Index achievements of his or her nation.

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

The Muammar Gaddaffi Prize for Vanity, to the leader who, without any embarrassment, can rival Gaddaffi’s self-introduction at the UN General Assembly as “leader of the revolution, the president of the African Union, the king of kings of Africa”.

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

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