In a continent synonymous with byzantine power structures cutting across public and private sectors, along with runaway corruption and blatant disregard for the rule of law, the majority of African countries have teetered on the precipice of failed states. Autocratic leaders change the constitution to extend their terms and bribery has been solemnized as a ritual to get access to services. The concomitant effects have been the lack of basic services including healthcare, education and housing.
One man, however, is single-handedly reversing this trend by celebrating the few African leaders who have put service above self, by offering metrics that allow countries to measure their governance record.
Sudan-born serial entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, is guided by the philosophy that if good governance is upheld, the rest of the social fabric will automatically sort itself out. Having founded Celtel, one of the most prolific telecommunication companies in Africa, he sold it in 2005 to concentrate on his newfound venture, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, in an effort to foster good governance and excellent leadership across Africa. He has long held that charities, like aspirin, alleviate the pain but don’t address the root cause of the problem. His approach, therefore, has been to tackle the cancer from the root.
The eponymous foundation offers $5,000,000 over ten years to any African leader who has demonstrated the highest level of service, respect for the rule of law and commitment to the democratic process. The recipients also receive $200,000 a year for life thereafter.
The recipient of the pioneer award in 2007 was former Mozambique President Joaquin Chissano, who steered his country through a deadly war and drought in the 80s, successfully transitioning it into a multi-party democracy. With the support he received from the international community, Mr. Chissano used the resources to transform the country from a Marxist to a market economy before stepping down as president, despite the constitution allowing him a third term. This, he explained, was to give room for democratic institutions in the country to flourish.
Other notable African leaders who have been feted include former Botswana President Festus Mogae, the former President of Cape Verde, Pedro Pires and the former President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba.
The award has set such high standards for African leaders that since 2015, no one has been given the prize. Since its inception, it has only been granted to four recipients given the judges determination that no African leader has yet managed to meet its standards.
To complement the award, Mo Ibrahim also established the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) in order to evaluate the African countries’ performances based on 100 variables. These parameters include: safety and rule of law, human development, participation and human rights as well as sustainable economic opportunity.
The index has been a benchmark as well as an incentive for African countries to review their progress over the years. It also serves to offer development partners and donors a decision-making instrument to determine where to channel aid.
Mo Ibrahim has always stated that while no monetary value can compensate a good leader, the reward is a good incentive for African leaders to carry on with their work after retiring and inspiring future leaders.
In a gesture that has demonstrated his unwavering support to the social good, Ibrahim has also signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign championed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The program seeks to get over 150 billionaires worldwide to commit to donating at least half of their fortunes in their lifetime.
Ibrahim’s mantra is that a democratic, corruption-free Africa is possible and he has taken the steering wheel to drive the continent toward that route – one selfless leader at a time. ■