Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim is finding it hard to reward a democratically elected African leader who serves his or her constitutionally mandated term (without last minute changes) and demonstrates exceptional leadership.
The five million dollar prize is just too small for such a commitment.
Money held by some of Africa’s richest leaders outsizes the modest reward by factors of 10 to 1000. Presidential wealth was the focus of a recent piece in the online magazine “African Spotlight” and the sums in their bank accounts were stratospheric.
To name a few of the wealthiest: Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) $10 million, Idris Deby (Chad) $50 million, King Mswati (Swaziland) $100 million, Paul Biya (Cameroon) $200 million, Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) $500 million, Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea) $600 million and Jose Eduardo dos Santos, (Angola) $20 billion.
According to the website of the Ibrahim Prize, the award has the potential to change perceptions of African leadership by showcasing exceptional role models from the continent.
Past prizewinners include Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba (2014), Cape Verdean leader Pedro de Verona Rodrigues (2011), Botswana President Festus Mogae (2008) and an honorary winner, South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in 2007.
Mr. Ibrahim, born in Sudan of Nubian descent, founded a successful business in mobile communications. He created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 and the following year gave the first prize to Joaquim Chissano, president of Mozambique.
African presidents and their cabinets amassed great wealth over the years thanks to oil and mining interests but in some cases, the banked funds were obtained through diversion from national budgets.
In one recent case, Nigeria’s former chief of defense staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, is accused of diverting $15.1 million allocated for the air force to purchase a mansion, a commercial plot of land and to build a shopping mall. He denies all the charges.
Police also found $1 million in hidden safes when they swept through Badeh’s apartment earlier this month.
As for peaceful transitions of power, elections continue to pose minefields for new hopefuls entering the race. Incumbents have jailed opposition leaders in Uganda and Niger, while President Joseph Kabila of the DR Congo is said to be seeking to amend the constitution for an additional term. In Benin, the frontrunner – born and raised in Paris – has been questioned on his nationality.
“People say I’m white, an interloper, a foreigner, a Frenchman, and a colonialist,” Beninois investment banker and candidate Lionel Zinsou told the AFP news agency. “But for 90 percent of people, obviously I’m different but that creates a certain interest.”