Mo Ibrahim is a very noble man; he made billions in telecoms but wanted to do something for the African continent, so he set up the most expensive prize for leadership and an index to rate good-governance in Africa.
It has been running for a few years, the first few winners were of undoubted good character; Jerry Rawlings re-established democracy in Ghana and relinquished power, Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique had also retired from government in humility but high standing.
Sadly, this year there was no leader in Africa deemed worthy of taking the award, so it was cancelled and this is a reality check.
It would have gone to either a man like Thabo Mbeki, who left in ignominious circumstances as he was ousted in disgrace, or John Kuffour of Ghana who had little impact continent-wise.
It is a bit like starting the Miss World competition and deciding that none of the “beauties” is really worth the prize.
The Mo Ibrahim award is $5 million- three times that of the Nobel Peace prize, it was hoped that African leaders would avoid being corrupt in order to secure a comfortable retirement and above all, a legacy.
$5 million is paltry for an African leader who can steal that in 2 minutes; it will only work for leaders who are already honest. It would never stop a current or future Mobutu-style leader.
Mo Ibrahim should not have cancelled the prize; instead he should have recognised leaders on all levels, from the grassroots up – because they often make more of an impact in their communities.
Presidents guide and define policy, but this policy is implemented by millions of tireless volunteers that care about their communities.
Giving them the award would do more good than enriching an already wealthy president.
I think of the boy from Zambia who created a wind-powered generator with old bicycle parts, and now his village has electricity; he should get an award for waking up the continent to the possibilities of a lo-tec revolution.
I also think of the Italian nun who has taken care of child-victims of the LRA in Northern Uganda for 20 years, she was providing healthcare after all state services had broken down.
The criteria for the prize has to change, in order to reflect the wider changes in our societies, to show how ordinary people make a difference, just like leaders.
Africa is in danger of diverting off-course, the nascent democracy we have nurtured since the 90’s has often descended into farce, Kenya and Zimbabwe, are extreme examples of what happens when the leaders and the followers do not follow the path of common sense.
Giving a prize to a leader for not being corrupt is kind of perverse, like giving a mother a prize for loving her children, no prize can make you love your child more than you already do.
There are many leaders worthy of this award; we have 1 billion Africans now. Look again Mr. Ibrahim.
The author is a social commentator and regular contributor