Last year, Prospect broke the story that the Sudanese mobile phone entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim was to sponsor a prize for African leaders who improve the governance of their country. Every year, the winner will be awarded $500,000 for the subsequent ten years, followed by a lifetime pension worth $200,000 a year.
Yesterday, the first award went to Joaqium Chissano, former president of Mozambique. Chissano was a solid choice, and will have caused little surprise. Despite having been in power for 20 years—perhaps not quite the unambiguous signal to African leaders that commentators were expecting—the former president was an ideal candidate. During his time in office—1986 to 2005—he took his country from civil war to peace; instituted basic economic reforms; installed multiparty democracy; and merged the militias of the warring parties (RENAMO and FRELIMO) into a united armed forces.
Chissano’s trump card, though is that he handed over power, in February 2005, after a properly contested election, refusing to countenance the constitutional option of a third term. This is the “Mandela magic” that Dr Ibrahim is hoping will rapidly spread throughout the continent’s leaders.
Question marks remain over the prize. Yes, the winner can spend the money on whatever he likes. Yes, the cash could be stopped, should Chissano’s behaviour warrant it. No, the prize need not be awarded every year; if there were such a glut of candidates, it would never have been necessary. Yes, maybe the prize does paradoxically reinforce the “big man” archetype of African leadership. But it’s a start.
The prize will not cure all Africa’s ills, and nor is it trying to. But the founder of the prize is adamant that leadership is the place to start. In a ceremony marked by optimism, Ibrahim made sure to end on a high. Following the unveiling of the Mandela bronze in August, he warned Ken Livingstone, London had better watch out: we’re going to be needing a lot more grassy areas for statues of the next generation of African leaders.