2 weeks ago President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia was named as the winner of the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The Ibrahim Prize recognizes and celebrates excellence in African leadership. The Ibrahim Prize aims to encourage leaders who fully dedicate their tenure of office to surmount the development challenges of their countries, improving the livelihoods and welfare of their people and consolidating the foundation for sustainable development. The prize was founded in 2007.
The Ibrahim Laureate is selected by an independent Prize Committee, consisting of seven eminent individuals. The Prize Committee assesses democratically elected former Executive Heads of State or Government from African countries who have served their term in office within the limits set by their country’s constitution and has left office within the last three years. President Hifekepunye is a unique case because by the time he was awarded the prize he was still in office waiting to hand over the reins of power to his successor.
I believe this is a good initiative that our leaders should consider. It encourages leaders to think about the citizens rather than their own selfish needs and how much wealth they can get from their leadership. The prize is meant to encourage better governance in Africa and that is something our continent needs. As Africans we are still struggling with the challenge of disconnecting from colonial influences; when we compare ourselves with Western countries, we see that there are good things happening on our continent, done by Africans. It is important that we have those benchmarks so that we celebrate our achievements.
The Ibrahim Prize is a US$5 million award paid over ten years and US$200,000 annually for life thereafter. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation will consider granting a further US$200,000 per year for ten years towards public interest activities and good causes espoused by the Ibrahim Laureate. Pohamba became the first winner of the award since Cape Verde’s ex-President Pedro De Verona Rodrigues Pires won in 2011.Only five people have ever won the award, including the late former South African President Nelson Mandela, who was given an honorary prize.
Though Namibia has a population of 2.3 million inhabitants,one should ask whether it is easier to govern a small country than those with huge, diverse and unequal societies? But I am thinking the number should not be a limit on good governance as the former president former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano was the first laureate of the prize in 2005. Mozambique has 25.8 million inhabitants and he showed exemplary leadership.
Anyone who makes it to the list has to show exceptional leadership in their country and the impact he has on the people that he is leading. As much as most of the citizens might not have an idea of the existence of the prize it goes to show that the country leader is on the right track. Rewarding good leaders who respect democracy has never come at a better time as we have seen some other leaders changing the constitution to their favor in order to run for another term. In the East African region we have also had our moments where the leaders have stayed in power for far too long.
Whether it is helpful to give a cash prize, and such a big prize at that, is open to question, however. The Nobel peace prize, for example, is only worth around US$1.5 million. Does that mean African presidents do not earn enough, or that they need so much more encouragement to do the right thing? Surely most former presidents receive a sizeable pension? On the other hand, US$5 million may be too little to encourage long-time strongmen to step down. But at the end of the day it boils down to the character of the individual who chooses to step down for other leaders. Nelson Mandela will be always a good example of good leadership in Africa and what is desired in most countries.This also shows the kind of governance that is expected of the leaders who are in power.
I hope there will come a time on this continent where our leaders will not hold unto power so much that they refuse to listen to the cry of the people and that we will truly have true democracy in the continent. And the world will look at African leaders as an example of how true democracy works. The prize is a great way to celebrate great African leadership and to show the world that we also have leaders to look up to. There are always stories about the African strongmen that refuse to step down and misuse their power but there is not enough coverage of the great leaders that make a difference. Those are stories that are worth talking about and shouting about from the rooftop. I am hoping that at some point one of our Kenyan president’s will win the prize.
Opinion piece by Wacuka Kangethe