Candid Comment

Mr Ibrahim has a vision too

By Joram Nyathi

SUDAN is not all about the “long nightmare” in Darfur or the Janjaweed militia. It is not all about General Al-Bashir’s long dictatorship and his fight with the SPLA of t

he late John Garang.


A Sudanese-born entrepreneur has set up a fund for African leaders who dedicate their tenure to the betterment of the lives of their people. It is the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, named after the multimillionaire entrepreneur who made his fortune in the telecommunications industry in Britain.


Ibrahim is a worried man, like most thinkers who have watched in horror as the hopes and expectations raised by the advent of Independence in Africa have been dashed and national resources have been personalised and squandered by a few people in the leadership.


Many have looked in shock as liberation heroes have transmuted into unconscionable, predatory despots as poverty and tyranny got entrenched. Beyond the slogan of one man, one vote, many Africans have never enjoyed the prosperity that Independence promised.


Ibrahim seeks to achieve two things: first African leaders must commit themselves to the welfare of their people. So far, he believes, many of them want power for its own sake or to enrich themselves.


The purpose of the fund is to reward leaders who score highly on an objective index of performance indicators such as sustainable economic development, human development in health and education, participatory democracy, integrity, respect for human rights and the rule of law to ensure the security of the person.


He says Africa is in its current mess because it lacks a visionary leadership that cherishes ethical behaviour, frowns on corruption and is keen to lift Africa beyond a beggar continent.


The second focus is to encourage African leaders to relinquish power at the end of their terms of office. He believes that most African leaders face the spectre of poverty after they leave office, hence the obsession with amending constitutions to prolong their rule. Too long a stay results in unethical behaviour and corruption. The aim of the fund is therefore to assure such leaders that there is life after State House.


The prize will be offered every year to a leader who excels in the performance indicators and is ready to leave power after his term. The leader will get US$5 million a year for 10 years. This is followed by US$200 000 a year until death. He is also entitled to US$200 000 annually for charity work.


Ibrahim praises especially Botswana for its attempt to foster a strong democratic tradition from the time of Independence in 1966 to today despite its limited natural resources — diamonds. This, he believes, is a result of a leadership committed to peace and the belief that national resources belong to all the people.


The country has been rewarded by having its previous president Sir Ketumile Masire appointed to chair the African Leadership Council which will award the first Mo Ibrahim Prize next year.


Under successive governments from Sir Seretse Khama to incumbent President Festus Mogae, Botswana has won praise for its stability, adherence to the rule of law, respect for civil liberties, tolerance for diversity and plurality of opinion and fostering entrepreneurship. This is in sharp contrast to a number of sub-Saharan countries that have been subjected to dictatorships of varying degrees from Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi to Uganda’s Idi Amin.


Ibrahim has known the depredations of despotism at close quarters coming from a country where General Al-Bashir has been in power since the 1989 coup. He has enough experience of conflict over resources as a result of the protracted war waged by the SPLA in southern Sudan over oil revenues.


The current crisis in the western Darfur region is but a part of the trauma that Africa’s largest country has gone through since Independence.


“Mo Ibrahim has a vision to promote and recognise good governance that will drive Africa’s political and economic renaissance,” said former South African president Nelson Mandela of Ibrahim’s attempt to make the African continent livable for its 800 million people.


But there are still problems ahead despite these sweet inducements. Africa has many leaders who have no qualms about emptying national coffers for personal enrichment and then want to rule until death for fear of prosecution. Others believe ruling forever is the prize the nation must pay for its “freedom”. They are the only capable guardians of the nation’s sovereignty. This appeals to the egocentric leader who believes he is indispensable.


While it is possible that some leaders may strive to win marks for delivering on education, health and employment creation, Ibrahim is arguably wrong in thinking that the long stay in power has anything to do with poverty among African leaders. Quite the contrary, most of them stay on as an insurance against prosecution for corrupt self-enrichment, as we have seen with many of Nigeria’s rulers or Frederick Chiluba in Zambia, or for human rights violations in the case of Charles Taylor of Liberia. The culture of selfless service is still alien to African politicians.


In addition to a robust civil society movement, Africa needs strong parliaments that are able to defend the country’s laws against a self-serving executive. A vibrant concept of separation of powers should manifest itself in significant tension between the three arms of state with each fighting against undue encroachment to defend its turf. The Zimbabwean parliament’s current coquetry towards the executive only entrenches the perception of a rubberstamping institution. The judiciary is no better, which is a disaster for democracy and a serious drawback for Mo Ibrahim’s well-meaning project.

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