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Mo Ibrahim Prize For African Leadership: A decade with just four laureates: Unachievable standards or deliberate mockery?

Open Letter THE FOUNDER AND CHAIR THE MO IBRAHIM FOUNDATION,   Subject; The Mo Ibrahim Prize For African Leadership: A…

Open Letter




Subject; The Mo Ibrahim Prize For African Leadership: A decade with just four laureates: Unachievable standards or deliberate mockery?

Warmest greeting from Yaoundé, CAMEROON.

As a political leadership student and enthusiast, it warms my heart to put forward these few concerns for your appreciation and consideration. I hope this letter reaches you in perfect health. I have sincere admiration for the work you do and the commitment you put to it.

As a young African, I am particularly interested in the effectiveness of your efforts because I know that all you do is to make the future bright for us. That is exactly why I will spare my pen and time just to do this with total conviction that I will raise some necessary worries glued to the implementation of your programs.

But before delving into the intestines of this letter, a brief recall of facts is necessary to ensure that we agree on the basics.


I understand;

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is an African foundation, established in 2006 with one focus: the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa. It is our belief that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life and citizens.

This foundation was founded by Sudanese-born telecoms engineer Dr Mohamed Ibrahim. He is famous for establishing one of Africa’s pioneer mobile telephone company Celtel International (Airtel) in 1998.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation focusses on defining, assessing and enhancing governance and leadership in Africa through four main initiatives:

  1. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance
  2. The Ibrahim Forum
  3. The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership
  4. The Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship

My point of focus in this letter will however be restricted to: “The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership”. This letter is essentially a reaction to yesterday’s sixth announcement of the selection committee not finding a suitable candidate for the prize in 2016.


This prize recognizes and celebrates African executive leaders, who under challenging circumstances have developed their countries and strengthened democracy for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity. It highlights exceptional role models for the continent; it ensures that the African continent continues to benefit from the experience and wisdom of exceptional leaders once they have left national office, by enabling them to continue serving in other public roles on the continent. The Foundation strictly notes finally that, the prize is an award and a standard for excellence in leadership in Africa and NOT a “first prize” so there is not necessarily a laureate every year.

As criteria, it is awarded to former African executive head of state or government; who was democratically elected; served his/her constitutionally mandated term; demonstrated exceptional leadership and left office in the last three years.

The prize is worth $5million USD over the first ten years and $200,000 USD per annum ad vitam.

Its laureates so far include: Joachim CHISSANO (2007, Mozambique); Festus MOGAE (2008, Botswana); Pedro PIRES (2011, Cabo Verde) and lastly Hifikepunye POHAMBA (2014, Namibia). All laureates are former presidents of their respective countries. The Selection Committee in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 declared that they found no suitable candidates for the award.


My big question here is simple: In ten years of existence with only four laureates, is there no need to worry if the standards are too high or are you, the organisers not malicious?


I understand that the Foundation is categorical on its standards of “exceptional leadership”. Except that this may prove to be perfectionist and could rather be scaring genuine efforts that still score below this standard. First and foremost, what is “exceptional leadership”?

In a continent where leadership best practices are still rare and strange, expecting perfection from our African leaders at this point in time is like expecting a student to write a test in French when s/he only understands English.

You could for example extend its scope to just peaceful handover or stability after the one’s term of office. Real leadership as rightly put by Myles Monroe can only be confidently assessed after one’s tenure. This is so because the fruits/consequences of the seeds/actions and policies that were planted/initiated during his/her tenure can only be appreciated when the initiator quits the stage. In that way if there is peace and stability when he leaves it means he led well and if there is conflict and unrest it means he didn’t plant well, or water well or lead well.

I must repeat here that I totally applaud the foundation’s firm stance on upholding “exceptional leadership” accomplishments. However, since creation 10 years ago, our above-mentioned statistics suggest that this prize might just be the toughest and most difficult prize to get in the world. However, that may be justifiable especially if we consider the fact that the prize money might be the highest in the world; exceeding the Nobel Peace Prize which is fluctuates from $1 – 1.5million USD.

This nevertheless still creates a major encumbrance in itself. If for 10 years, only four people have been found worthy of this award, it certainly rates the organization very highly in upholding exceptionality but could have the adverse effect of killing, discouraging, and watering down even the smallest momentum as well as efforts by some to achieve this prestigious award.

The fact that six years out of ten have been declared award-less, could finally cause potential candidates to stop aiming as this prize as it might come across to them as a forbidden fruit; reserved for the gods (not humans). Of what use is struggling to win a prize that evidently cannot be won?

In a land of the blind, let the one eyed man be king!!!

It will be in the supreme interest of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s quest of promoting exceptional leadership and good governance in Africa, to adopt the “annual nature” of the award by contextualizing their definition of what stands the test of “exceptional leadership” within every twelve months. Even if it means to significantly lower the prize money.

Most African Presidents have uncensored access to their national treasuries and would be misleading to bank on the juiciness of the dollar.

What they’d probably need more is recognition. And what do you loss if you recognize several small actions? Instead you can comfortably sit and watch how recognized bits and pieces of several good actions in the long run completely sets a new standard for African leadership. Flexibility at this juncture is key.

When people understand that your definition of “exceptional leadership” is not stereotypical, they will be highly encouraged to be creative for their leadership to be recognized.

Take for example in early 2015, following the unexpected turn of events in the Nigerian presidential polls, against all odds and with a mere phone call, the incumbent Goodluck JONATHAN frustrated the analyses, commentaries and prophesies of many a think tank, researcher, security expert and prophet who had already given a prognoses of doom/collapse of the African goliath-nation.

Instead, a plethora of recognitions/awards have since then been given Goodluck JONATHAN by non-Africans. Truth be told, this sort of action is rare in our continent and should be encouraged and applauded by all who truly care about promoting quality leadership in Africa.

I totally agree that there might be things I don’t get right just by virtue of the fact that I am an outsider. Notwithstanding too, you will not completely dismiss the honest views on an honest and independent observer.

As a recommendation, I think that to pump the credibility of this prestigious award, it will be necessary to investigate and showcase the impact of the award on the few privileged laureates. This might to an extent act as a spur to their peers.

I hope this was worth your time and thanks for your kind attention.




*Yuh ACHO is a freelance Policy Analyst

Graduate of Political Science and Public Law with special interest in political leadership and governance


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