Mo Ibrahim Launches World's Biggest Prize: An Inspirational New Prize to Promote Good Governance Was Launched Recently in London. It Aims to Transform the African Polity and Provide Additional Momentum for the Continent's Economic Development. Stephen Williams Has the Details

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A $5m prize for Africa's most effective head of state was launched in late October by one of the continent's most successful businessmen. It will award one leader a year the princely sum of $500,000 every year for 10 years, thereafter $200,000 a year for life.

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The man who came up with this plan is the Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim, the telecoms entrepreneur, founder of Celtel, Africa's fastest growing mobile phone network and no stranger to the pages of this magazine (see 'Doing meaningful things is my motivation'--African Business May 2006 issue).

Ibrahim's intentions are as simple as his vision is ambitious: he wants to raise the quality of African leadership and governance and, in turn, stimulate Africa's economic development. The prize is being administered by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) and will award winning elected leaders, when they step down from office, $5m over 10 years and thereafter $200,000 a year for life. There is a further facility of $200,000 a year for 10 years to support the ex-leaders' charitable projects. It makes the Nobel Prize of 'only' $1.3m look almost mean.

Ibrahim is providing the funding from his personal fortune. Speaking at the MIF's launch in London, he said that the fact that African leaders are often expected to leave office without any financial means can make the temptation to indulge in corruption irresistible. "Our guys have no life after office ... suddenly all the mansions, cars, food, wine is withdrawn. Some find it difficult to rent a house in the capital. That incites corruption; it incites people to cling to power.

"This prize will offer essentially good people, who may be wavering, the chance to opt for the good life after office. We need to remove corruption and improve governance--then the continent will not need any aid, and the day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life."

Governance league table

While fighting corruption may be high up the list of good governance objectives, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership--as this prize is formally named--also takes into account a leader's ability to deliver security, health, education and economic development. MIF has asked Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School of Governance at Harvard University in the US to compile a governance league table based on some 50 variables, but weighted towards delivering economic development and security. This league table will go before a special committee to arrive at a recommendation for MIF's board. Ibrahim says that MIF expects the UN's outgoing secretary-general, Kofi Annan to accept an invitation to chair this committee.

Joining Ibrahim, who chairs the MIF board, are a number of high-profile directors: Mary Robinson, former Irish president and UN high commissioner for Human Rights; Salim Ahmed Salim, former Tanzania PM and secretary-general of the OAU; Dr Mamphela Ramphele, founder member of the Black Consciousness Movement along with her late partner, Steve Biko, and a former managing director of the World Bank who currently co-chairs the UN Commission on Migration; Lord Cairns, former chair of Actis Capital LLP (formerly CDC Group plc), co-founder and chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, and former chair of the Overseas Development Institute; Nicholas Ulanov, an expert in providing strategy and management advice to the non-profit sector who co-founded the Royal Institution World Science Assembly; and Lalla Ben Barka, director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Africa.

Lining up to lend support to Ibrahim's initiative was a veritable 'who's who' of world leaders. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, enthused in his endorsement: "Good governance and democracy are central to Africa's development. Without them it will be hard, if not impossible, for any African country to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 ... I thank Mo and all those engaged for establishing such a generous prize as an incentive. …