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January 15, 2008

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Africa the fragile continent, the result of power-hungry dictators

by quaesitor
Blaine Harden is an American foreign correspondent who has worked for the Washington Post and the New York Times. For a number of years he travelled across Africa, the result of which was this fascinating book, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. Despite now being 15 years old, it is sadly, profoundly relevant. One particular claim to fame, particularly poignant in the light of recent events, is that he was thrown out of Kenya for his persistent exposure of that country’s endemic corruption.
If you took a quarter-century worth of His Excellencies the African leader and tossed them in a blender, you would come up with a Big Man who looks like this:
His face is on the money. His photograph hangs in every office in his realm. His ministers wear gold pins with tiny photographs of him on the lapels of their tailored pin-striped suits. He names streets, football stadiums, hospitals, and universities after himself. He carries a silver-inlaid ivory mace, or an ornately carved walking stick or a fly whisk or a chiefly stool. He insists on being called “Doctor” or “conqueror” or “teacher” or “the big elephant” or “the number-one peasant” or “the most popular leader in the world.” His every pronouncement is reported on the front page. He sleeps with the wives and daughters of powerful men in his government. He shuffles ministers without warning, paralyzing policy decisions as he undercuts pretenders to his throne. He scapegoats minorities to shore up popular support. He bans all political parties except the one he controls. He rigs elections. He emasculates the courts. He cows the press. He stifles academia. He goes to church.
(p217, Blaine Harden, Africa – Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, 1993)

Chilling. Especially that last line.

 

What’s to be done? Well, the only resorts have ever been available are carrots or sticks – sanctions and threats, or rewards and glittering prizes (which, if one was not so cynical, could be construed as a bribe). But you have to start somewhere.

Hence the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. This was set up by an African millionaire in 2007 to do something about the problem. As Mo Ibrahim himself said:

Nothing, simply nothing, is more important for Africa than good governance

As a result the foundation will give a regular prize:

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will be awarded to a former African executive Head of State or Government who has demonstrated excellence in African leadership. Unprecedented in its scale and scope, the Mo Ibrahim Prize consists of US$ 5 million over 10 years and US$ 200,000 annually for life thereafter. A further US$ 200,000 per year for good causes espoused by the winner may be granted by the Foundation during the first ten years.

The first winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize will be selected by a Prize Committee, comprised of:

  • Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General
  • Martti Ahtisaari, former UN Special Representative for Namibia and former President of Finland
  • Aïcha Bah Diallo, former Minister of Education in Guinea and Special Adviser to the Director-General of UNESCO
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance and former Minister of External Affairs of Nigeria
  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (and board member of the Foundation)
  • Salim Ahmed Salim, former Prime Minister of Tanzania and former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (and board member of the Foundation)

It is the largest prize in the world. But it is shrewd. The idea is that such riches are on offer for those who govern well to remove the necessity/temptation to feather one’s own nest.

It was awarded last Autumn to President Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique. The citation is especially revealing, by way of contrast to the Kenyan situation, and I fear the Ugandan in the not too distant future.

  • President Chissano’s achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to his country greatly impressed the committee. So, too, did his decision to step down without seeking the third term the constitution allowed. President Chisssano took office after winning his country’s first multi-party elections in 1994. The historic elections were held just two years after he had helped the country end, through negotiations, the 16-year civil war which had devastated Mozambique, left thousands dead and forced many to flee their homes. He led a country whose infrastructure and economy were ruined, its society deeply divided and which suffered from sever natural disasters.
  • Huge challenges remain but, under his two terms, Mozambique established a stable economy with robust growth and increased foreign direct investment. Its economy has been one of Africa’s emerging success stories.
  • Although Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world, poverty levels have fallen. The poverty reduction programmes also saw, from a low base, an increase in the number of children in education and improvements in health care. In addition, women were empowered to participate in the political and economic life of the country.

Finally, the Foundation offers a very helpful method of accountability – the Ibraham Index of African Governance. Perhaps this will begin to do what governmental bodies like the African Union seem powerless or reluctant to do – hold leaders to account.

 

These are great ideas and the foundation sounds like it is a good thing. But of course, in the end, these are realities that have been the world’s experience since the dawn of time. Which is why we need God to be a God of justice. For when we pray for God to Bless Africa (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – now the National Anthem of Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa) we are actually praying for him to bring the blessing of his judgment on those who think they got away with it.

 

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