Sudanese Billionaire Offers Prize for Good Governing in Africa

A Sudanese billionaire who is putting up cash to try to improve the way African countries are governed said Friday that anyone who wants his $5 million prize will have to work hard for it.

Mo Ibrahim hopes to award the prize annually to an African head of state who significantly improves the lives of citizens, and who doesn't try to hang onto power undemocratically. If no candidate meets the criteria, no prize will be given. The first prize was scheduled to be awarded late next year.

"I'm not squandering money," the cell phone mogul said in an interview Friday. "This is a developmental project, not a gravy train."

Board members of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for African Development include Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and Salim Salim, a Tanzanian diplomat and former leader of the Organization of African Unity.

"I think it is an excellent idea," Salim said Friday. "The prize is not intended for the thief or the corrupt, it is for those that serve their people."

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Some are concerned, however, that offering a prize for good governance isn't the best way to help Africa. With millions in poverty, why should more money go to the most advantaged of African society, queried John Larvie of the Center for Democratic Development, a think tank in Ghana.

"Many of the problems of corruption in some poor African countries are due to weak constitutions, weak political parties, underdeveloped civil society sector and unprofessional judiciary," he said. "Though prize money for a well-behaved president may be attractive to the office holders, what good would that do to the general welfare and democratic development of the people and the country as a whole?"

Ibrahim acknowledged that his money could go directly to poverty-stricken Africans. But without good governance, there is no way to ensure the money is distributed fairly and effectively, he argued.

Others argue that the prize won't influence African leaders' behavior, particularly when it comes to holding onto power. Ibrahim designed the prize in part to address reluctance to relinquish power on a continent where military dictators and presidents for life have long held sway. Winners receive $5 million spread over 10 years after they leave office. If they are still living when the initial prize is exhausted, they will receive another $200,000 annually until they die.

"Money is not an issue because the corruption in this country means they can systematically syphon off funds throughout their rule," Geoffrey Rwakaeale, National Coordinator for the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, said in Kampala, Uganda. "They (African leaders) have money. It is their safety they are worried about."

Nigerian banker Michael Adesegun, 39, said leaders stayed on not because of money, but because they had gotten used to power, and can't imagine life without it.

Ibrahim said his prize may be too small to influence the corrupt. But he said it would reward leaders trying to do the right thing, and sway those that are wavering.

The prize is the largest of its kind, surpassing the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize.

"If you write a good novel, or a chemistry paper, you win the Nobel Prize ...," Ibrahim said. "If we have a leader take four or five million people out of poverty, this is a much greater achievement."

The idea of an award for results comes from the business world, said Ibrahim, who founded Celtel International, an African cell phone network. He sold Celtel for $3.3 billion in 2005.

"As an engineer, as a businessman, I found performance measurement is normal. Everyone has performance related pay," Ibrahim said. "We're just applying that to governance."

The prize will be awarded based on criteria developed by Harvard University professor Robert Rotberg.

Rotberg studies 50 categories to rate security, rule of law, economic opportunity, political freedom, health service, education system, infrastructure, and civil society.

"They will be measured by outcome, not input or budget, because in the developing world, what goes in doesn't always come out," Rotberg said Friday in a panel discussion at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Some examples of the figures include kilometers of roads, and numbers of hospital beds, Rotberg said. He believes his index will help "Africa help itself" by showing leaders where they need to focus their efforts.