Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano this week received the inaugural Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership aimed at promoting good governance in Africa.
At a glittering ceremony in Alexandria’s renowned library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Mr. Chissano, who led Mozambique for 18 years during which brought the country out of a devastating civil war, was personally congratulated by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka and other leaders after Mr. Annan handed him the award on behalf of the businessman, Mr. Mo Ibrahim.
The prize, which surpasses the Nobel Prize for the amount awarded, provides USD 5 million over the first 10 years to the winner, and USD 200,000 each year for life thereafter, with an optional USD 200,000 a year if the winner supports post-office initiatives. Launched last year, the prize is awarded by the foundation created by Mr. Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born billionaire who founded the African telecommunications company Celtel International.
On Monday, the Former South African President Nelson Mandela was declared an honorary laureate. Although he was not Alexandria, he said in a videotaped message broadcast at the ceremony: “We would like to congratulate the recipient of the Foundation’s first Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, President Joaquim Chissano. We remember him for his wise and insightful leadership in many situations.” Mr. Mandela said all monies awarded him would go towards the three major charities that carry his name.
President Mandela said he hoped the award would encourage the new generation of Africa leaders to follow the example of President Chissano. “And Mo, may your exceptional commitment to leadership development on our continent inspire all to lead and live with commitment and honesty,” he added.Mr. Ibrahim’s prize committee chaired by Mr. Annan, is made up of Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland and former UN Special Representative for Namiba; Aicha bah Diallo, Special Advisor to the Director-General of UNESCO for Africa; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria; Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Salim Ahmed Salin, former Secretary-General of the Organization for African Unity.
In selecting Chissano, the foundation committee judged African leaders from sub-Saharan countries who left office in the past three years. To be awarded the prize, the winners must have been elected and left office voluntarily. In choosing a winner, the foundation committee measured the leaders' ability to offer their people security, rule of law, economic opportunity and political freedoms.
The prize is intended to be awarded annually, but according to prize rules, it can be withheld if the selection committee does not believe any candidate deserves it.
In Monday’s Citation, the committee cited President Chissano’s leadership in bringing peace to Mozambique, along with new investments, and a better infrastructure. Above all, it added: “His decision not to seek a third Presidential term reinforced Mozambique’s democratic maturity and demonstrated that institutions and the democratic process were more important than personalities.”
In a separate statement, Mr. Annan added: “Good leadership is vital if we are to overcome the challenges that face our world. Nowhere is this more essential than in Africa. Our continent has immense problems, but also extraordinary potential. Without honest and sound leadership, the danger is that this potential will remain unfulfilled.”
President Chissano was awarded the prize last month in London, and personally honoured in Monday’s ceremony, said: “I know only too well how much still needs to be done to uplift my country and the continent. I look forward to using the prize to do all I can to promote good governance in a continent that is changing rapidly for the better.”
An African telecommunications pioneer, Ibrahim sold his Celtel International in 2005 to MTC Kuwait for US$3.4 billion (€2.6 billion). A year later, he decided to use the money from the sale to fund the African prize.
Ibrahim has said he wanted to give good African leaders financial backing and make political careers more appealing to younger Africans.
“It's great to have the do-gooders, the U.N. care about us,” Mr. Ibrahim told reporters in Alexandria. “But Africa is really our business, and we have to do our best.”
Mrs. Tibaijuka, in a statement in Alexandria, recalled how Mr. Chissano had used his Chairmanship to get the African Union to adopt Swahili as its fourth official language. She said President Chissano explained in Swahili that although he was not himself its native speaker, “he has had to learn for the sake of African peoples who need a lingua franca to be able to develop rapidly”. At the third session of the World Urban Forum in June 2006 in Vancouver, Canada, Mrs. Tibaijuka appointed President Chissano as the agency’s Youth Ambassador