World Focus, Africa: And the winner is ... er, we couldn't find one

The decision to withhold Africa's biggest leadership prize in only its third year has prompted discussion of the failings of two heavyweights: South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo. The announcement that there would be no Mo Ibrahim laureate this year will, however, have surprised the less well known John Kufuor of Ghana more than his higher-profile counterparts.

The award for "achievement in African leadership", which offers a golden handshake of $5m and a substantial pension to those who attained office democratically and stood down within the last three years, would appear to be designed with Mr Kufuor in mind. He stepped aside this year in the west African nation's second democratic transition, and Ghana was chosen by Barack Obama for his first speech in Africa as US President.

The decision not to do the obvious has instead done much to fulfil the Mo Ibrahim foundation's stated aim of stimulating debate about good governance in Africa. The inaugural award to Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano and last year's prize to Botswana's Festus Mogae also sparked arguments about their legacies, and a similar squabble over the mediocre record of Mr Kufuor would have followed on this occasion.

Now attention has been focused on a discouraging year for democracy in Africa, marked by coups, inheritance battles and dysfunctional power-sharing administrations born of rigged elections. In diplomatic language the foundation said as much yesterday, noting "the progress made with governance in some African countries, while noting with concern recent setbacks in other countries".

The Sudan-born telecoms tycoon pointed out that he had never envisaged making the award every year. Raising the bar for the financial prize may make the award more relevant, and next year's committee will be watched more keenly after yesterday's surprise.

Both Mr Mbeki and Mr Obasanjo are attempting the transition from flawed national leaders into African statesmen as mediators in the continent's conflicts. But given their records while heads of state, awarding the Ibrahim prize to either of them would have undermined its credibility.

Mr Mbeki had to be pushed by his own party to leave office last year after a power struggle with his successor, Jacob Zuma. He left South African politics tarnished, and his performance as mediator on Zimbabwe looks worse with each new crisis in the unity government in Harare.

Mr Obasanjo, a former military ruler in his first stint in power, would be an even odder choice. His civilian presidency was marked by corruption and staggering inequality in Nigeria, and as his days drew to a close, his allies tried – unsuccessfully – to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term.

As for Mr Kufuor, it could be argued that he has already been lavishly rewarded. His retirement package included a reported cash lump sum of $400,000, two residences, a fleet of six vehicles, a monthly stipend, travel allowances and seed capital of $1m for the creation of a foundation. While Mr Ibrahim dismissed speculation that the award had been withheld as his own finances have been hit by the global recession, it's not hard to imagine that his money might be employed more usefully than in further softening the feather bed retirement of Mr Kufuor.

Rejected for Africa's Nobel: Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana

Olusegun Obasanjo presided over eight tumultuous years of democracy in Nigeria. But corruption was rife and many remained desperately poor despite the nation's oil wealth. His allies tried to change the constitution to let him stand for a third term.

Thabo Mbeki was forced to step down last year after losing the race for the ANC leadership. He was criticised for failing to hold Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to account and also for questioning the link between HIV and Aids as 300,000 South Africans were dying.

John Kufuor stepped aside without a fuss after two terms, marking Ghana's second successful handover, a milestone not just for the country but for Africa as whole. However, the opposition at the time accused his administration of corruption.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?