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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before