Leaders matter more in the states of the developing world, especially in Africa, than they do in industrialized nation-states of the developed North. The former set of states lack strong political institutions; their political cultures and governance values are still being consolidated. They have rarely consolidated modern nation-states. In such embryonic contexts, political leaders exercise vastly more sway, and exert far more influence, than they usually do in the North.
But they also exercise that powerful sway irresponsibly. For the third time in six years, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has failed to award its munificent African Leadership prize. A key member of its prize committee said that Africa simply had a leadership deficit. “That is a fact,” reported Mohammed ElBaradei, Nobel Laureate and Egyptian reformer. Former Botswana President Festus Mogae, the second recipient of the prize, bemoaned the fact that many African leaders start off well, and then turn dictatorial. “Something happens,” he said ruefully.
At a minimum, the Foundation’s prize committee searches for ex-heads of state and heads of government who have finished their terms of office honorably, without personally profiting from Africa’s rampant corruption, without restricting the human rights and personal freedoms of their constituents, and without going to war against a neighboring state or an internal minority group. Free elections are a plus. So are improvements in (or at least little deterioration of) a country’s governance. If a state’s peoples are better educated and in better health than they were when the incumbent took office, if they are more prosperous, if new jobs are being created, and if remittances are ample then a head of state or head of government has led well. Moreover, if he or she has strengthened rule of law (and transparency), then his/her time in office was well-spent.
This year there were no Africans who fit the criteria. Obviously, even though Rupiah Banda left the presidency of Zambia quietly in 2011 after losing an election, and former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has been busy mediating the Sudanese-South Sudan conflict, the prize committee found the accomplishments in presidential office of both men wanting. Nor did Sam Nujoma receive the prize when he left the presidency of Namibia after changing the constitution in his favor.
Governance attainments turn out to be critical in winning the prize and also in ranking countries either high or low on the annual listings of the Index of African Governance, now compiled by the Foundation. To rank highly, countries in Africa need to be both secure and safe (with little crime), exhibit strong rule of law behavior, hold fair elections and respect all manner of human rights, encourage economic growth, and provide good health outcomes and positive educational opportunities.
Well-led and well-governed African states such as Mauritius, the Seychelles, Botswana, Cape Verde (the home of another leadership prize winner), South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and Lesotho have typically occupied the top places in the Index. This year Zambia and Tanzania were added to the top dozen, and Malawi and Benin fell back. States such as Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda are well back in the next tier, along with Senegal, Gabon, and Mozambique (the home of the first prize recipient). .
The bottom ranking states on the list in recent years were such perennially dismal performers as Nigeria, both Congos, Chad, both Sudans, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Coe d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and Somalia. In each of those cases, leadership attainments have been few. Indeed, in the cases of Zimbabwe and Eritrea, not to mention the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, long-time leaders have preyed mercilessly on their own people, presided in an authoritarian manner, and profited from the corrupt practices of their regimes and their cronies.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was right to give prospective African leaders a handsome incentive to govern responsibly and well. That the leaders of Africa largely have not governed effectively says much more about the current state of a largely aged leadership in Africa than it necessarily does about future leadership abilities. The great hope of Africa’s peoples lies with a few in office now – such as Joyce Banda of Malawi and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia – and of successor generations.
Those who are in politics now, and still in their 40s, ought to fill the ranks of future prize winners. They are the future heads of state and heads of government who should be nurtured locally and internationally and given all possible support to emulate the Leadership Prize laureates.
Good leadership will determine the future of much of Africa and much of the rest of the developing world.