The best of South African literature
A cursory glance at polls over the past three years reveals a limited pool of candidates for the Mo Ibrahim prize, says Stefan Gilbert.
Johannesburg - As the world focused on the AU’s session on the topic of the International Criminal Court, little attention was accorded the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s announcement that, yet again, they would not be awarding their prize to any African leader.
In an effort to promote democratic transitions, the foundation created an award to be given to departing African heads of state, to secure their financial well-being in retirement. In addition to $5m (R49m), the recipient is also awarded $200 000 annually for life.
The winner must be a former African head of state, have left office in the last three years, be democratically elected, have served only his/her constitutionally mandated term and demonstrated exceptional leadership.
But now, four out of seven years have passed without it being awarded.
A cursory glance at the elections over the past three years reveals a limited pool of candidates. Since 2010, there have been 34 presidential elections. In 19 instances, the incumbent was re-elected, and 15 new heads of state were appointed.
Re-election is not an uncommon scenario given the advantages incumbent presidents have in election campaigns, and is typical across the globe. Of the 19 incumbents re-elected, seven are among the longest-serving rulers in the world.
In 2009, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea was re-elected and is the longest-serving head of state on the continent at 33 years, followed by President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, re-elected last year.
With 15 new heads of state, there should be a pool of departing presidents and potential prize candidates. However, the 2010 elections in Guinea-Conakry were the first of its kind since independence from France in 1958. Of the remaining 14 incumbents not re-elected, four died before the end of their term and three were ousted in military coup d’états.
President Touré of Mali was ousted months before the end of his term, which may have led to his disqualification. President Hosni Mubarak fell victim to a popular uprising, and in Niger, President Mamadou Tandja was removed from office by the military for trying to unconstitutionally extend his term-of-office, an act that would have automatically disqualified him.
The remaining candidates were reduced to six: presidents Kibaki of Kenya, Menezes of Sao Tome and Principe, Sambi of the Comoros, Kahin of Somaliland, Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast, and Wade of Senegal.
Kahin, Gbagbo and Sambi could be disqualified on counts of not being democratically elected and exceeding their constitutionally mandated term.
Gbagbo and Kahin extended their terms by questionable means. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat after the elections, the ensuing violence, and on-going ICC trial against him, would not count in his favour. These three would undoubtedly fail to qualify in the category of demonstrated “exceptional leadership”, the qualitative component of the prize criteria.
Within the diminished list of three, only Menezes of Sao Tome and Principe is without great controversy. His election, and re-election for a second term, were undisputed and seem to have been democratic.
But although he did not commit any obviously egregious acts, he also didn’t distinguish himself as an exceptional leader. On the qualitative criteria, a leader must not only serve his or her term but must also demonstrate that during this period, the conditions of their people were improved.
The remaining two candidates were of an entirely different calibre. Both figured prominently on the world and continental stages, and played important roles in the political paths of their countries. However, both Kibaki and Wade have been highly criticised and their tenures in office marred by events and acts that have led to some questioning of their excellence as leaders within a democratic context.
Towards the end of President Wade of Senegal’s term, his efforts to centralise power and ensure a family heir betrayed an auspicious start. His altering of the constitution, which allowed him to claim that he was eligible for an additional term, was widely disputed and no doubt contributed to the lack of popularity that led to his loss in last year’s election.
Kibaki’s transition to his second term of office was equally, if not more, problematic. The haste with which he claimed electoral victory in 2007, the violence that ensued, and the problematic transitional government, did much to provoke a political stagnation and general decline in Kenya’s human development ratings.
It’s perhaps time to insist heads of state should not only be accountable for acts against their people, but also for what they fail to do for their people.
* Stefan Gilbert is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.