African Leaders’ Eyes on the Prize

CAMBRIDGE – On October 14, the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee announced that for the second year in a row it had not found anyone to whom to award its Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Why is that important?

The prize is given to a recently retired African head of state or government who was democratically elected, stepped down at the end of his or her constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated exceptional leadership. The winner receives $5 million paid over ten years, followed by $200,000 annually for life, making it the world’s most valuable annual award.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation supports other important activities, particularly the annual Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), which was also released on October 14. But I am especially intrigued by the prize. It is a fascinating social-policy experiment, which deserves to be more widely known.

Critics of the Ibrahim Prize argue that it makes Africa look bad, because in four out of seven years it has not been awarded to anyone. It has also been argued that leaders should not have to be “bribed” into being good. The good will be good, and the bad will be bad, regardless of the prize.