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How can Africa succeed when even the Ibrahim Prize has become a joke?


Mo Ibrahim is a noteworthy African––someone who is well-regarded throughout the African continent as an exemplary role model and genius. Children and youth from all backgrounds–creed, and races in Africa; rich and poor adore him for his vision of desiring good leadership and legitimate democratic governance rooted in sound economic policies that improve lives and lift up people, not cronies and relatives, out of real poverty in Africa––the land of his ancestors.

Mo Ibrahim’s vision in establishing the Ibrahim Prize has been a beckon of hope for the children and young people of Africa.  The Ibrahim Prize became one of the last lights at the end of the tunnel to end or prevent widespread corruption and the loot of public funds, nepotism, misrule and mismanagement, hatred and deceit, dictatorship and tyranny, including gross violation of human rights etc.

But this week, beginning with last weekend’s ceremony or announcement, the Ibrahim Prize has lost its relevance with its intended target and primary beneficiaries––African poor.  It has also become a vehicle that has revived hopelessness and induced darkness in the faces of African youth and children.

According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership is an annual prize awarded to a former African Executive Head of State or Government.

Established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2007, the Ibrahim Prize celebrates excellence in African leadership. It is awarded to a former Executive Head of State or Government by an independent Prize Committee composed of eminent figures, including two Nobel Laureates.

The Ibrahim Prize:

  • recognizes and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity
  • highlights exceptional role models for the continent
  • ensures that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent


  • former African Executive Head of State or Government
  • left office in the last three years
  • democratically elected
  • served his/her constitutionally mandated term
  • demonstrated exceptional leadership

With a US$5 million initial payment, plus $200,000 a year for life, the prize is believed to be the world’s largest, exceeding the $1.3m Nobel Peace Prize.

This week, former Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Ibrahim Prize barely a month after leaving office as president of Liberia.  Former President Sirleaf is a great and powerful woman with immense international stature and recognition. No doubt, former president Sirleaf loves attention and the spotlight and for these she spent millions of dollars – from public funds- on international public relations even while hospitals in Liberia during her administration used flashlights in surgical rooms because electricity has been lacking.  It also comes as no surprise that some western public relations thorns in the flash of the Liberia’s poor economy — individuals who, from their comfort in Washington, DC have sucked millions out of Liberia’s revenue under the auspices of rendering artificial lobbying and public relations services for Liberia and Madam Sirleaf, are now parading on social media praising the former Liberian leader when the hopes and future of abused and hungry young girls are bleak.

Obviously, the former Liberian president is a leader in her own right.  She deserves to be given awards and in fact, she has received more awards than any human being who has ever lived, and that includes even Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammed, Prophet Abraham, and all others.

But this latest award is not just misplaced, unexplainable and underserved, it puts a dent in the image of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and put in serious doubt the judgment of the award committee—a body comprising of some of the finest people.   Just by following the very criteria set by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the former Liberian leader, Madam Sirleaf in no way deserve this award.  If the metrics used in giving this latest award is to be accepted, then perhaps, then the Gambians should expect former President Yahya Jammeh to be the next recipient. Salim Ahmed Salim (Chair), former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, Martti Ahtisaari, Aicha Bah Diallo, Mohamed ElBaradei, Graça Machel, Festus Mogae and Mary Robinson are distinguished international figures with good judgment and leadership accomplishments. But this latest judgment to present the Ibrahim Prize to the former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf without following the very criteria set forth leaves nothing to be desired.

The idea that an award of this significant is given to a former leader who left a country brook, left more people in poverty than when she took office, created a semi-cast system wherein a few people (less than 2 percent of the population of 4.5 million) became overnight millionaires at the expense of an entire population, left the nation with an 85 percent unemployment rate, and created a scenario where the government, not the private sector, is the largest and most lucrative employer, just leaves any rational human being to wonder as to what is the Ibrahim Foundation’s Prize Committee thinking?  This decision, though long expected, was and remains a terrible precedent.

The prize committee itself has admitted that the former Liberian president has been accused of tolerating organized, systemic and widespread corruption–– a chronic disease which kills everything from infrastructural development, improved healthcare, and competitive education to better living standards and national unity in Africa and in particular Liberia.  When an international hypocrisy occurs, such as this recent announcement of the Ibrahim Prize, then people should stop blaming Africa and Africans when the nations on the continent continue to become what U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Sr. allegedly called “shithole” countries.  The premise of the award committee  is bogus and unrealistic because it does not fit in the narrative of ordinary Liberians, who, by all accounts, know that they have not been left out of poverty and their country has instead become more difficult to live in than in prior administrations.

How can Africa succeed or be better when even the Ibrahim Prize has now become a joke, and when prominent people who suppose to make better decisions for Africa are setting bad example?  The final question is: when is South Africa’s Jacob Zuma receiving his?

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Globe Afrique Editorial Page provides informative viewpoints and analysis as well as addresses evolving realities, events and developments unfolding in Africa, about Africans, African diaspora, people of African heritage, or with interest in Africa.
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