Mr. Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Ibrahim Prize
American civil rights activist Harriet Tubman believed, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” Tubman continued, “Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Mr. Mo Ibrahim has a dream for a better Africa and therefore he is a dreamer. He wants to change governance in Africa by recognizing African leaders who meet certain leadership and good governance benchmarks, and we salute him for that.
Changing the way leaders govern in Africa may seem daunting when the reality of life for most ordinary Africans feels difficult. The myths that Africa cannot change and become like the West explains how the world works in the minds of doubters and those who find every reason and way to set Africa behind with inexcusable excuses for doing the wrong thing and refusing to acknowledge it.
In the last few days, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation did something wrong by recognizing former Liberian president Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf under false pretense. Worse of all, the mere fact that the Foundation’s founder, Mr. Mo Ibrahim himself is on a media frenzy to provide inexcusable excuses and while simultaneously failing to acknowledge the error made by the selection of Madam Sirleaf for this year’s prize points to the reason why Africa still has a long way to go.
Mr. Mo Ibrahim is a rich man of African heritage. He has the right to use his money any way he sees fit and/or to give it to whomever he wants. That is preference and moral right, no doubt about it.
Besides, many in Africa appreciate Mr. Mo Ibrahim’s kindness and generosity in designing the Ibrahim Prize to promote better and humane leadership on the continent. However, the fact is it would have been better if Mr. Mo Ibrahim had called former president Sirleaf and give her any coronation he wishes to give her in addition to the $5 million dollars that the former president really does not need. There wouldn’t have been any concern and outrage from Africans and Liberians in particular. And Mr. Mo Ibrahim would not have felt compelled to explain himself and/or provide inexcusable excuses. But to suggest that his Foundation is recognizing the former Liberian leader because she has governed Liberia appropriately, improved lives and lifted Liberians out of poverty is misleading and insulting to millions of Liberians whose lives are at a knife-edge after 12 years of rule. It is also very odd that Mr. Mo Ibrahim has forgotten that he once frown on former president Sirleaf for unwarranted globetrotting even during the Ebola health crisis. Then, he Mr. Ibrahim cautioned the former Liberian leader to stay home and solve her country’s problems rather than travel the world. That admonishment drew the praise of Liberians and most people around the world. It indicated that Mr. Mo Ibrahim knew the shortcoming of some African leaders whose mindset and attitudes are just not in tune with caring for their people.
Mr. Ibrahim’s wealth is for him and if he chooses to give money away to people who already have millions instead of training more doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers for and in Africa, no one has a problem with that. Another thing that the $5 million could have done should the Mo Ibrahim’s Foundation really wanted impact is to have donated the money to improve access to healthcare in Liberia or education. Like most Liberians, Mr. Mo Ibrahim, his Foundation, and the Ibrahim Prize’s Selection Committee know that the former Liberian leader really does not need money. She is a millionaire by all accounts and measures. And her family is too while an estimated 98 percent of Liberians are poor and food insecure.
It is for these reasons that the outrage is out there. No one––including Liberians–– cares about how the Mo Ibrahim Foundation chooses to spend its wealth, but to give an unrealistic premise as a justification for granting the Ibrahim Prize to anyone who is undeserving of it is painful and unwarranted.
No doubt Mr. Mo Ibrahim is an honest, decent, generous and honorable man. With these characteristics and description come public scrutiny and the humility to admit wrong when it happens. In establishing the venerated Ibrahim Prize, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation set in motion certain policies and criteria as follows:
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
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation and its Selection Committee know very well that today we are living in a world with instant access to information, so why did they have difficulty discerning myth from reality? The very first policy of the Ibrahim Prize says it “recognizes and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.” Do the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and its wealthy Selection Committee’s members really believe that Liberia is developed, that Liberians are lifted out of poverty, and that the former Liberian leader paved the way for “sustainable and equitable prosperity?” The average Liberian family lives on less than $1 dollars a day, has no access to healthcare, electricity etc. according to the World Food Programme, UNDP, and several other international organizations.
Mr. Ibrahim in defending why his Foundation gave the Prize to former President Sirleaf said of the Prize: “It is an achievement for African girls and women that there is no glass ceiling and they can really help to move Africa forward.”
Maybe Mr. Mo Ibrahim and his Ibrahim Prize’s wealthy Selection Committee members have not talked to young Liberian girls or read stories about their lives and conditions under the Sirleaf’s administration as narrated here: Liberia’s Child Prostitutes – The Daily Beast. No young girl— and certainly there are several hundreds of thousands of them—who was forced to prostitute her womanhood because of poverty, lack of jobs and the lack of access to social services under the Sirleaf administration will buy into Mr. Mo Ibrahim’s narrative. President Sirleaf’s ascendancy to the Liberian presidency was a singular achievement for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her immediate small circle of friends. Liberian women and girls have no share in it. If they did, our girls would not have sold their bodies or seek sex for money.
In announcing the decision to select Madam Sirleaf, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee, said: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the helm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. What Dr. Salim failed to realize and acknowledge is the fact that the Liberian civil war is not a strange and unknown phenomenon to the former Liberian leader. She doesn’t just know about it, she is accused of organizing and sponsoring it because she wanted power by such means. In fact, Dr. Salim should have known that Madam Sirleaf once ordered that Monrovia, the capital of Liberia be “level flat” and she would build it. It is so sad and indeed regrettable that Dr. Salim and the Selection Committee are unaware of the TRC of Liberia Final Report Volum ii – Press Union of Liberia.
The saddest part of this is Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim is an African icon. People look up to him and young boys and girls venerate him for his astute statute in international diplomacy. As secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU), Dr. Salim had a distinguished career—that sought a better Africa. So, for him to be a part of a decision that rewards absolute failure is unfortunate and heartbreaking.
According to one of the reports by the U.S Embassy near Monrovia:
The Liberian labor force is predominantly illiterate and unskilled, and most Liberians, particularly those in the rural areas, lack basic computer skills. According to UNESCO’s statistics (2010), the adult literacy rate for Liberia is estimated at 60.8 percent and the youth (15- 24) literacy rate 76.5 percent. The most recent Labor Force Survey (2010) indicates that the rates of vulnerable employment in rural areas are 86 percent for male and 87 percent for female. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) reports the overall unemployment rate is 25-30 percent, largely due to underperforming manufacturing and agriculture sectors, but the Embassy’s estimate is that unemployment/underemployment rate is 80 – 85 percent. The domestic private sector remains hampered by weak infrastructure, lack of affordable financing, and relatively weak domestic demand.
FrontPage Africa, one of Liberia’s leading and respected dailies has also reported that: “In an exclusive interview with journalists via mobile phone on Monday, February 12, Mr. Ibrahim said Liberians should be proud of the former President’s achievements. He noted that the Foundation’s Index of African Governance of over a hundred parameters in rule of law, security, health, education, amongst others, discovered Liberia as the only country that improved in all four pillars of the index.”
Again, it was just recently discovered that doctors at Liberia’s largest medical center used flashlights to perform critical surgeries because of the lack of electricity. In fact, under president Sirleaf, Liberia tops UNICEF ranking of the 10 worst countries for access to primary school Liberia tops UNICEF ranking of 10 worst countries for access to …
All these bad governance practices occurred not because the country is lacking. There are tremendous natural resources available nationwide in Liberia. Moreover, several concessions agreements and investments have poured into Liberia from 2006 to 2018 when President Sirleaf was the leader of the country
|Revised Arcelor Mittal Steel Agreement||$1.6 Billion||Nimba/Grand Bassa Counties|
|China Union/Bong Mines MDA||$2.6 Billion||Bong|
|Severstal/ Putu MDA||$2 Billion||Grand Gedeh|
|BHP Billiton/Kitoma, Goe Fentro MDA||$1.8 Billion||Lofa, Nimba|
|AmLib (Kokoya and Cestos)||$100 Million||Nimba/River Cess Counties|
|Africa Aura (Gola Konneh)||$150 Million||Cape Mount|
|ADA/LAP Commercial||$30 Million||Lofa|
|Decoris Oil Palm Plantation||$64 Million||Maryland|
|Cavalla Rubber Plantation Rehabilitation||$65 Million||Maryland|
|Sime Darby Plantation||$800 Million||Cape Mount/Bomi/Gbapolu Counties|
|Golden Veroleum||$1.7 Billion||Maryland|
|Equatorial Palm Oil||$100 Million||Grand Bassa|
|Robert L. Johnson/Kendeja Hotel||$10 Million||Monsterrado|
|Golden Gate Hotel||$8 Million||Montserrado|
|Cape Hotel, Golden Key, Palm Springs, Royal||$50 Million||Monsterrado|
|BRE/Vattenfall Wood Ship Export||$200 Million||Grand Bassa|
|CEMENCO New Mill||$20 Million||Montserrado|
|5 Timber Sale Contracts||$20 Million||Various Counties|
|4 Forest Management Contracts||$60 Million||Various Counties|
|Anardako/Repsol/Oranto/Africa Petroleum/European Hydrocarbon||$500 Million||Various Counties|
|20 New TOTAL Stations||$20 Million||Various Counties|
|Guarantee Trust Bank||$8 Million||Montserrado|
|UBA Bank||$8 Million||Montserrado|
|Lib. Enterprise Dev. Fund||$8 Million||Montserrado|
|APM Terminal, Port of Monrovia, Privatization||$100 Million||Montserrado|
|* Source: National Investment Commission (NIC).|
What Liberians got used to under the Sirleaf’s administration was a new paradigm, as one western diplomatic entity puts it: “when new concessions are signed and ratified, the press frequently reports on corruption allegations implicating both the legislative and the executive branches which was controlled by former president Sirleaf. So, where is the rule of law? With these issues and serious shortcomings, how can the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and its Selection Committee say: “Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her 12 years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.” Really, Mr. Mo Ibrahim and the Ibrahim Foundation’s Selection Committee?
In a poverty-stricken nation, Madam Sirleaf as president increased the salaries of a select group of government officials and cronies three times more than the wages earned by public officials in Western nations. Today, Liberian lawmakers earn more than lawmakers in Europe, Canada, and the United States. So are judges and non-innovative bureaucrats. Reducing such salaries has now become a serious problem as the beneficiaries are fighting back. Our current president H.E. George Manneh Weah announced on national and international radio that he has cut his salary by 25 percent and urged the lawmakers and others to do likewise voluntarily. He has already begun to receive resistance from the Liberian judiciary. Is this a good foundation on which Liberia can now build, Mr. Mo Ibrahim?
Even as a former president, Madam Sirleaf continues to interfere in Liberian politics for the worse of it. People she dislikes because they embellish moral values and principles, she opposes. Today, if she does not like anyone, that person has no chance in Liberia because she will do all she can to undermine them. She has planted her seeds throughout the Liberian body politics. Nothing happens unless she coughs. Nothing moves, unless she orders. How can one woman treat a nation that has been so good to her like this? Why should one woman destroy the hopes and aspirations of millions of people like this? Former presidents in other nations engaged in international and charitable activities, but in Liberia, our is strategizing to crown someone she believes needs to be crown five or ten years from now. And her global Western PR team is as determined as a deer hunter to see that the world buys a myth rather than a reality, and facts.
One thing certain: we may be poor and unrecognized but Liberia is not short on individuals who can speak truth to power, individuals who can point out right and wrong even if it affects them. There is no need for these unjustifiable justifications. There is absolutely no need for these inexcusable excuses. The Foundation, the Ibrahim Prize’s Selection Committee, and Mr. Mo Ibrahim can restore the credibility of Ibrahim Prize by admitting that they err in this year’s selection. Africa and Africans admire and respect the Mo Ibrahim’s Foundation. Africans worldwide also cherish Mr. Mo Ibrahim. He is our own Alfred Nobel in some respect. So to see his most prized Prize be reduced to a ‘friendship club award’ does not sit well with those of us who are his African brethren.
The bottom-line is Mr. Mo Ibrahim has good intentions and he is a good man with a good heart for Africa, but the decision to select the former Liberian leader for this year’s Ibrahim Prize is a historical error and a serious mistake rooted in unfortunate judgment. Instead of providing inexcusable excuses and fluid justifications, we call on the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the Ibrahim Prize’s Selection Committee and Mr. Mo Ibrahim acknowledge that they all made a serious mistake. This will keep the integrity of the Ibrahim Prize far better than engaging in a failed media process because Liberians are not fools, and Africans know better. They can see through it.
Finally, many of us love Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and that is why I make it a duty to pray for her at church every Sunday when I can. She has her advantages, and she remains one of Liberia’s most distinguished women. She is educated and professional, having excelled in the private sector, at international levels, and even in politics. However, in governing Liberia, she did a poor job. Besides, she needs to reckon with one thing: develop a forgiving heart. One does not have to be trained as a nun or for the Catholic priesthood as I was to know that God exists and that God demands that we have a forgiving heart and caring spirit. To date, Madam Sirleaf finds it hard to forgive anyone, including me, who opposes her or crosses her path with truths. If it means fasting so that our former president can change, some of us are prepared to do so. The Bible asks: What does it profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world and loses his or her soul?
We must acknowledge these facts because Liberians are living with her many mistakes. No one, not even her best friends in the international circle, should tell Liberians what is not when Liberians know otherwise. We will push back!