The unclaimed prize

Sudanese born British businessman Mo IbrThe Mo Ibrahim Foundation cash prize for excellence in governance for this year went unclaimed.  The same was true for 2009, 2010, and 2012. This didn’t surprise those who follow African politics with more than a passing interest; the real surprise is when there is a winner.

The prize wasn’t claimed despite the findings of the Foundation that more Africans today i.e. 94% live in countries that have witnessed an overall improvement in governance since 2000.

The award’s $ 5 million by many standards is a mouth-watering sum, however given the plunder to public coffers made by many African leaders/rulers; this is no way an incentive for them to do well. And the amount isn’t given as a lump sum; it stretches for over a decade, and some of it goes to causes which the winner supports and in Africa, few of these politicians have causes close to their hearts.

It was under such a backdrop that a story circulated in the local press of the possibility of JK clinching the prize into the sunset. He is set to retire in 2015, and the race to succeed him was long ago set in motion.

To make it more dramatic, the local press crunched the number in the local shilling, and the amount was a mind boggling Tsh 8.25/- billion.

This is an interesting thought. The prospects of the “smiling” president to claim the prize money are high.

Let’s consider a few things.

For starters, this is a continent where more presidents or prime ministers die in office than in any other continent.  The BBC reported that between  2008 and 2012, there were 13 cases of leaders dying in office but 10 out of those cases happened in Africa.

Add those who are chased out of public office violently-and some die with ignominy.

In other words they don’t get to retire, hence failing to make the cut.

There is another thing. Leaders in this continent prefer being carried out of the state house with their feet coming first than retiring. Take East Africa for instance, former President Kibaki plunged his country in the deepest of an abyss to clinch his controversial second term. He retired early this year and of course he couldn’t possibly be a contender to the cash prize.

Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni has no plans for retirement either. Responding to a question about term limits from one of the students at the University of Dar es Salaam where he was invited as an alumna himself, he said “leadership is no beauty contest.” Plainly put: To the former rebel chief and army general retirement isn’t in the cards.

In neighbouring Rwanda, the constitution there limits the current strongman, another former rebel leader and army general, Paul Kagame to run for office again come 2017 when his current term ends. But there are no clear guidelines of his departure either.

And more importantly, even if the two were to retire when their current terms are over, one in 2016, and the other in 2017, they’d still be no a hindrance to JK’s prospects of winning the largest cash prize awarded.

In Burundi, the Avocado president, as he is locally known because of his love for planting avocados throughout the country, Pierre Nkurunziza might as well retire from office come 2015 just like JK, and some two months earlier than JK, but given his reclusiveness even within the EAC itself it is difficult to see how he can outshine JK.

If you expand the horizon to include the whole continent you might even despair. This is a continent home to presidents who can afford to go on extended leaves of absence-some stretching to six (6) months long i.e. half a year  in luxurious European hotels, there are those who at some points in time they had toured abroad more than they did in the countries they led.

One president had gone abroad 32 times in a year but had toured only twice in his country, and in both cases it was within the capital and to the neighbourhoods which had overwhelmingly voted for him in a presidential election that swept him into public office.

Of course, of course JK too is “forever travelling” like one prominent analyst and journalist in the region described his travels abroad. Then again, he criss-crosses this vast country as well whenever he is around. In other words he spends little time in the commercial and de facto capital, Dar es Salaam.

He is no peculiar, rather a norm in a continent of leaders enchanted with the so called “economic foreign policies”. They are always travelling, except of course those who fear to be overthrown. Yes! That still happens in Africa.

There is no shortage of JK’s political detractors who, no doubt were astounded at the that story, and perhaps appalled at the prospects of him winning the cash prize, but hate him or love him, he has managed to cultivated a well-managed and choreographed image of a “sensible statesman”. And he leads a relatively politically stable country-which would make many of his peers envious.

No doubt JK has very peculiar peers on the continent; even some of the luckiest ones like Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan can’t even begin to dream about winning Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s cash prize.

In moments such as this is when I think, in life, I’d rather be lucky than good.

By Emmanuel Kisumo.

Emmanuel is a writer based in Dar es Salaam

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