As some of you may already know, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has ‘failed’ to find a winner for its good governance award for the second year in a row. Writing in The East African today, Charles Onyango-Obbo laments this turn of events and suggests that at this rate, the award may end up undermining its own good intentions:
[T]he impression that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation is creating whenever it doesn’t award the prize undermines the very sensible reason why it was set up.
Most people don’t read the fine print.
When they hear there was no winner for the second time in a row, it only helps play up the prejudices about Africa; that all the leaders in Africa are hopeless and that this is still a dark continent where there is no light.
That is wrong. While quite a few are bad apples, the progress in many African countries is remarkable.
Even in Nigeria, which once seemed doomed to be burdened with dysfunctional governments and whose political class is among the most corrupt in Africa, they fought attempts by Olusegun Obasanjo to amend the constitution and lift term limits, so he could stand for a third term in 2007.
When his successor Umaru Yar’Adua died in May, the transition to his vice president Goodluck Jonathan was one of the smoothest ever in Africa, instead of being the bloodbath some feared.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation says it has “very high” standards, but you can’t have standards in a vacuum.
If you have a prize for the top student in a class, in one year the best student can be the one who gets four A+s.
If the next year the best student gets a C+, he or she still gets the prize…[T]here is a growing suspicion that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation was too ambitious to put up the richest prize in the world; that it can no longer afford it and is hiding behind the excuse that there are no worthy candidates.
For me, when I heard of the concept behind this award it reminded me of this joke that President Obama paraphrases from Chris Rock: