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Africa

Festus Mogae: governance in Africa "capable of improvement"

The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has no winner in 2013 - for the fourth time in five years.

ARCHIV - Der frühere Präsident von Botsuana, Festus Mogae (Archivfoto vom 20.03.2008), erhält den mit 3,7 Millionen Euro dotierten Mo-Ibrahim-Preis. Der 69 Jahre alte Politiker bekommt die weltweit höchstdotierte Auszeichnung für eine Einzelperson für seine Verdienste um den Staat im südlichen Afrika. Das gab der frühere UN-Generalsekretär Annan am Montag (20.10.2008) in London bekannt. Außerdem würdigte Annan Mogaes Kampf gegen die Immunschwäche-Krankheit Aids. HORACIO VILLALOBOS +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Festus Mogae won the Mo Ibrahim Prize in 2008

The award, set up by Sudan-born telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim in 2007, goes to a democratically elected African leader who demonstrated exceptional leadership, served their mandated term and left office in the last three years.

It carries a $5 million (3.7 million euro) prize paid over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life from then on, with a further $200,000 per year available for 10 years for good causes backed by the winner.

The London-based Mo Ibrahim foundation also publishes the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

Deutsche Welle spoke to a former award winner and president of Botswana about the thinking behind the prize and whether the bar of excellence required to win it was not too high.

Festus Mogae: I am not party to the philosophy of the prize, but the owner says he decided on the prize because being a head of state, especially in Africa, is the most powerful position in which leaders can make a difference as to whether the country progresses, stagnates or deteriorates - to a much greater extent in Africa than is the case elsewhere. That is his contention and therefore it is the head of state in an African country - what they do - that is most important to him. He says that here in the UK, or in Germany, or even in the United States, a lot can happen, the country can progress even if we have a relatively poor leader, but in Africa, development is directly correlated with the quality of leadership.

DW: You seem to agree that conditions are really difficult for heads of state to fulfill. Don't you think the time has come to rethink the award, or the criteria for it?

No I don't think so. I don't think it has been very bad. I mean we have had three winners in about seven, eight years, which would mean a winner almost every two years, so there is still next year and remember some of the years have passed because presidents don't retire every year, so there would be no winner, because there was no president who had retired. There may be, as we are speaking, incumbents who will win, but they have not yet retired.

DW: And what does this tell us about the quality of governance in Africa?

That it is capable of improvement!

DW: Are there signs that it will improve, bearing in mind that many leaders are staying in office longer than expected?

Yes, that's part of the problem. There are people who have done very good things and could have won the prize if they had retired some time back, but who are continuing in office and sometimes when people continue in office for too long, they begin to – you know – lose their vision. You know, for instance, if a leader is elected and does very well for the first five years, second five years, third five years, by the time he is elected for the fourth time, fifth time, people who were born when he was elected are now adults and by that time he can't say that is as au fait with the thinking of the country as he was when he first came to power, which is a pity.

Mo Ibrahim, Vorsitzender der Mo-Ibrahim-Stiftung bei der Vorstellung des Mo-Ibrahim-Indexes 2013 am 14. Oktober 2013 in London zugeliefert von: Friederike Müller copyright: Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Mo Ibrahim presenting the governance index that bears his name for 2013 at press conference in London

DW: How would you describe some of Africa's leaders whose governance credentials are questionable, but are still hanging on in office?

You are leading me into temptation! I'm not here to evaluate the performance of my esteemed colleagues!

DW: On a personal note, when you received the prize, how did you feel?

I was surprised, I was astounded, pleasantly surprised. I didn't know about the prize. At first I felt I was in a dream but ultimately I realized it had happened and I was happy.

DW: And what message would you have for African leaders who might be future recipients?

I would be saying that the (Mo Ibrahim) index that was published today shows that there has been continuing improvement in the quality of governance in Africa. Therefore we can expect in future that there will be more leaders winning the prize and whereas the 1980s and 1990s were said to be lost decades for Africa's development, in these decades of the 21st century we have been doing well and therefore we have every reason to want to do even better, to govern event better. Among other things, we have made tremendous strides in human development, in sustainable economic opportunities. But also I would encourage of some of the good leaders who have been there for quite some time to consider retiring, while they still have the good record that they have.

Interviewer: Isaac Mugabi

Festus Mogae was president of Botswana from 1998 to 2008