Mozambique's Ex-President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prize

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By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 22 -- Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano won a $5 million leadership prize Monday that promoters hope will encourage other African heads of state to rule wisely, without overstaying their welcomes.

Chissano, who turned 68 on Monday, helped bring "peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to his country," former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, who headed the prize committee for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said during a ceremony in London.

In 2005, Chissano stepped down at a time when political analysts believed he could have won another five-year term. And although Mozambique remains poor and corrupt, he is seen as having led it through a treacherous era by ending a 16-year civil war and overseeing the transition to democracy.

Mo Ibrahim, a British telecommunications tycoon born in Sudan, created and endowed the Achievement in African Leadership award to recognize good governance on a beleaguered continent, but he did not participate in the selection of Chissano. That job fell to a six-person committee led by Annan.

Only former African leaders were eligible for the prize, which organizers billed as the world's largest cash award. The Nobel Peace Prize pays $1.5 million.

"We Africans, it's our duty to look after our own people," Ibrahim said by telephone from London. "This hopefully will help galvanize the debate. . . . It focuses people's minds on how important governance is."

In many African nations, such as Nigeria, Congo and Somalia, legacies of conflict and poor political leadership have left their citizens impoverished. Better-governed nations such as South Africa, Botswana and Ghana, meanwhile, have outperformed their neighbors in most measures of development.

Mozambique rates as a tentative success story, with a poor infrastructure and high levels of poverty by the standards of southern Africa. Yet its economy is growing solidly, and it has held several consecutive multiparty elections.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which also rates African nations on five measures related to good governance, puts Mozambique at No. 23 of 48 sub-Saharan African nations. Top-rated was the island nation of Mauritius; worst was Somalia.

Chissano was foreign minister in 1986 when then-President Samora Machel died in a plane crash. Chissano went on to rule for 18 years, presiding over a 1992 peace deal and the arrival of democracy in Mozambique.

Chissano, who served as president of the African Union, also has led peace efforts in Uganda and Sudan. On Monday, he was traveling in a remote part of northern Uganda, beyond the reach of his cellphone, Ibrahim said. It was not clear whether Chissano was aware he had won the award.

"I think we're going to offer a prize for the first man or woman to reach him," Ibrahim joked.

Though Chissano kept power longer than is typical in established democracies, he relinquished it sooner than many other African leaders. Hastings Banda in neighboring Malawi stayed in power for 32 years. And in Zimbabwe, also a neighbor, President Robert Mugabe has ruled for 27 years.

Chissano's nation remains dogged by deep, persistent corruption. His son, Nyimpine Chissano, was implicated in the murder in 2000 of journalist Carlos Cardoso, who was investigating alleged fraud at Mozambique's largest bank.

The hundreds of millions of dollars stolen by some African leaders dwarf even the prize money being offered by Ibrahim's foundation. The $5 million is scheduled to be disbursed over 10 years; after that, a $200,000 annual stipend is provided for the rest of the winner's life.

"Those who govern badly bag a lot more than $5 million," said Ross Herbert, an analyst with the South African Institute of International Affairs. "I don't think it's possible to be a direct incentive in that sense."


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