Mo Ibrahim: “Africa is progressing”

Reading time 10 min.

The 2010 Ibrahim Index, released Monday, shows both progress and setbacks in the quality of governance in Africa between 2004-2005 and 2008-2009. While governance performance is improving in areas of economic and human development, it has suffered setbacks in what concerns democratic development. Created by the Mo Ibrahim foundation, the index essentially highlights development in Africa.

Governance performance in the areas of economics, infrastructure, health, education, transparency, rule of law, safety, does not register any major changes compared to last year, according to the 2010 Mo Ibrahim index, released by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. But while there is an overall improvement in governance performance in the areas of human and economic development particularly in Angola, Liberia and Togo, democracy has suffered some setbacks. Mauritius, Seychelles and Botswana vie for the top three positions, while Somalia remains glued to the bottom of the ranking. Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim who created the Foundation in 2006, talks to Oumar Barry, editor of Initiative Africa on People TV.

Initiative Africa: The 2010 Ibrahim Index has just been released. Tell us more about this index first and what are the main results this year?

Mo Ibrahim: The index really is an attempt to quantify and measure African progress. We are measuring 88 parameters of governance in Africa. Governance is measurable: it is not a notion it is deliverables. … needs to deliver – what the government needs to deliver to the people, a basket of … needs to offer to its people. That delivery really covers areas of economics, infrastructure, health, education, transparency, rule of law, safety. We measure all of this and we rank African countries. This is a very useful tool … both for governments who want to know which policies work and what doesn’t work and also for civil society to really understand and evaluate the performance of the governments …

And what are the main results this year?

Mo Ibrahim: The main results are that Africa is progressing – especially in economic terms. African economies are doing well. Governance and democracy this year has been going sideways – there have been some set-backs there have been some developments – but in general it is standing still after the progress we have seen in the past few years so we need to pay more attention really to the issue of safety and human rights and rule of law.

Why do you think your index is legitimate?

Mo Ibrahim: It is legitimate because it is factual. We are not inventing numbers or guessing. This is a most comprehensive set of data. We have the full cooperation of the World Bank and the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union… We have over twenty or thirty international institutions which support our work by making data available and the countries themselves also supply the rest of the data … so it is a most comprehensive set of data … each number, each figure is reference with where it came from … so it is very legitimate.

Was it important to have an African index made by Africans?

Mo Ibrahim: Absolutely, for a long time we sort of out-sourced African issues – management, direction, strategy… etc – to the donors and to Western countries or institutions which tell us to stand up, sit down, turn right, turn left. It’s really time for Africans to really regain the control of their destiny, it’s up to us Africans to really understand what is happening in Africa and to evaluate it, criticise it or praise it.

What are the main reactions you get after it’s published, reactions from Africa and the rest of the world?

Mo Ibrahim: I think people in general welcome this information, it is used widely by governments all over the world, by institutions by investors and of course, sometimes we also receive some unhappy calls because, as usual, each country would like to be near the top rather than the bottom. But facts are facts and we are quite happy to have a dialogue with anybody who is unhappy about their place or the numbers … but numbers are numbers.

You give the largest prize in the world, $5 million to a worthy African leader, $500,000 over ten years and then $200,000 for life. That’s a lot of money for a former head of state.

Mo Ibrahim: Really, if you compare the income of an African head of state with the CEO of any medium-sized company it would not appear that big at all. The role of leaders in changing their countries is very important. If a leader comes to power and manages to take millions of people out of poverty or stop a civil war, that is a wonderful act that really needs to be recognised and honoured. What we are doing is to honour those people who offered exceptional leadership in their countries and to do this really is very small by comparison. Don’t forget that the Nobel Prize is $1.5 million and while I have full respect for the prize, why is writing a novel or writing a nice poem is more important than saving millions of lives ?

And do you think African presidents hope to win this prize for the prestige or for the money they can get?

Mo Ibrahim: I think both. Prestige of course is more important and it will increase by the time because a prize gains credibility over time. The Nobel Prize was not that prestigious five years after it started it took some years to achieve its credibility and we hope to do it much faster. The money really just helps free a president who left office. An African president who left office really have no life after office unlike Western leaders. Western leaders end up in the boards of major banks and major companies earning millions of dollars a year; they write books and memoirs which earn them millions of dollars; on the speech circuits they charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. What can (former) African leaders do, they don’t have these facilities. We would like to offer a dignified way for a hero of the African people to be able to continue to work for the civil society without worrying about earning a living. That would be something very good. When you look at what our laureates are doing in Africa … so far we have three laureates – we have President Mandela, President Chissano and President Mogae. The work they have been doing … well I really don’t need to go over it.

This is the second year in a row that the Ibrahim Prize for good governance hasn’t been given to an African leader. I have one simple question: Why?

Mo Ibrahim: Let me start by saying that I don’t sit on the prize committee. I’m not a member of the prize committee. The prize committee is very prestigious and is completely independent from the board of the foundation. It runs its business in a confidential manner. That committee is one of the most prestigious committees in the world today: it has three Nobel laureates, it has two or three past presidents – wonderful people – and it is their decision which we have to respect. But if the prize is for exceptional leadership why should we expect to find an exceptional leader every year? The same question was asked by the BBC in London after our announcement. So I said to the journalist: ‘Ok, I’m willing to offer this prize for a European leader who left office in the past three years, who did exceptional work and who transformed his or her country. Can you suggest someone for me?’

And what was his answer?

Mo Ibrahim: He was silent. He smiled and he was silent. It’s three months now and he is still silent.

Many people feel that 50 years after most African countries gained their independence not much has really changed and that the continent is still dependent on development aid. What is your opinion on that?

Mo Ibrahim: I fully agree, I completely agree and that’s why we launched our foundation completely unhappy and unsatisfied with our progress over the past fifty years. We cannot keep blaming the colonial system for our problems today. Our problems today are of our own making. We are the people who are producing these conflicts around the continent, fighting each other, stoking ethnic conflict for cheap political gain and sometimes steeling from our people. We are responsible for that … nobody else. It’s time for us now really to stop blaming other people and be responsible. We are responsible for our success and we are responsible for our failure. It is time for us really to take charge of our destiny.

There is a lot of talk about creating a United States of Africa. Is that the way to go for the continent?

Mo Ibrahim: It’s a very wonderful dream and I hope it happens in my lifetime. How can 53 small countries succeed in this world (pause) Look (pause) , Africa does not trade with itself. Only 10% of our trade is between ourselves – only 10%. We have huge barriers between our people, we cannot create scale: we have 53 different voices. Now you take Germany…Germany’s economy is two and a half times the economy of the whole of Africa yet the Germans believe that they must belong to the European Union because that really ensures success facing the Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians etc. Why should 53 tiny African countries hope to succeed individually? We cannot. We must really integrate – at least integrate our economies, we must break the borders and allow the free movement of goods, capital and people. Only then can we create the scale to really help our development.

Let’s talk about the youth of Africa. President Obama invited more than 100 young African leaders to Washington to talk about good governance. Wasn’t it an issue he should have raised with African leaders, African presidents?

Mo Ibrahim: I’m very delighted, I’m very delighted for this initiative really because he put his finger on it: it’s the issue of governance. If we had been governed well we would have been in a different place and that’s what we need to tell young people. Whenever I tour Africa the first place I go to is to universities to speak to our young people and to tell them: ‘We have failed you. We, the past generation which came after independence, we failed our people.’ Now it’s up to them to produce clean, proper governance for Africa. That will change really the whole situation.

Mo Ibrahim you are from Sudan and, as you know, when we talk about your country many people think about Darfur, civil war, extreme poverty and ethnic divisions. What’s your feeling about that?

Mo Ibrahim: It’s terrible, I really feel terrible. Sudan is a wonderful, rich country – a really rich country – which has been betrayed by its political elite which cannot see further than the end of its nose. They are destroying the country. The south is going to go somewhere else and that’s going to be a recipe for (sighs) conflicts and so the legacy of President Bashir is a very sad legacy.

Have you ever thought of being involved politically speaking in Sudan?

Mo Ibrahim: We cannot be involved politically because of our projects. We are working across Africa and we are talking about good governance as civil society and we need to really entrench the role of civil society. But if I started to have political ambitions and I started to run for government then I would destroy what I am doing. I have no, no ambitions at all and that is the way it has to be. No motivation other than the success of our continent. I am not interested in business deals, in a position in government – I am very happy to remain an employed part of the civil society movement. That’s my place and I’m very happy with that place.

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