The Mo Ibrahim Prize and the impending implosion in Sudan
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Ghanadot
My heart bleeds for Sudan as I read an impassioned piece in the
Financial Times of January 6, 2011, (Sudan is a warning to all of Africa),
written by one of her noble sons;
Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
and the Africa Leadership Prize Award.
His piece starts with a story that sets the plight of Sudan in
sight as she moves towards a referendum this Sunday on whether
the South will secede as fully independent state from the rest
of the country.
In a painful way, Mr. Ibrahim narrates the story of a
progressive North Sudanese, appealing to fellow citizens in
Khartoum to allow common sense and “brotherhood and unity among
all Sudanese” to prevail for the sake of progress.
In the midst of the Northerner’s speech, Mr. Ibrahim tells us,
came a dilemma when a young “southern man stood up and brought
the audience back to earth.”
“That is all fine, sir,” the young man said to the speaker. “But
will you allow me to marry your sister?”
With that question, the point about Sudan’s dilemma was made
plain. And so was knowledge made about ethnic prejudices in the
rest of Africa.
Well, I feel like asking Mr. Ibrahim a similar cheeky question
as posed by the young man: Wasn’t he the same man whose
foundation has limited or withheld the promised Mo Ibrahim Prize
Award for former African presidents for three years in a roll?
The last award was in 2007. So for three years, the Mo Ibrahim
Prize award hasn’t found an African president worthy of the
democratic credentials required for the prize.
Does the prize exist and are they looking for a real African
leader or some imaginary ideal?
But, in case you wonder what this prize has to do with the
trouble in Sudan, I will point out the moral clarity Mr. Ibrahim
shows about the situation in his article on Sudan and ask why he
omits assessing President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir’s efforts,
as a potential candidate for the Mo Ibrahim award? Would it not
be an active way to work towards identifying his ideal president
for the award?
This much said, Bashir is Mr. Ibrahim’s president
and has been in power for over 20 years, a rule encompassing
much of the Sudan conflict!
For the Southern Sudanese, the referendum will result in a
matter of choice; just like it has for Mo’s foundation
withholding the prize for three years. Rather than automatically
granting it to the most deserving, the foundation has preferred
to reserve it for the abstract – a president yet to be born.
Southern Sudan’s choice could be instant independence; rather
than the step by step approach required to unify the belligerent
No offense to Mr. Ibrahim intended, but I thought the 2009 award
could have gone to the best in the bunch selected for that year,
as I wrote in an article then; thinking that competition to do
the most good each term, among future leaders, would grow to
give us the ideal laureates.
In 2009, the award could have easily gone to President Kufuor of
Ghana. He was the best in the bunch. His transition from office
alone was matchless; in the 2008 election that brought Ghana
close to the brink. There was no forceful exit from office for
him because the constitution was observed. A prize for Kufuor
could have been useful for Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast in 2010.
Perhaps, the same prize could have influenced the behavior of
President al-Bashir of Sudan too - who has been in power since
Otherwise, Mr. Ibrahim’s warning for the rest of Africa holds; a
dire future for the rest of the continent.
He says “Sudan has been an experiment that resonated across
Africa: if we, the largest country on the continent, reaching
from the Sahara to the Congo, bridging religions, cultures and a
multitude of ethnicities, were able to construct a prosperous
and peaceful state from our diverse citizenry, so too could the
rest of Africa.”
Mr. Ibrahim narrates how at his foundation’s annual forum in
Mauritius, some 300 African opinion leaders “came together to
discuss the economic integration of the continent. The debate at
the forum was not about whether we need integration.” but rather
“why we are moving towards closer political and economic
co-operation so slowly.”
After the day’s event, as Mr. Ibrahim tells it, “everyone danced
joyfully.….. there was a cloud hanging over the Sudanese guests
among us. A woman was crying as her colleagues tried to calm
her. While other Africans were celebrating their coming
together, we knew that in a few weeks our country would start to
Mr. Ibrahim continues: “That we have failed should sound a
warning to all Africans. Sudan, at one million square miles, is
the continent’s largest country, sharing borders with nine other
states. The fault lines that have divided us as a people extend
from Eritrea to Nigeria. If Sudan starts to crumble, the shock
waves will spread.”
As Africans, we do understand Sudan’s plight and, therefore, do
not want the implications foretold by Mr. Ibrahim. But could his
Mo Ibrahim Prize be re-configured to goad even bad leaders in
Africa to one spectacular good deed before they expire – quit
after two terms or less in office?
For three years, the prize has been dormant, thus taking the
sheen off it. The Nobel Prize was given to President Obama and
he was elated. Then came
The Gusi Peace Prize (the Asian Nobel) for Dr. Chinery-Hesse
and those of us in Ghana were encouraged. The same can happen to recipients of the Mo
Ibrahim Prize (perhaps, al Bashir too, if he steps out of office
to give Southern Sudan the hope to think that there could be
light at the end of the tunnel). To produce this effect, the Mo
prize has to be constantly active in its gradual approach to
promote the ideal African leader.
Perhaps the same gradual approach can then be used in the Sudan
affair, if it is not too late already: Request Southern Sudan to
allow another term of the semi-autonomous state to proceed with
the hope that, in time, internal relations within the country
can improve. And the proof is that change for the better is
possible: Al Bashir is no longer in office after all these
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher www.ghanadot.com, Washington,
DC, January 07, 2011
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