The shame ends: Namibia’s Pohamba takes 2014 Ibrahim $5m prize for African leadership

For 2014 the Prize Committee seems to have had more candidates to choose from than ever before. It might not be as lucky again.

AFTER two consecutive years without a winner, Namibia’s outgoing president Hifikepunye Pohamba Monday bagged the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

Pohamba, 79, was named recipient of the world’s richest individual award at a ceremony in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The $5m prize is spread over 10 years and is followed by $200,000 a year for life. It is given each year to an elected African leader who governed well, raised living standards and then left office left office in the last three years, without trying to change the constitution to stay on as frequently happens on the continent.

Drought of years gone by

The Prize Committee may choose not to award the Prize, as was the case in 2009, 2012 and 2013, setting off alarms about declining political standards on the continent. 

Every announcement that there was no winner, was widely viewed as another moment of shame. Critics argued that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation was only doing more harm than good in the process, airing the continent’s dirty political linen in public. 

An imperfect winner, they said, was better than none, because it would make the point that the rise of good leaders, honest leaders who don’t fiddle elections or suppress dissent was a “work in progress”.

Pohamba served two terms as Namibian president, and will be shortly succeeded by president-elect Hage Geingob. Geingob will be sworn in on March 21. In preparing the nation for what might be his style, the 73-year-old twice-divorced former prime minister showed his romantic side, and on Valentine’s Day married his fiancée, businesswoman Monica Kalondo, who is about 30 years his junior.

Sweet spot in cycle

For 2014, the Prize Committee was reportedly spoilt for choice, a dramatic change from years of drought.

Reports said former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki who left office after two terms in 2013 was in the race for the prize, along with former Mozambique leader Armando Guebuza, who handed over power early February to successor Filipe Nyusi, following elections in October 2014.

If Guebuza had taken the prize, Mozambique would have pulled off a feat, becoming the first African nation to have two winners. Its former president Joachim Chissano, was the first recipient of the prize in 2007.

It will not be lost on observers that southern Africa has far locked down the prize. Three out of four previous Ibrahim laureates are from southern Africa. In addition to Chissano, there was Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), Pedro Pires of Cape Verde (2011) and the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa (honorary).

It is not a surprising development, as southern Africa has the majority the majority of the better-governed nations on the continent, the least number of terrorism activity, and the only sub-region on the continent where there are currently no active rebel and militant groups seeking to overthrow governments.

However, the fact that the Ibrahim Prize Committee had more than one former leader to choose, also suggests that 2014 was a sweet point in the African political cycle, in which the opposition flourished despite continuing repressive rule and violence.

There was a record 17 national and local elections, and referendums, in Africa in 2014. For the first time in a year, opposition parties candidates notched four victories.

In Mauritius veteran politician Sir Anerood Jugnauth won a landslide victory against Navinchandra Ramgoolam.

In Tunisia, secularist leader Beji Caid Essebsi beat incumbent Moncef Marzouki, to crown the transition to democracy in the nation that sparked the Arab Spring in early 2011.

In Malawi in May, in a messy election, opposition leader Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party, defeated incumbent president Joyce Banda who, along with Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and interim Central African Republic (CAR) president Catherine Samba-Panza, formed the trio of female heads of state in Africa.

And in what might seem like an unlikely place for democratic example, 2014 opened with an election in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia on January 8, where former prime minister of main Somalia Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, narrowly defeated incumbent Abdirahman Mohamud Farole.

This year there are 10 elections scheduled in Africa,with Zambia being the first off the blocks in an emergency poll in January, which was won by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), candidate Edgar Lungu.

africa elections 2015 | Create infographics

A repeat of 2014-type electoral success for the opposition candidates, seems unlikely.

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