Sudanese Billionaire Offers Cash Prize to Save Africa From Corruption

Oct. 27, 2006 — -- Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim has already reserved his place in history -- or at least he hopes so.

The self-made billionaire has set up a $5 million prize intended to encourage good governance on the African continent.

Unlike the Nobel Prize, which rewards achievement in a number of fields, from science to literature, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will be rewarded annually to a single recipient.

How do you win? Become president of an African country -- and rule without corruption.

Posterity is not cheap.

Disillusioned with the current crop of politicians in Africa, Ibrahim has thought of a simple formula to try and discourage corruption.

Award winners will receive $500,000 a year for 10 years after leaving power, followed by $200,000 a year, until they die.

This way, Ibrahim hopes, Africa will be led by more honest presidents -- because honesty will pay more than corruption.

For Ibrahim, his legacy will be its own reward. If the prize is successful, he hopes he will be as respected in the 21st century as Alfred Nobel.

Will It Make a Difference?

Ibrahim, who made his fortune on mobile communications, told The Financial Times that leaders in Africa had no life after serving in office.

"Suddenly all the mansions, cars, food, wine is withdrawn. Some find it difficult to rent a house in the capital," he said. "That incites corruption. It incites people to cling to power."

A selection committee for the Ibrahim prize will be appointed by a foundation board, and it will be helped by a governance index developed by Robert Rotberg at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

The foundation will spend about $500,000 a year to develop and update the index.

Rotberg is considered a world-class expert on governance and has been developing new measurement methods with his students at Harvard for years.

Based on Rotberg's work, an eminent prize committee will choose one former leader a year.

The foundation's board consists of some of the brightest and best experts on the African continent, including Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland; and Salim Salim, the former secretary general of the Organization of African Unity.

The foundation has also received the support of Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz and former President Clinton.

But not everybody thinks the Ibrahim prize is a great idea.

"The people who know what to do and have done well are already doing it," Patrick Smith, a reporter for the publication Africa Confidential, told the BBC.

"And the people who are doing badly and are killing their own people or stealing state resources are going to carry on doing that."

Time will tell whether the award will have any impact on the governance of 53 countries in Africa, where the vast majority of population earns less than $1 a day.

The first prize will be awarded late next year.

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