Wednesday, October 21, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
October 21, 2009

It is now official. This time round, no former Head of State was good enough to earn Mo Ibrahim’s annual prize bounty of US $ 5 million plus a lifetime cheque of another $ 200, 000 per year for life. To tell you the truth, this is the most attractive prize anyone can earn in today’s world where the buzz word these days is economic crunch.

Between 2007 and 2009, Africa has dispatched into retirement some of Africa’s high flying heads of state in recent times. John Kufuor of Ghana, Olusegun of Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa were so central to African politics that any AU Summit without them was unthinkable. More importantly, the G8 and particularly George W Bush and Tony Blair found it prudent to invite them to this exclusive club of the richest nations on earth simply because they believed the trio had influence on African politics.

When together with Abdulahi Wade of Senegal and Abdelazziz Bouteflika of Algeria, they co-founded NEPAD and APRM and sold them as the panacea for solving Africa’s infrastructure and governance problems, they were hailed as the new progressive visionaries of Africa. Europe feted them as Africa adored them. It was difficult at that time to imagine that whatever they touched could go wrong. After all, to confirm their commitment to NEPAD and APRM, Mbeki decided to host both institutions in South Africa and provided them with the legal infrastructure to operate as Obasanjo was elected to chair their summits.

As years progressed, Abdulahi Wade fell by the wayside claiming that NEPAD had abandoned the goals for which it was formed. He thought the AU was spending too much time and resources concentrating on governance issues at the expense of infrastructure development. Like Muamar Gaddafi, he was keener on fast-tracking Africa’s unification than going along with Mbeki, Obasanjo and Kufuor on a gradual approach to the continent’s integration.

For John Kufuor, he put his energies into making sure Ghana became the first African country to be reviewed under the African Peer Review Mechanism as early as 2005. Once he succeeded, he used the platform to market his country as a model of democracy and good governance in Africa and Europe.

Kufuor basked in this glory for at least two years before Kenya and Rwanda joined the club of Africa’s reviewed nations. And for their efforts, the three countries did a lot of work helping other countries that were waiting on the line for the process.

For some reason, Obasanjo’s Nigeria could not get its act together for review while Obasanjo was still in office. After so many false starts, Obasanjo was forced to leave office without being reviewed following his attempt to amend his country’s constitution to allow him to rule for a third term.

When Mbeki’s South Africa was reviewed, it was a disaster of some sorts. The amount of official interference with the process forced the first scheduled report in January 2007 to be postponed at the last minute in Addis Ababa. This was after the acrimonious exchanges between Mbeki’s regime, the civil society and South Africa’s media.

It is worth remembering that on the day South Africa was to be reviewed, Mbeki was adamant that only Heads of State would sit in the hall. He forced the Forum chairman to clear the house of all media, observers, UN staff and international development partners, very much unlike when Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda were reviewed. The reason he behaved that way he did is now common knowledge. South African media had exposed the flawed process that he intended to present at the summit.

For some reason, Abdelazziz Bouteflika’s review at the same time went on without a hitch with glowing tributes flowing from the Eminent Person that led the country review.

Having said that, why did the Mo Ibrahim Panel of Experts conclude that none of the three top contenders, Kufuor, Mbeki or Obasanjo deserved to win? There are many varied theories and the jury is still out there.

However, considering that Obasanjo lost the bid to extend his term in Nigeria and went ahead to rig the elections in favour of his preferred successor, could have played a role in influencing the Mo Ibrahim jury against him.

As for Mbeki, the fact that he was thrown out of office prematurely after being accused of abuse of office, it would have been a miracle if he got this good governance award.

John Kufuor would have been the best option. Seemingly he had done well on the good governance department and even steered the transition successfully after the December 2008 elections. However, his conduct and activities just before he left confounded many of his believers. Apparently he concluded lucrative deals on his personal retirement package that left Ghanaians baffled. Now the talk in the streets of Accra and even in some Ghanaian embassies abroad is that Mr. President “shared” the suburbs and Central Business District of the capital city among his friends, relatives and cronies.

With his private home renovated at approximately US $ 40million, it would have been difficult for Ghanaians to give him the kind of send off Tanzanians gave Mwalimu Nyerere in 1985.

When I wrote about them along these lines a few months ago, some officials at the APRM accused me of being disrespectful. I am glad Mo Ibrahim and the new NEPAD chief have finally vindicated me.