15 April 2007

These are good times for Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The first name, of course, is a short cut. Sudan is a large country with gracious generous people -- the poorer, the more generous. There also happens to be a tragedy preoccupying the world in Darfur. But that's not what Mo is about. In October 2006, he sold his budding telephone company CelTel to MTC in Kuwait for about $3.4 billion. He decided to establish the largest prize ever, offering $5 million in installments of $500,000 over 10 years for "leadership" in Africa. The recipient would be a head of government in one of the 44 sub-Sahara countries "on condition the leader having relinquished power." Those who already amassed millions, sorry billions, while in power may be tempted to take it for an interim rest and recreation period before resuming their leadership. General Abasha of Nigeria however need not, indeed cannot, apply from the distant beyond. But others who come to mind can. We are told that the prize "will offer essentially good people who may be wavering the chance to opt out for a good life after office." That may be why the Chairman of the Prize Committee is none other than our distinguished outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan. If Mo is looking for the ultimate African photo opportunity, there it is. But before recognizing others, Mo should realize (or perhaps he already did) to whom the first prize should go or at least make up for it. The Team does not do free lunches any more. Other members of the Committee include familiar names like Mary Robinson and Maarti Ahtisaari, both former heads of state, always ready to add to the glamour. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may not be that known but she is one of the most highly regarded women in Africa, having served as Nigeria's Finance and Foreign Minister. She was mentioned briefly for the post of U.N. Deputy Secretary General. Mr. Ban may have found her name too difficult to pronounce. Asha Rose is much easier.

Not only did Mo Ibrahim gain recognition for setting up a hefty prize but he happily introduced the "Ibrahim Index." In a Geneva celebration, he explained that his Foundation will rank African countries according to governance quality, "with the idea of showing African citizens how their rulers match up." If you have to ask who is Mo Ibrahim to pass judgment on all Africans south of the Sahara, you don't know what $3.4 billion does; suddenly you become the most brilliant person in the world. And lest those distinguished Committee members think that they are going to run his show, he already indicated to a news agency through "backers of the prize" that he already had in mind recipients "the likes of Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda."

What does all this have to do with Darfur, we don't really know. We only recall the occasion when Secretary General Annan, with a planeload of reporters, arrived to visit a refugee camp in Darfur only to find it had disappeared. A group of women nearby were assembled for a compensatory photo opportunity. Now, there is a $5 million prize. Totally unrelated. Life moves in mysterious ways.