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Kofi Annan To Chair Committee Of Largest Prize In World

Former U.N .Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will chair a committee that will award the $5-million Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African leadership. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA that Annan will be joined by five other eminent personalities to award the prize for the first time in October.

The Mo Ibrahim prize is open to former heads of state or government from sub-Saharan Africa who have left office in the past three years and have shown good leadership. The winner will receive $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life thereafter.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledges this is a lot of money. But, he tells VOA money is not the issue.

"The idea behind the award is to encourage African leaders to work with their people on the issue of good governance," said Kofi Annan. "To ensure that the people who have on the top of their priorities, that there is respect for individual dignity and that we are working hard to eliminate poverty and assure full security and other essential issues like health."

Annan says he believes the Mo Ibrahim prize can ultimately inspire better leadership and better governance in Africa, just as the Nobel Prize has encouraged scientists to reach out and excel in medicine, physics, chemistry and other fields of endeavor.

"I do expect that not only would it help the situation, but it will also engage civil society who will be discussing this award and who will wonder then why this or that other leader did not win," he said. "That debate about governance and leadership would be a major contribution in itself."

Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese-born billionaire who made his money in the cell-phone business. He says he has made more money than he can ever spend in his lifetime. And, he says, he cannot think of a better way to spend his money than to invest in Africa's future. He says it hurts him to see that 50 years after independence, Africa is still largely dependent on international aid.

"Africa is rich, and why are we poor then if our continent is rich," said Mo Ibrahim. "It is not right. I really feel we can do better and we should do better."

Ibrahim says his prize will not end corruption in Africa. Nor is it intended to reform dishonest, autocratic leaders.

"There are a lot of other leaders who are willing to serve honorably without stealing or furthering their personal interests," he said. "Those are the people we are addressing. The few thieves who unfortunately happen to be lumped in the past are of no interest to us. This is not our audience."

The prize committee will look at a complex basket of political goods in choosing the winner. It will evaluate the quality of governance in eight main areas. These include economic and social development, peace and security, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Kofi Annan says good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law are absolutely essential for African development.

"We have seen societies or governments that appear to be doing well because you had a dictator or somebody with an iron fist," said Annan. "But, these societies are not sustainable. I can give you examples where governments, not even in Africa, outside Africa were considered very successful and prosperous economies, incredible growth. And, one major development and the whole thing collapses like a deck of cards because it is not built on good governance. There is no rule of law."

Mo Ibrahim says the Board and Prize Committee have agreed that the award may not be given every year. If no eligible candidate emerges, he says the money will be used for other worthy causes, such as young leadership programs or scholarships for African students.