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Foundation Hopes to Inspire Good Governance by Africa's Leaders

The largest annual prize in the world will be awarded for achievement in Africa leadership and the prize committee will be lead by a former U.N. Secretary General. For producer Joan Butler, VOA's Jim Bertel has the story.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation recently announced former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will chair the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. He'll be joined by five other eminent personalities to award the largest leadership prize in the world - $5 million. The award is funded by Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born billionaire and founder of Celtel.

At the foundation's launch last October, Ibrahim said there was an urgent need to establish such an award as a way to invest in Africa's future. "I think this was a matter to life and death. And what we need is to encourage people to deal with that."

The prize is open to former heads of state or government from sub-Saharan Africa who have demonstrated excellence in leadership. The winner will receive $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 annually for the rest of their lives.

According to the foundation, the award was established to stimulate debate about good governance across sub-Saharan Africa and the world; to provide objective criteria by which citizens can hold their governments accountable; and to recognize achievements in African leadership while providing practical ways for African leaders to build positive legacies after leaving office.

The prize committee will evaluate the quality of governance in eight main areas. They include economic and social development, peace and security, human rights, and the rule of law.

Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary-General said, "We are going to be very engaged as members of the committee, working with each other reviewing the index and the basis and doing the necessary work required for us to have a competent winner."

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

James Habyarimana is an Assistant Professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. He says African leaders are paying attention to the award, but questions if it i enough to encourage principles of good governance.

"I think in the world after (the) Charles Taylor issues with international courts and some of the noises being made about Robert Mugabe and a few other African leaders, [such as] Mengistu in Ethiopia, I feel like the prize doesn't go far enough to encourage those leaders who have perhaps a bit of a troubled past to use this as a vehicle for this incentive to actually have any bite."

In an exclusive interview with VOA radio, Annan explained how the award could ultimately inspire current leaders to maintain the highest standards of good governance in Africa.

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

Annan says there is a determination to improve the situation in Africa and that working towards Millennium Challenge goals, fighting HIV/AIDS, and increasing economic and social development all require good leadership.

"If you identify a leader who is doing exemplarily well in this area and hold him up, her or him, as an example for his peers and for the continent, I think you are making a major contribution."

The foundation will award the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership this October.