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Good Governance Award Given to Botswana's Former President

The foundation created by Sudanese-born British businessman Mo Ibrahim is awarding its annual prize for good governance in Africa to Botswana's former president Festus Mogae. The award, given to the former president in Egypt Saturday, is intended to honor exemplary former African rulers and set an example for current leaders to follow, as Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.

African dignitaries, several past and present world leaders, and members of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation gathered in Alexandria, Egypt Saturday to honor Botswana's former president Festus Mogae with the second annual Mo Ibrahim Award, given to the continent's best governing and most outstanding former leader.

The prize, worth $5 million dispensed over a ten year period, with an additional $200,000 annual stipend after that, was established by Sudanese-born, British telecommunications magnate Mo Ibrahim in 2007. Last year's prize went to former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano.

Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, who presided over the selection of Mr. Mogae, spoke about the virtues of the former Botswanan leader at a ceremony in London announcing the prize-winner several weeks ago.

"I'm delighted to announce that the winner is Festus Gutambanje Mogae," he said. "When elected in 1998, President Festus Mogae took over a country which was already one of the continent's success stories. Its democracy was strong, stable and rooted in the rule of law."

"Botswana was widely regarded as one of the more effective countries in the world in combating corruption. President Mogae's outstanding leadership has insured Botswana's continuous stability and prosperity in the face of HIV/AIDS pandemic, which threatened the future of his country and people. This greatly impressed the committee," he added.

Mr. Mogae has been a trailblazer in the fight against the deadly HIV virus in his native Botswana, as well as a champion of the environment and protecting the continent's natural resources. He spoke of his crusade to defend the environment at an International Conservation Foundation gathering in 2007.

"The future of our planet is dependent on how well we care for the environment and manage our natural resources," said President Mogae. "I will highlight our effort and the challenges we are faced with in the management of the environment and protection of our natural resources in our little Botswana. I should add that the support of the U.S. government, the international community, and the private sector will greatly enhance our efforts."

Mo Ibrahim, the founder of the African cell-phone giant Celtel, is contributing up to $5 million of his own money to set up the foundation which is making the annual African good-governance award. Ibrahim's foundation is also publishing an index of good governance in Africa each year, which includes such benchmarks as security, economic opportunities, transparency, democracy, human rights, education, and health.

Ibrahim told al-Jazeera TV's David Frost, during an interview last year, that the cornerstone of his foundation was "not the annual prize… but the index... which has 70 parameters… and gives a score card for each country in Africa."

This year's index was presented at a ceremony in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in October, during which Ibrahim spoke of the need for good governance.

"I think we're all aware of the importance of good leadership in Africa... actually, everywhere, but particularly in Africa," said Ibrahim. "A lot really is at stake there. We witness a new generation of African leadership coming through to take us forward."

"In Addis Ababa, we launched a index for this year: the index for African governance, and we're very pleased to notice that two-thirds of the African countries managed to improve the standard of governance over the year, compared with the previous year. These are good news. Unfortunately, good news are masked by the trouble spots in two or three places in Africa. But Africa has 53 countries and there's a lot of good news happening in Africa. So, today, we try and separate and bring the good news forward," he continued.

Christiaan Poortman, of Berlin-based Transparency International, which puts out its own index of good governance and corruption across the globe, tells the VOA in a phone interview why he thinks it is important to honor Africa's best leaders.

"It's obviously a global issue, but particularly in the African context it's useful to identify people who might be role models in terms of their behavior in bringing transparency and accountability to governance and governments," said Poortman.

"Well, Mr. Mogae is a man with a very great reputation for being a very responsible, transparent and accountable leader; as a matter of fact, Botswana has a long history, as you may know, of a very particular type of governance, which generally is perceived to be very much in line with what one would like to see an accountable government look like. I think Mr. Mogae has embodied that and I think he is indeed a role model that one would like to see followed," he added.

Not everyone, however, is entirely pleased about the Mo Ibrahim Prize, or of its winner, despite an overwhelmingly positive reception for both former president Mogae and the Ibrahim Prize from the media.

A London-based Africa analyst, Cameron Duodu, told al-Jazeera TV's Inside Edition that he questioned the motivation of giving a prize to an African leader who was "merely doing his job," albeit "doing it well."

Another group, calling itself "Survival International," is criticizing the award and Mr. Mogae for allegedly evicting members of Botswana's Bushman Tribe from their ancestral lands.