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$5 Million Leadership Prize Goes to Namibian President

FILE - Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of Namibia, speaks during the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Sept. 25, 2012.
FILE - Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of Namibia, speaks during the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Sept. 25, 2012.

The Mo Ibrahim foundation has awarded its multi-million-dollar African leadership prize to the outgoing president of Namibia. The prize, which aims to promote good governance, has also raised questions about whether African leaders need to be given cash incentives to do their jobs.

The 2014 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has been awarded to Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who is completing his second and final term in office this year.

The chairperson of the prize committee, Salim Ahmed Salim, made the announcement at an event in Nairobi. “Through the decade of President Pohamba's presidency, Namibia's reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim.

The prize committee also recognized Pohamba's successful efforts to reduce the rates of HIV in his country, to extend free primary education to all of its citizens and to promote gender equality in government.

Pohamba has led Namibia since 2005; his successor is to be inaugurated later this month.

The Namibian president is only the fifth recipient of the African Leadership award and the first since former Cape Verde president Pedro Pires won in 2011. In the intervening years, the committee could find no other suitable candidates.

The prize is the work of Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese billionaire who made his money in mobile communications.

Asked about whether it is right to give such a large cash prize to African leaders, given their reputation for wealth, Ibrahim said the purpose of the award was to draw greater attention to those humbler heads of state who were too often overlooked.

“Even the winner today, how many of you heard about him before today? How many today - raise your hands. Look at you, six people ... Let us find our heroes and celebrate them. We have heroes in Africa; it is not only Mandela,” said Ibrahim.

The foundation is also responsible for the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks countries based on factors including economic opportunity and human rights. The prize committee acknowledged Namibia, which ranks highly on the index, still faces challenges, including widening income inequality.

Committee member Graca Machel, the widow of former South African president Nelson Mandela, said these obstacles, shared by many countries in Africa, could also help distinguish good leadership.

“It is precisely because there are so many challenges that we have to recognize that despite the challenges they were able to make progress, and that is the message which is being sent to all African leaders,” said Machel.

Pohamba will receive a $5 million prize, plus $200,000 a year for the rest of his life.