Former Cape Verde President Wins African Leadership Prize
Former Cape Verde President Wins African Leadership Prize

The former president of Cape Verde, Pedro Verona Pires, has won this year's $5 million Ibrahim prize for excellence in African leadership.

The award coincides with the release of the Ibrahim Index of governance in Africa.

Mo Ibrahim announces winner

Former President Pires has become the fourth recipient of the Mo Ibrahim prize, which is given to former African presidents who have left office within the last three years.

In addition to the $5 million award, he will also receive $200,000 annually for the rest of his life -- making the Ibrahim Prize the most valuable individual award on the planet.

The head of the Ibrahim Prize Committee, Salim Ahmed Salim, says Pires was selected for transforming the West African island nation of Cape Verde into a model of democracy.  He adds that it was not just how Pires came to power, but how he left, that made him an exceptional leader.

?President Pires' democratic credentials were further enhanced when he announced he was stepping down at the end of his second term, dismissing outright that the constitution could be altered to allow him to stand again," said Salim. "He said, this is a simple matter of faithfulness to the documents that guide a state of law.?

Pires honored

Pires was elected president in 2001 and stepped down earlier this year, as the country held new elections.  The Ibrahim committee credited him with transforming the country's economy and improving the lives of its 500,000 citizens.

Pires says he has ?no idea? yet how he will use the money after a life devoted to public service.

The award, created by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim, has been given out to three other former African presidents.  But, there were no winners for the last two years, because the committee could not find a suitable candidate.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation

The prize coincides with the release of the Ibrahim Index on governance in Africa, which ranks each country by its performance in key categories.

Mo Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim foundation, (File).
Mo Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim foundation, (File).

Mo Ibrahim says one worrying trend this year has been a stagnation or reversal of human rights. He warns that ignoring citizens' rights to participate in government can spark the kind of social unrest seen this year in Egypt. ?We cannot assume that economic progress is a substitute for the human rights or for the freedom of our citizens.  That would be a great mistake, if you don't believe us, just look at Tahrir Square,? he said.

The best-performing governments this year are Mauritius, followed by Cape Verde, Botswana, Seychelles and South Africa.  Ranking at the bottom are Zimbabwe, Chad and Somalia.

The countries are judged on four criteria: safety, human rights, economic opportunity and human development, which includes health and education.

The index shows human rights and political participation have deteriorated in 39 of the countries surveyed since 2006.

Mamphela Ramphele a former Managing Director of the World Bank, and a member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, says many African countries are well-intentioned, but have trouble matching action to words.

?Many countries in Africa have got good policies, but implementation lags behind.  And so all of those things really account for this decline.  It is a wake up call to this beautiful continent that Mo is talking about.  We can't just make money, we've got to make sure that the people are secure and their dignity is respected," he said. "Then we will have sustainable prosperity.?

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation says the most positive changes were seen in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two West African nations that have recently emerged from civil war.

Ibrahim says the point of the index is merely to provide information, and that it is up to African citizens and governments to promote change.