Liberians Lukewarm to Ellen’s US$5M Ibrahim Award

Former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation on early Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, announced former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as its 2017 winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, which comes with a whopping cash reward of US$5Million. The foundation, according to a statement on its website, said the decision to award the prize to the former President came following a meeting of its independent Prize Committee.

“The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has been awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, today [Monday February 12, 2018] following a meeting of its independent Prize Committee,” the statement said.

Sirleaf is the fifth recipient of the Prize, which recognizes and celebrates “excellence in African leadership.” The Mo Ibrahim Prize aims to distinguish leaders who, during their time in office, have developed their countries, strengthened democracy, and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, and advanced sustainable development.

Many Liberians, however, have different views about the 12-year rule of Madame Sirleaf, who they believe was given much but had little to show for her stewardship. With all the euphoria that greeted her ascendancy as a Harvard trained economist and an experienced global public servant, she has over the years been criticized for doing little to improve the lives of Liberians, fight against corruption, and ensure good governance.

But with this latest award, which comes with a US$5M purse payable over ten years and subsequently US$200,000 annually for life, it would seem no major global award has eluded the country’s 23rd President.

After he learned of Madame Sirleaf winning the award, outspoken Liberian economist Samuel P. Jackson posted on his social media page, “A rare person who has won all of the global awards including the Mo Ibrahim prize of 5 million dollars and yet remains so unpopular in her own country.”

He said, “She ran the most corrupt government in the country’s history. She left the country bankrupt. Financial system teetering on the brink. No economic growth. Poverty among 84 percent of the population. Destroyed her political party.”

He added, “We just have to bite our lips and accept it. We have no power over what foreigners decide for us.”

However, the Prize Committee praised Sirleaf for her “exceptional and transformative leadership, in the face of unprecedented and renewed challenges, to lead Liberia’s recovery following many years of devastating civil war.”

Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee, said Madame Sirleaf became president when the country was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions—nevertheless, in her last state of the nation address, Madame Sirleaf admitted that she failed to reconcile the country and did little to win the war against corruption.

The Prize committee, though, said throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia.

Liberia was the only country out of 54 to improve in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. This led Liberia to move up ten places in the Index’s overall ranking during this period.

Policy analyst and researcher at the Governance Commission (GC), Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, said Madame Sirleaf did very little to improve the governance of Liberia.

He said power is and has been heavily centralized in Liberia; the presidency has sweeping powers under the Constitution to appoint nearly 3,000 officials including city mayors and district commissioners; and the office even has the right to remove elected chiefs, if there was any cause.

This excessive concentration of authority, Nyei said, has enabled the formation of imperial-like presidencies, which Madame Sirleaf did little, if nothing, to change during her 12-year reign.

“Her regime reinforced power relations that make people mere recipients of government largesse rather than active citizens—contributing to the marginalization of peripheral counties and gross underdevelopment,” Nyei, who is also an activist and political analyst, said in an article titled, “The best thing George Weah can do with his new powers is give some away.” The article was published on the African Arguments website.

Madame Sirleaf, in her maiden inaugural address, pledged to change all of these and to bring “the government closer to the people”.

But Nyei noted, “Once in office, she continued to appoint officials such as mayors and commissioners, while decision-making and resource allocation remained the prerogative of central bureaucrats. Besides some half-hearted programs conducted through County Service Centers, there was little meaningful reform.”

“Twelve years later, Sirleaf essentially left the office as she found it,” Nyei, who is currently a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, noted.

The award’s benefactor, Mo Ibrahim, expressed delight that the Prize Committee decided on the former Liberian president.

“In very difficult circumstances, she helped guide her nation towards a peaceful and democratic future, paving the way for her successor to follow. I am proud to see the first woman Ibrahim Laureate, and I hope Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will continue to inspire women in Africa and beyond,” a statement quoted him as saying.

However, question as to whether African leaders need US$5 million as an incentive to govern well still lingers.

Some say the prize is Mo Ibrahim’s way of ensuring that transfer of power happens on the continent, which mostly does not happen because African leaders are not given the same economic opportunities and other leverages as Western leaders, though this argument is being hugely countered.

“This makes me think maybe Ibrahim needs to rethink the Prize’s purpose or mission because $5M could very well be used to improve the lives of the people those past leaders failed to emancipate from the dreadful hands of poverty. Use that money to help the poor instead of enriching these already corrupt officials more,” a top government official told the Observer yesterday.

Some say the award seems to fall short of some of its standards and ideals, and the criteria for the award are unbending on raising the standards of living of the people governed.

As its standards, this award is given to a democratically-elected leader who has governed according to the rule of law, raised living standards and served a mandated term before voluntarily leaving.

Others wonder whether the Prize is nothing more than a bribe to leave office.

A top former governing party officer said the Mo Ibrahim committee has long yearned to give the award to a woman and as a result they did not follow their rules or consider the high level of misrule under the Sirleaf Administration, corruption, a patronage system, nepotism, and other negative vices.

“Not a single corruption case was ever prosecuted under this woman. What kind of governance is that? The president targeted those that spoke the truth, fired people she did not like, wasted the country’s money on NOCAL, Sable Mining case and many more.”

Meanwhile Madame Sirleaf joins Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007) as an Ibrahim Prize Laureate.

Nelson Mandela was made the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007.


  1. Well, whether people are lukewarm, lukecold, or lukehot, the “poor woman” got her jaffy and her dignified international acclaim! And that is what matters!

    As for you Sam Jackson, we do not blame you and Urey; if we had long put you people behind bars for your stolen wealth and for destroying the country, you would not have mouth to talk.

  2. She doesn’t deserve this award people who deserve this award will never support corruption,nepotism in their government.It would have been good to give this award to serious minded people instead of Madam Sirleaf.

  3. Liberia is a Demoncratic nation. The recent transfer of power from Johnson-Sirleaf to the Weah-Taylor team is indicative of that. As such, Liberians have a political, social or economic right to feel any way they wish. If the Liberian people feel crochety or medium-hot, it’s all good. As matters pertain to the Mo Ibrahim award that’s been conferred on Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberians will not allow themselves to be pulverized by anyone.

    There are all kinds of complex issues in Liberia. Example, unemployment is at an all time high. The economy is not at full steam. The schools are in a mess. The primary roads are unreliable and many more. And yet with all the above, it was deemed necessary by the Mo committee people to confer a 5-million dollar award?

    Okay. Enjoy your award, madam Johnson-Sirleaf. You did not make the decision for the award to be awarded to you, I hope. Peace.😎

  4. Samuel Jackson and Nyei, “Shut-Up”! You, Samuel Jackson worked with the “blood-thirst” Charles G.Taylor, as Minister of State for Economic Affairs, what proposal did you advanced that brought prosperity to the country and its peoples that you are now so-called speaking for? Did you not worked for the EJS headed government, as consultants in many areas at the Ministry of Finance, during the minister-ship of Amara Konneh? Did you not worked on the secretariat of the U.N. High-level Panel for the Sustainable Development Goals, co-chaired by Madam President, did you get paid? Why you did not refused on policy difference? How long can you make fools out of people? You think the behavior of you,Bacchus Matthews and others fooled us?
    Mr. Nyei, how did you get to the University of London, who knows, it might just be the very women that you are criticizing who had been instrumental in getting you there;so you do not feel the hands that feel you; if you had been serious about her stewardship in Liberia, you should have refused her assistance in your sojourn. Both of you must be frank with your consciences and know that where this Madam took our country from and where it is now; she deserved commendation! Stop this crab mentality!I am also aware that she made some mistakes, but comparing her mistakes with her progress, the progress, out weight the mistakes, hence, she deserved the award. Warm, cold,hot lukewarm or whatever, thanks, Madam President!

  5. We all know that Mo Ibrahim committee wanted to give it to a woman and Ellen has been asking for it for years. The sad thing is that we now know that the award is tainted and now has no more relevance for Africa. Salim Salim and his stooges bow to lobbyists and pressure. No electricity, no water, all her family very wealthy and these people said to hell with Liberians. Well, from now on we know that the award is no good.

  6. If her administration can be considered as good by this foundation, what kind of administration will it consider bad? No wonder problems continue to circle the continent; we just seem not to know good from bad and are therefore rewarding people for bad leadership. Perphas the next leader who leaves his/her country broke will in turn receive a US$5million.Hey African leaders,get in line,steal from your country,be corrupt,practice nepotism ,leave your country broke and there is definitely a chance of winning US$5million dollars.

  7. Shame on crooked Salim Salim and his Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee for their fake vetting and poor judgment. Most Liberian men, women, and children know only too well that Ellen Sirleaf is an incurable con artist, who pulled every trick in the book to twice win the Liberian presidency. Then, right under the noses of a feckless international community, she and her family and cronies proceeded to rob the poor country blind, leaving it totally bankrupt, with practically no schools, no hospitals, no electricity, no water, no roads, no food, no nothing. All this while their Swiss bank accounts grew by leaps and bounds. Had Salim and his Committee only ventured a little below the surface, they could have spared themselves the unnecessary embarrassment of such a bogus choice. But a modicum of redemption may still be possible. Sirleaf could probably do her flawed legacy and soiled image some good by turning the ill-gotten prize money over to the government and people of Liberia to cover a small portion of the millions her family and cronies embezzled in the course of the last twelve years.

  8. It is ironical that we’re debating another external triumph of EJS who many thought would’ve been in jail by now, but allegedly influenced composition of the incoming administration. Perhaps, that’s why the Salim Salim committee chose this calculating amazon to motivate the long suffering stable of subservient African womenfolk. Never mind in governance our ex-president got some, and missed many grave ones, unfortunately for the 80% marginalized majority, she was a formidable leader.

    And denying that, if you ask me, is just pissing in the wind.

    History teaches us that resolute characters, not virtuous ones, often successfully surf the tides of politics. That’s why some of us, like Tiresias the blind seer in Sophocles’ tragic plays “Oedipus Rex” and “Antigone”, listlessly look pass low-hanging fruits. Suffice it to say that EJS has handed the baton of leadership to President Weah, and we pray he will run faster with reforms to ensure equality of opportunities, thereby keeping the hope alive for economic inclusion of the Country-Congua downtrodden.


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