The Mo Ibrahim Award for African Leadership/Governance for 2018 has been given to former Liberian and first female African President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The former Liberian President is the fifth to receive the US$5 million prize award on the African Continent since it was established in 2007. Other recipients have been Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique; Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana; Pedro Verona Pires, former President of Cape Verde; and Hifikipunye Pohamba, former President of Namibia.
The Mo Ibrahim Prize, according to its objective, is meant to recognize and celebrate African leaders, who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity. It also highlights exceptional role models for the continent and ensures that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent.
Criteria for the Mo Ibrahim Prize dictate that one must be a former African Executive Head of State or Government, must have left office in the last three years; democratically elected, served his/her constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated exceptional leadership.
In compliance with their goals and criteria, a member of the vetting committee, speaking on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Sunday night, said President Sirleaf took over a failed state and maintained peace there for 12 years. The committee member went further to say that the former President rebuilt a war-ravished country and led the process to reconciliation, served her terms within the confines of the Liberian Constitution and fought the Ebola virus without having to go anywhere.
But are reasons stated by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for awarding the US$5 million prize to former President Sirleaf the reality on the ground?
The President, in her final State of the Nation Address in January 2017, admitted that she had failed to reconcile Liberians following years of war. This statement reflects her failure to implement the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Final Report. How will Mo Ibrahim reconcile the former President’s failure to reconcile Liberians with a statement that she led a process of reconciliation?
For completing her constitutionally mandated term, Mo Ibrahim Foundation would not worry since the Liberian Constitution gives two terms to a sitting President. The question that remains is whether or not the Mo Ibrahim Foundation cares about morality in its judgment in granting the prize to a former President. President Sirleaf before taking over in 2006 promised to go for only one term, but prior to completing her first term; she twisted the tongue to two terms.
It was during the second term that corruption and nepotism rose to the highest peak in Liberia; with the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf, placed over one of Liberia’s most lucrative entities, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). There he emptied the coffers of the company causing the country to lose tens of millions — some say hundreds of millions — of US dollars. President Sirleaf then exited him from NOCAL, praising him for his work there but later, when the truth of NOCAL having gone bankrupt emerged, she said she took responsibility for her son’s actions and left the matter unresolved.
She again admitted in that same last State of the Nation Address that she had failed to fight corruption, as promised in her 2006 Inaugural Address. Corruption, nepotism, and continued marginalization of Liberians in their own economy were some of the factors that led to Liberia’s 14-year civil war, and most, if not all, of what led to the war was repeated by the Sirleaf Administration. What then, is the “exceptional leadership” Mo Ibrahim will dwell on to award its prize to former President Sirleaf?
Another objective of the prize is to see a leader lifting his/her citizens out of poverty. Here in Liberia, poverty is made manifest not only about the tens of thousands of people, especially young people between the ages of five to 25-40, roaming the street without food, proper healthcare, shelter or proper upbringing; it is also about thousands of Liberian youth without solid education, left to experience one of the worst forms of poverty, poverty of the mind.
In addition to her dismal failure to empower Liberians to control their own economy, the former President admitted that Liberian education was “in a mess,” which she did little or nothing to improve up to her departure from office.
As current reality shows, the President left the country in complete economic shambles; huge internal and external debts, a woefully depreciating local currency and a bankrupt economy, to quote her successor, President George Weah, an economy that is “broke.”
Furthermore, the peaceful transition of power as underscored by Mo Ibrahim in its criteria could be challenged. The electoral process leading to the transition began with confusion where she compromised the Constitution and appointed an Election Commissioner with a questionable citizenship.
The entire election process was marred by fraud and irregularities, leading Counselor Charles W. Brumskine and others to challenge them in the Supreme Court. Had Brumskine and others not taken a civil approach to challenge the results in the Supreme Court, we doubt whether there would have been a peaceful transition.
If the credit of sustaining peace should properly be attributed, it should go first to God Almighty and second, to Liberians who resolved to maintain peace and harmony.
We laud the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for this motivating award that helps some African leaders to be guided by their constitutional mandate.
We are also appreciative of the Foundation’s selection of our former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but we believe it would have been fairer had she been awarded the prize for being the first elected female African President who broke the glass ceiling.