JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 – South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Thursday was awarded a one-off million-dollar prize by the Mo Ibrahim foundation that promotes good governance on the continent.
At a glitzy Johannesburg hotel, Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim said the special civil society prize was in recognition of Tutu’s “lifelong commitment to speaking truth to power.”
He said the award was not designed to replace his annual excellence in African leadership prize, given to former heads of state who step down after a tenure that respected their country’s constitution.
Tutu, who turns 81 on Sunday responded modestly to the news of being awarded the prize, saying he had been very fortunate throughout his life to be surrounded by people of the highest caliber, including his wife Leah.
“It is these generous people who have guided, prodded, assisted, cajoled – and ultimately allowed me to take the credit,” Tutu said.
Ibrahim’s prize giving has put him at front and centre of the debate over governance in Africa
Since 2006 the telecoms mogul’s foundation has tried to give one African an initial prize of $5 million and an additional $200,00 a year for life.
But thanks to stringent criteria, he has not always been successful.
The award is given to a “democratically elected African head of state or government who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, served his or her constitutionally mandated term and left office in the last three years.”
In the seven years since its inception, the annual prize has been awarded only three times, plus a special award for Nelson Mandela.
The previous winners of the multi-million dollar award are former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Festus Mogae of Botswana and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde.
In 2009 and 2010 the foundation did not award the prize, saying there were no suitable candidates.
“The lack of outstanding leadership is not only an African problem, it is a global problem. We don’t just hand out the award just for the sake of announcing a winner,” Ibrahim told AFP.
“The process is thorough and is adjudicated by a panel of credible experts,” said Ibrahim, adding he is not involved in the process of selecting the winner.
The foundation also publishes an index of African Governance, which ranks countries on good governance.
Ibrahim lamented poor democratic and human rights records in many African countries.
“A number of African countries have been experiencing tremendous economic growth but leaders seem to have dropped the ball in these areas,” he said.
Last year, Mauritius was at the top of the index, while Chad, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic languished at the bottom.
“Southern African countries have so far been best performers. However, countries from others regions are also showing improvement,” said Ibrahim.
The 2012 African Leadership Award winner — or lack of winner — will be unveiled on October 15 in London.