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Judges withhold African leadership prize

LONDON, Oct 19 – Judges for a five-million dollar prize recognising African good governance said Monday they had decided not to award the honour this year.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for achievement in African leadership is described by organisers as the largest individual annual award in the world, with the winner receiving the five million dollars plus 200,000 dollars a year for life.

It goes to a democratically elected former leader from a sub-Saharan African country who has left office in the last three years and recognises good governance.

But announcing this year’s decision, former president of Botswana Ketumile Masire, said "the prize committee could not select a winner" despite lengthy deliberations.

Organisers said around 11 leaders would have been eligible for the prize, having left office in 2006, 2007 or 2008 — including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

But the board said it could not give the reasons why it did not select someone because of the confidential terms of the decision-making process.

The prize, named after Sudanese-born businessman Mo Ibrahim, was first given in 2007, to former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, followed last year by Festus Mogae, who succeeded Masire as Botswana’s head of state.

South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is an honorary laureate.

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The prize is worth five million dollars over 10 years and 200,000 dollars a year for life afterwards. An extra 200,000 dollars a year is available for 10 years for public interest activities and good causes backed by the winner.

It aims to improve African governance and promote excellent leadership.

Masire, who is on the prize-giving board, said in making its decision it had noted progress in some countries while "noting with concern recent setbacks", without giving further details.

Ibrahim himself added that the foundation "entirely respects" the decision while insisting that Africa was "moving forward in the area of governance".

"Some of those leaders would definitely have been credible," he said.

He also denied any suggestion that the decision not to award the prize was linked to the world financial crisis.

"The prize committee do not pay any attention to my bank statement," he said at a press conference in London’s City Hall.

"This is an award for excellence. Jury meets and they set the bar some way and decide. There’s no way to know where the bar was set."

He added: "If you think there was a similar prize for European leaders, do you think anyone would have won it this year?"

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Defending the decision not to disclose why no award was made this year, Ibrahim said that these were the rules of the committee and they were needed to make it operate "efficiently".

"It has to be a closed committee," he said. It’s up to people to draw their own conclusions — you’re grown up."

He also stressed that the foundation had always said there might be years when the prize was not awarded.

The head of the prize committee, former UN chief Kofi Annan, did not attend Monday’s ceremony.

Other committee members include Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

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