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Mo Ibrahim’s Prize should target youth

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Mo Ibrahim’s Prize should target youth

In as much as The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership (MIPAAL) is there to encourage good governance, on the ground it is actually too little and too ineffective to serve as a corruption deterrence. Why not target it towards Africa’s future, its youth?, writes Raymond Eyo.

This piece is actually inspired by Mo Ibrahim’s interview (NA, November 2012) in which he personally admitted, and rightly so, that: “[Africa’s] young people are, in a way, the greatest natural resource the continent has. It is therefore essential to help them realise their potential.” Clearly, to sustainably transform Africa, it is vital that Africa’s youth are presented with the required opportunities and resources. MIPAAL is a drain on what otherwise are funds that can be channelled into that noble purpose. It is my earnest hope that in the light of growing resentment to the leadership prize, Mo Ibrahim should reconsider and invest his funds in more value-adding schemes for Africa’s development – such as its youth.

At its nascence in 2007, New African columnist Cameron Duodu wrote about the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize: “I wish I could say I am enthusiastic about it. But even though its motive is impeccable, it is likely to be viewed with derision, for there are far too many causes in Africa in more urgent need of monetary assistance, than what could legitimately be seen as the ‘pampering’ of former heads of state.”

And five years on, and despite endorsements by heavyweights like Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan, I am still to this day convinced that the award is a waste of scarce and much-needed financial resources. Africa is crying out for investment, especially in infrastructure and agriculture.

Mo Ibrahim and his peers are well aware of this. Indeed, there is no shortage of creative initiatives needed to improve Africa’s infrastructure.

Ozwald Boateng’s idea of an African Crossrail Link from the port of Tripoli in Libya to the port of Takoradi in Ghana via a high-speed railway, with state-of-the-art sustainable cities built at all stops along the way (Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana), is one such trans-African infrastructure development project that deserves to be supported by those in possession of the needed means. Investing in capital-intensive initiatives like these ones would go a long further way to turn Africa around than a century of operating MIPAAL would do.

Regarding agriculture, Mo Ibrahim himself admits that, “In the years to come, in view of the exponential growth in demand and the relative weakness of supply, the food industry will be one of the principal drivers of growth and wealth.” It will therefore be expedient to follow through on this realisation and commit rather scarce resources to improving Africa’s agriculture, especially as it has multifaceted benefits, for example, foreign exchange-earning, employment and food security. A recent study sponsored by a grouping of global businesses has found that farming in sub-Saharan Africa will need more investment to meet food needs.

In fact, the study noted that “sub-Saharan Africa will meet only 13% of its own food demand by 2050 without faster productivity growth”. If MIPAAL’s objective is to inspire African leaders not to loot state treasuries, it should be informed that sincere and altruistic politicians are not motivated by what they will gain after leaving office. Rather than discouraging some of Africa’s corrupt leaders from stealing when in office, stakeholders like Mo Ibrahim will do a lot of good investing in the youth, knowing that when this is done, those with genuine leadership capacities and a passion to serve among them, will naturally emerge. And actually, six years after its launch, there is hardly any proof that the Mo Ibrahim Prize has changed most African leaders’ overall attitudes to power at their helm.

The irony is, although it is given to ex-African leaders to entice incumbents into being more democratic and encourage good governance, the Prize has in reality actually achieved little and is seen as too ineffective to serve as a deterrent to corruption. A typical African politician, especially at the highest echelons of power, will prefer to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and profitably invest a good chunk of that in diverse holdings after leaving office than not steal and wait, with little guarantee, to be declared recipient of an award, that will make $5m available to him over 10 years and $200,000 a year thereafter for life. By and large, this dearth of incorrupt and efficient African leaders is why there has been no MIPAAL recipient for the three years running, in its six short years of running.

Raymond Eyo is a 26-year-old Nigerian postgraduate student of Development Studies.

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