Prestigious African Leadership Prize Not Given Out Again

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which gives out multimillion dollar awards to former African Leaders, is not giving out a prize this year. They also did not give one out last year. According to the foundation, there has been no one worthy to receive the prize. Host Michel Martin speaks with Jendayi Frazer, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, a position she held in the George W. Bush Administration. She is also a former US Ambassador to South Africa.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We are going to turn now to Africa. Like a lot of people, we have World Cup fever. We've been glued to the set to watch the action. This is the first time this international tournament has been hosted by an African country. And for many it is a source of immense pride, a time for South Africa in particular and Africa in general to show the world that these countries have more to offer than turmoil.

But against that backdrop came the news this week that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which gives multi-million dollar awards to former African leaders in support of and recognition of good governance will not award a prize for the second year in a row.

We wanted to talk more about what this might mean. So we called Jendayi Frazer. She is a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, a position she held in the George W. Bush administration. She is also a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and she's currently a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and she joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studio. Ambassador, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Professor JENDAYI FRAZER (Carnegie Mellon University): Thank you.

MARTIN: So I wanted to ask, you know, what you make of the decision of the foundation not to award the prize?

Prof. FRAZER: Well, I just happened to be at the Mo Ibrahim board meeting in London this past weekend when the prize committee was making its deliberations. And there was a lot of discussion at that board meeting about how would the decision be viewed globally? And that there was a desire not to make it seem as if it were an indictment on African leadership and on African government, more importantly.

And so I think that there were really no new candidates who presented themselves. There were some who are still eligible but were decided last year not to be given the prize. And so they just said that there was no information, no new information to change that decision.

But I do think it raises a question of what constitutes great leadership? This is a prize that's larger than any in the world. Five million dollars for the laureate with another $200,000 for the rest of the lifetime of that laureate, and another $200,000 to projects that they, for 10 years, that they think are worthy.

And so I think that the standards should be really high. I don't think they should be set so that they're impossible to meet. But the fact that they already have two laureates and president of Mozambique: President Chissano and President Mogae of Botswana, demonstrates that this prize committee is willing to give the prize.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, though, I don't know, now that you're out of office and a private citizen, if you feel there are persons who you would want to see recognized in this way.

Prof. FRAZER: I do think that there are many African leaders who have significantly contributed to the advancement of their country, some like President Kufuor who helped his party lose by not more than a few ten thousands of votes. And his candidate actually lost the election, which moved Ghana forward on his democratic credentials and his democratic tradition. I think that that is noteworthy.

But I also understand that there are some other questions that are outstanding there. So he would be as an example of a leader who's done very well, but may not or has not yet been judged as eligible or as worthy of the prize.

MARTIN: Now, the Ibrahim foundation also writes and evaluates and publishes the Ibrahim index, which measures the performance of African countries across 80 governance criteria. And overall, they say that the standard of governance is improving. Now, do you think that's true?

Prof. FRAZER: I do think so. And I think that the majority of countries are actually peaceful. And the majority are in democratically elected countries. I think that Africa has to find its way in terms of its governance. And I think that building civil society to hold the leaders accountable is probably the most important dynamic that's taking place across the continent more so than the judgment of outside parties.

MARTIN: But it's also true that when those conflicts have emerged, some of them have been horrific, even in places that many people have been accustomed to thinking of as stable, like in Kenya where the post-election violence there a couple of years ago was just of I don't know what else to say it was horrific.

Prof. FRAZER: That's right.

MARTIN: And there were people who - just killed in the streets. And as we know, of course the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe, where the longtime leader there many people consider a dictator, Robert Mugabe, he's entered this very tenuous power-sharing agreement with Morgan Changari who was a leader of the opposition, who has, himself, paid a very high price for his involvement in politics. Again, some of the stories one hears horrific.

Prof. FRAZER: That's right.

MARTIN: So, again, the question becomes, is the continuum at least moving? The people who are experiencing this level of conflict, are their lives getting better?

Prof. FRAZER: Well, I think that, again, I do believe that things are better. I do think that it is true that there's not a single African country that cannot fall back. I also believe that the Ibrahim prize is trying to help deal with these sticky issues of the leaders' unwillingness to leave power. And by creating this large prize, it creates an incentive. But overall, there has been definitely progress both on terms of governance as well as in terms of economic growth and development. So I think the continent is moving forward.

MARTIN: One of the obvious purposes of the Ibrahim prize is to give - to remove the incentives for leaders to be corrupt. I mean, in essence they're saying if you play by the rules, you won't have to steal from your people in order to live well, very well.

Prof. FRAZER: Exactly.

MARTIN: But what about all the hierarchy that goes with these people? I mean, clearly one of the issues in Zimbabwe is it's not just Robert Mugabe, but there's a whole network of people whose standing, power, is tied to him.

Prof. FRAZER: That's right.

MARTIN: And they have no incentive to leave. And I'm curious to know what you feel would address that problem.

Prof. FRAZER: Well, I think, let's just stick with the Ibrahim Foundation. I think that they are trying to address it in a comprehensive fashion. And the reason why they have the index is to give the population a concrete basis for judging leadership in their countries. And so that's, for example, one initiative.

Another initiative that was actually announced when they announced that they weren't going to give a prize, is that they're going to develop an Ibrahim fellows project, which is intended to groom good leadership. That could then eventually take over these countries or play a leadership role across the board, not just in the public sector, but also in the private sector or in the nonprofit sector. So, I think that that's also extremely important.

MARTIN: But, you know, we've seen some of these individuals who have studied abroad, some of the people who have then moved gone on and taken a turn, which many people would not have expected Charles Taylor, for example, the former leader of Liberia, many considered a dictator and a very destructive figure on the continent studied in the United States.

Prof. FRAZER: Right.

MARTIN: That doesn't seem to be a...

Prof. FRAZER: Right. But this actually they didn't say. They said in multilateral institutions, but they're developing the Ibrahim fellows program with African institutions - to try to give these outstanding African mid-careers opportunities to serve, for instance, at the African development bank or at the U.N. Economic Commission on Africa, which is based in Addis Ababa, so that they've become part of the infrastructure and the fabric of leadership across the continent, in terms of its pan-African institutions as well as its national government.

And so, I think it's a new departure. But they often don't talk about it, but they also have scholars, Ibrahim scholars. And so, I think that Mo Ibrahim is trying to hit the issue of leadership and governance at all of its levels.

MARTIN: Speaking of sort of across the continent, you're just back from a month of travel. How excited are people about World Cup? I know South Africans are, 'cause we've had many conversations with people there. And of course there's the usual and legitimate, in my view, questions about whether this is the right use of resources. But right now, people seem really excited. What about around the rest of the continent?

Prof. FRAZER: People were ecstatic. You see people in the, you know, where there are no lights, you know, looking at some little TV through a generator. Across the board, people were glued to their TVs and to their radios listening to the World Cup. I think it's a moment of tremendous pride in Africa, that the World Cup is being held in South Africa. And I think there's a hope that it will actually help the world to see Africa through different eyes.

MARTIN: How well do you think that the games have been handled so far from what you can see?

Prof. FRAZER: So far extremely well. South Africa has done a tremendous job of...

MARTIN: Your former posting, we're referring to.

Prof. FRAZER: Yes, that's right. I was ambassador to South Africa and I'm actually quite pleased that they've gotten off to such a great start. They've built the infrastructure. You know, they've refurbished the airport so that they could handle the hundreds of thousands of people who are coming to these games. I think that it's going to help employment there whether it's the hotels or the merchandise that will be sold. So I think that it gives a boost to the South African economy.

But more importantly, as I said, you know, people who go to South Africa and they'll realize it's not just a continent of elephants and giraffes, they will actually see high rise buildings. They will see, you know, four or five-lane highways. They will see people living normal lives in, you know, modern cities like they see everywhere in the world.

MARTIN: There was some concern that many people wouldn't support World Cup, in part, just because of the economy. And it turns out that, you know, thousands of Americans have gone and bought tickets. Are you surprised by that?

Prof. FRAZER: Well, no, I'm not because the South Africans have done a great job of publicizing it, and even if they hadn't, I think the people just, you know, futbol fever. So I'm pleased.

MARTIN: We haven't had too much time to watch the games. But so now I have to press you. Who are you rooting for?

Prof. FRAZER: Well, I'm a local girl. When I was in London when the U.S. played the English and I wish we could've won, but the one-one tie was good for me. I'm also extremely proud of the South African Bofana Bofana, and they are a one-one draw with Mexico. So I'm looking for those two teams to be in the final.

MARTIN: Okay, and if they should happen to meet each other, what are you going to do?

Prof. FRAZER: Oh my goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. FRAZER: I don't know. I'm going to vote for the whoever is scoring the goals at that point.

MARTIN: Former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Jendayi Frazer, is with us in our Washington D.C. studios. She's currently a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Thank you so much for joining us.

Prof. FRAZER: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure.

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