NAIROBI, Kenya -- It's the biggest cash prize available to former leaders of African countries, and no one was worthy this year – again.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced Monday that it will not award its $5 million prize that recognizes democratically elected African leaders who excel in office and – critically – leave when they are supposed to. The prize committee said it reviewed several former leaders but decided that none met the award criteria. The group did not reveal who was considered. Any African leader who left office in the last three years was eligible.
Africa on the whole is making political and economic progress but some of the more than 50 countries on the continent are still ruled by men who stay in office for decades. And some leaders who have stepped down from power over the past three years had blemished records.
Mo Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, insisted in an interview that he was not disappointed that no winner emerged.
"Not at all. This is a prize for exceptional leadership, and we don't need to go through the motions to just find anybody," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We have a wonderful prize committee which comprises some wonderful men and women, and they set really high standards."
The cash prize has been awarded three times in its six-year history. Former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires won last year. In 2008 Festus Mogae of Botswana won; In 2007 it was Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique. No award was given in 2009 and 2010.
John Githongo is a former adviser to Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on ethics and governance who resigned and then exposed hundreds of millions of dollars in government corruption. Githongo said it is "absolutely no surprise whatsoever" that the $5 million award was not handed out this year.
"It does indeed award people for things they are supposed to be doing, but it helps highlight the fact that for too long leaders have not been doing what they are supposed to be doing. It shines the light on the reality in a very stark way," he said. "I don't think Mo Ibrahim is going to be spending much money on this in his lifetime. We are a generation away" from good leaders.
Ibrahim says he believes the award has helped increase conversations about positive leadership in Africa instead of talk about the continent's murderous or corrupt leaders.
"We wanted to bring the issues of governance and leadership to the center of the table, for the issues to be discussed by African society and African leadership," Ibrahim said, adding later: "Bad stories make news. That brings an unintended bias in the media coverage, and that is not helpful for the casual listener."
Many people around the world know about African leaders like Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who has clung to power for more than 30 years, Ibrahim said.
"But nobody knows the good guys. The prize is to bring forward a picture of the good side of Africa," he said.
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, released Monday, found that governance in Africa has improved since 2000, especially in the health and gender sectors. But the index found that many of the continent's regional powerhouses – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – have experienced poor governance since 2006.
Earlier this month Ibrahim's foundation said it would give a $1 million grant to anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for "speaking truth to power." When the one-off award was announced, the foundation said Tutu "is and has throughout his life been one of Africa's great voices for justice, freedom, democracy and responsible, responsive government."