Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 February 2018
The Prize Committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has today announced that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, has won the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
The Committee found that, confronted with unprecedented and renewed challenges, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demonstrated exceptional and transformative leadership. She took over a country that was devastated and broken by 14 years of civil war, and was later struck again by the Ebola crisis.
Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings. Today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build. In the process, she restored Liberians’ dignity and pride in their country.
Throughout her time in office, she staunchly maintained her priorities and her determination to succeed on behalf of the people of Liberia. Since 2006, Liberia is the only country, out of 54, to improve in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
From 2006 to 2014, before the Ebola crisis hit the country, the Liberian economy grew at an average annual rate of over 7%.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf endured imprisonment, exile, and personal risk on the road to leadership, and yet persevered in her demand for honest government for her people. She courageously embraced opponents and fought for generational change, and paved the way for her successor to follow.
Her achievements have inspired and given confidence to millions of women in public service. Apart from her leadership in her country, she has always been a champion for Africa. Her success is Africa’s success and testament to the power of exceptional leadership.
Today, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stands tall in victory, as the recipient of the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
So what chance has president Koroma of neighbouring Sierra Leone got in becoming the next winner? His supporters believe that Koroma is the best thing that has ever happened to Sierra Leone.
But his critics and millions of Sierra Leoneans believe otherwise. They say he has destroyed the country’s democratic foundation, killed the rule of law, abused his powers, and brought immense misery to an already poor nation.
In both 2015 and 2016, Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that no African leader was good enough to win the mouth-watering $5 million Mo Ibrahim Award. It was the end of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and the sixth year in ten years since the inauguration of the Award, that no leader had won the Prize.
Whilst this did not come as a surprise for most Africans whose leaders were failing to address the perpetual inter-generational cycle of poverty and deprivation that is holding back so much of Africa’s potential, in Sierra Leone supporters of president Koroma were already counting their chicks before the eggs were hatched, hoping their controversial president would receive the Mo Ibrahim award when he leaves office in 2018.
But after ten years in office, has he done enough to merit this award? What has he done that has positively transformed governance and democracy in Sierra Leone?
Is president Koroma the kind of leader that most Africans would rally behind if needed, and look up to for leadership and clear direction? President Koroma is far from being another Nelson Mandela.
Judging by the criteria laid down by the Ibrahim Foundation and the values it is seeking to promote, it is difficult to see how Koroma can win the Ibrahim Prize after 2018, given his miserable performance in promoting good governance, tackling corruption, addressing political violence, promoting law and order, improving the well-being of his people, and building an inclusive society.
His critics say that he is likely to be remembered as one of the most backward thinking, manipulative and divisive leader ever to rule Sierra Leone. ‘Society needs intelligent and mature leaders. Acquiring such skills is a lifelong process. Maturity makes great leaders,’ argues Theo Veldsman of the University of Johannesburg.
According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the Ibrahim Prize celebrates excellence in African leadership. It says that “the Ibrahim Prize has the potential to change perceptions of African leadership by showcasing exceptional role models from the continent. The significance of the Prize lies not only with its winners, but also with the conversation around leadership that it generates.”
Most importantly, the Award “recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who, under challenging circumstances, have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity.” Has president Koroma lived up to this expectation?
The Award “highlights exceptional role models for the continent; ensures that the African continent continues to benefit from the experience and wisdom of exceptional leaders once they have left national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent; is an award and a standard for excellence in leadership in Africa…….”
But how does the Ibrahim Foundation defines leadership? It says leadership is “the ability to make choices, assess and take risks, define and order priorities”.
Since coming to power in 2007, president Koroma has failed woefully to prioritise the needs of his people. He has made far too many bad decisions that have gravely affected the lives of millions of people.
More than 4,000 Sierra Leoneans died of the Ebola virus in 2014 to 2015. His government had failed to prioritise healthcare, sanitation and good access to clean and safe drinking water.
The economy is now almost bankrupt, with Koroma’s over-reliance on foreign aid and public debt, after failing to restructure the economy and end the country’s dependency on mining. The IMF has now suspended a $240 million loan agreement, because his government has failed to generate sufficient revenue to run the country and meet its other financial obligations.
Koroma has failed to take the political risk that comes with tackling high level corruption which is at the heart of the country’s under-development and poverty.
So what are the criteria for winning this award, which carries enormous personal benefits? Apart from the global acclamation of good leadership, a whopping financial reward of receiving either $5 million USD over ten years, or $200,000 USD per year for life.
According to the Ibrahim Foundation, he or she must be a former African executive head of state or government, which Koroma will become in a few months, after a new president would have been elected on March 7th, 2018. They should have left office in the last three years – served his/her constitutionally mandated term.
Elections are due in Sierra Leone on march 7. But there are anxieties. Should political violence get worse on the eve of the general and presidential elections in 2018, will president Koroma declare a ‘convenient state of emergency’ that will bring in the military and effectively keep him in power for another term?
‘He or she should have demonstrated exceptional leadership in running the country,’ says Mo Ibrahim. But so far, president Koroma has proven to be unfit to govern, says critics. They say that he seriously lacks leadership skills and qualities.
His cabinet ministers and heads of departments are more concerned about personal enrichment through corruption and abuse of office, rather than the effective delivery of public services. They now await their fate to be decided by the March 7 polls.
A good leader will take full responsibility for the performance of his ministers and hold them to account. Koroma has failed to meet this most basic leadership criterion.
His unilateral decision to sack the country’s vice president – in a communist dictatorship process, without seeking parliamentary consensus and approval as enshrined in the Constitution, flies against justice and the democratic will of the people.
Since its establishment in 2006, the following well deserving African leaders have won the Prize. In 2007 president Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique received the award. In 2008, president Festus Mogae of Botswana won the prize; and in 2011, president Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde picked up the award. The evidence of their good leadership is there to see.
Commenting on the fact that Africa has failed to produce leaders that were worthy of winning the Prize in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016, Mo Ibrahim said that he “wants the Prize to shine a spotlight on outstanding leadership to provide role models right across society, as well as supporting Laureates to continue to serve the continent by sharing their wisdom and experience.”
So, will president Koroma win the Mo Ibrahim Africa Leadership Award after leaving office in 2018, or is the bar set by Mo Ibrahim too high for Sierra Leone’s president?