The Mo Ibrahim Prize is the world’s highest individual award: the $ 5 million prize, awarded by the Sudanese Benevolent Foundation for Good Governance in Africa since 2007. Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was most recently honored in 2017.
This week the referee announced the sixth winner: outgoing Nigerian President Mahmoud Isofo is set to receive it. The IOU did not run for office until two terms later, leading to the first democratic transition to power at the apex of the Sahel state – with the ruling party’s candidate, Mohamed Bazum, elected as his successor in late February. Former federal president Horst Kohler, the only German at the tribunal, spoke to DW about the decision.
DW: After two terms in office, Mahmoud Izoubou is not running for president again in Niger. The run-off election took place three weeks ago, and Isofo’s successor has not yet taken office. The Mo Ibrahim Prize goes to a president who is still in office. Is this a break for pricing rules?
Horst Kohler: No. A new president is democratically elected, Mohammed Pasoom. The handover is scheduled for April 2. Until then, Izou will continue to run the business. This is part of the democratic transition: management until the new president takes office.
By amending the constitution, Mahamadhu did not attempt to stay in power
Those in office back in Africa last year could be re-elected for a third term due to constitutional changes, including Alec Otara in Ivory Coast and Alpha Conte in Guinea. So, should the award for Isoba be understood as a message to other African heads of state?
Yes, important together. President Izoubou adhered to the state constitution, which provides for only two terms. In doing so, he paved the way for the first democratic change of government in the history of Niger. I think it really deserves the award. This is an important point for me because it reminded me of a conversation I had with Nelson Mandela when I met as federal president in Maputo in 2006 and asked what, in his view, was the most important thing for the development of Africa. His answer was clear, and I say it in his words in English: “Respect for the rule of law and the Constitution.” That was his answer. That also shaped me during this discussion about gift giving.
The panel also approved an increase in GDP under the Mahamadu Isofu. Nevertheless, most Nigerians do not realize this yet. Niger still ranks last in the United Nations Human Development Index. Is it important for the price?
Extreme poverty in Niger is a major political challenge. But it must also be said that reducing extreme poverty is incredibly difficult, for reasons that transcend the sole power and opportunity for action in Nigerian politics. There is Islamic terrorism throughout Sahel, and thus in Niger as well. There are streams of refugees. Niger is a transportation country, as well as a host country for refugees, with about 200,000 people coming from Mali and Nigeria alone, and Niger alone has a quarter of a million people internally displaced due to the drought. Another thing is the effects of climate change on drought and conflicts between livestock breeders and farmers. Lastly, not least, there is an international responsibility for climate change, weapons and drug trafficking. It was not the Nigerians who caused this.
Of course, this view also includes strong population growth with a birth rate of almost seven children per woman, which makes it very difficult to fight poverty in Niger, and calls for a new policy. Overall, it is my balance sheet, Niger is the country that needs the biggest change. But Isufo has achieved some benefits in the most difficult situations. When I look at it, the way the award referee saw it as a whole, it laid or strengthened the foundations for democracy, stability and development in Niger. Isufou, who actively campaigned for regional and international cooperation in this vulnerable region, I do not want to forget it.
From 2004 until his resignation in 2010, Horst Kohler was the ninth federal president of the Federal Republic of Germany.
I would like to tell you something that is not considered an alarmist, but my concern is: I think many countries in the Sahel region are in danger of collapsing as a whole. Europe also needs to handle this risk more closely.
According to Amnesty International, at least 17 activists were arrested last year under the Mohammedan government in protest of corruption in the defense ministry. Did the Committee take such facts into account?
Yes definitely. We took that into account as well. There were reactions from the government regarding corruption incidents in the Ministry of Defense. The defense minister was fired, and not only civil society but also the judiciary in Niger protested against the closure and launched a prosecution.
Somehow at least the activists were arrested.
The rule of law in Niger is not over and I think it will continue.
Some actors in Nigerian civil society are negatively surprised. For example, Michael Sodie, co-ordinator of the “Tournaments Law Page” campaign against corruption. He was one of the prisoners. He was released six months later at the end of September, but the charges against him have not yet been dropped. In a DW interview, he called the award “wrong.” How would you respond to such criticism?
No, of course I notice it. Of course, whether we reunite or the Awards Committee or the Mo Ibrahim Foundation as a whole, we will talk about it. We cannot be wrong. But overall, I don’t want more than any doubt that the Ibrahim Prize for Isfo sends a signal, especially to what I consider to be civil society. Improvements are possible in terms of participation and openness to freedom of expression. That’s why I’m not intimidated that we made a mistake that went in a completely wrong direction. The gift of Ibrahim is not characterized by malice. He wants to provoke such discussions about good leadership and democracy and does not prevent them in any way.
Sudanese-British businessman Mo Ibrahim earns billions as a mobile operator
The courageous and loud demonstrations against corruption and mismanagement, I know from many meetings with Africans, came from African civil society. A poll by the voting agency Afrobrometer shows that the majority of African citizens value democratic accountability more than the performance of their governments. It convinces me that governance in Africa is not on the losing side and that there are advances in democracy and the rule of law. Incidentally, if I remember correctly: one can say that based on the data of the “Ibrahim Code for African Governance”, six out of ten Africans now live in a country that is better managed than it was ten years ago.
The Mo Ibrahim Prize was first awarded in 2007 and is now awarded for the sixth time. In your opinion, how has price affected good governance in Africa over the past few years?
I hope more governments are aware that you are under public control and therefore improvements are possible. People like former Rwandan finance minister Donald Caberuka can no longer shy away from the need to improve governance. In my opinion, the price will ensure that citizens expect more from their governments and then they will classify it publicly.
Donald Capureka has headed the “Global Fund” since 2019, when he was formerly chairman of the African Development Bank.
From the experiences of the annual Ibrahim Personality Weekend, my belief in good governance is no less: African people from political, scientific, business, civil society, arts and cultures come together and discuss very openly. I have never seen this in Western events. It is this revelation that, above all, young people participate in issues such as personality. That’s why I’m optimistic because I know African youth take up this topic and accept responsibility.
I think it would be beneficial for the honored personalities so far, that is, the award-winning presidents, to continue to work for good governance. Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the fight against AIDS is an example for women or to promote Festus Moga from Botswana. Others have laid a foundation for good governance. I think it all continues to work. This is not enough, but no one can come back to it.
In addition to the Mo Ibrahim Prize, Ellen Johnson also received the Nobel Peace Prize.
It always works that way and it is said that the Mo Ibrahim gift is important to you. Why are you personally committed to this award?
The award was created by Sudan Mo Ibrahim, an African. I have seen the prize succeed in bringing together African issues and African voices, thus making it clear that this is our own topic. We do not need to be constantly instructed about good governance coming from the outside. I think it would be good for Africans to lead this discussion because it also makes it clear that we are no longer teachers. Second, we also have examples of bad governance that has to change in Europe, in the West or in the north of the continent. So no one is in a position to teach others. That is why I think it would be very good for Africans to make it more clear that the time has come to teach from the North and Europe.
The interview was conducted by Utah Steinware.
Collaboration: Frages Quenum
Transparency Notice: Interview questions were submitted to the Federal Office of the President a. Pre-submitted d.