Outgoing Namibian president wins $5 mln Africa leadership prize

Namibia’s president Hifikepunye Pohamba has won the Mo Ibrahim Prize for good governance, joining previous recipients – former presidents Pedro de Verona Rogrigues Pires of Cape Verde, Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and Festus Mogae of Botswana. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was also given an honorary award.

NAIROBI, KENYA (MARCH 02, 2015) (REUTERS) – Namibia’s outgoing president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, has won the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s $5 million African leadership prize, an award meant to recognise good governance that had only been presented only three times before in eight years.

“The prize commitee has decided to award the 2014 Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership to president Pohamba from Namibia,” said committee chair Salim Ahmed Salim, announcing the award in Nairobi.

To win the prize, set up by the Sudanese telecoms tycoon in 2007, a leader must have been democratically elected and have left office in the last three years, serving only their constitutionally mandated term. The winner must also have displayed “exceptional leadership”.

Pohamba, 79, was first elected president in 2005 and steps down this month. The elections held under his leadership were considered by observers to be free and fair.

Pohamba was a founding member of the now ruling South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), playing a central role in decades of struggle for independence from South Africa.

He was imprisoned in the 1960s for political activism but continued to fight against South Africa’s apartheid government until the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

He held home affairs and marine resources portfolios in cabinet prior to becoming president.

Although elections have now become common on a continent once better known for military coups and instability, some leaders have stayed in office long after their original mandate, often pushing through constitutional changes to hold to power.

Since its inception, the prize has gone to three former presidents, from Cape Verde, Mozambique and Botswana. In other years, no one was found to have met the criteria.

“The criteria is not very difficult, the criteria primarily is somebody who is a leader who has integrity, who has done enough to lift his country out of repression or oppression or what have you,” said member of prize committee, Mohamed Elbaradei.

The winner receives $5 million, given over 10 years, and after that $200,000 a year for life.

Ibrahim said most Africans lived in better governed, more just countries than a decade ago, but the improvement was “not vast”.

“We have challenges in Africa. Things are improving, there is no question about that. If you look at the index over last ten years, 95 percent of the African people are living in a better governed society today than 10 years ago – 95 percent, that’s an improvement but it is not a vast improvement. It is an improvement, its just we need to keep pushing and nothing is going to happen overnight,” said Ibrahim in an interview with Reuters.

“Young African people now start to take leadership seriously and young people don’t have much respect, not like our generation, we were brought up to respect our elders. When they walk into the room we stand up, we cannot sit down. There is this respect of age of wisdom or whatever. Its nice, socially its nice, but also its harmful because it stops you challenging bad behaviour. The new generation have no such qualms and that’s healthy, that’s healthy,” he said.