Who is Mogae?
Africa's contemporary democratic
by Gbemisola Olujobi
www.truthdig.com/, April 10, 2009
Almost everyone in the United States or
indeed anywhere else in the world knows about Zimbabwe's sit-tight
president, Robert Mugabe. But who is Mogae? Who is Chissano? Who
is Kikwete? And who is Kufuor? Sadly, very few people outside
Africa recognize these names.
Festus Gontebanye Mogae is Botswana's
former president, and he is probably as little known as his country.
Botswana, acclaimed as Africa's brightest star, rose from the
ashes of grinding poverty to middle-income status in a generation.
Its elections are peaceful, its politicians retire voluntarily,
its civil society is vibrant and its natural resources are not
a curse but a blessing shared by all.
Mogae recently attracted meager attention
when he won the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
The annual prize was established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
and launched in October 2006 as an African initiative "to
strengthen governance and affirm the importance of nurturing outstanding
leaders on the continent." The prize aims to encourage leaders
like Mogae who dedicate their tenures of office to surmounting
the development challenges of their countries, improve the livelihoods
and welfare of their people and consolidate the foundation for
The Mo Ibrahim Prize is the world's largest
annually awarded prize. Mogae will receive $5 million over the
next 10 years and $200,000 per year thereafter for the rest of
his life. Over the coming decade, the foundation may also grant
another $200,000 a year to causes of Mogae's choice.
Even though Mogae is known to maintain
a modest lifestyle, the windfall should come in handy for the
Oxford-trained economist. According to the founder of the prize,
Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim, "the fact that African leaders
are able to steal billions of dollars doesn't mean that those
who don't shouldn't have any money."_As The New York Times
reported, Mogae was honored "for consolidating his nation's
democracy, ensuring that its diamond wealth enriched its people
and providing bold leadership during his country's AIDS pandemic."
Mogae scored his democracy pass mark by stepping down well ahead
of the end of his second term as president and handing over power
to his vice president, Ian Khama, in a smooth transition that
stands out against the tango between Robert Mugabe and Morgan
Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, or between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga
While the democratic landmark in Botswana
went virtually unnoticed, however, blow-by-blow accounts of the
democratic woes of Zimbabwe and the electoral debacle in Kenya
made headlines around the world. The Mo Ibrahim Prize may have
been designed to correct such skews. According to Ibrahim, "it
is intended to turn the spotlight on men and women who contribute
the most but receive far less attention than leaders like Zimbabwe's
As president of Botswana, Mogae also made
a mark with his defense of civil liberties and the rule of law,
as well as his anti-corruption and transparency measures. But
by far his most enduring legacy is the progressive and comprehensive
programs he put in place for dealing with Botswana's galloping
AIDS figures. Botswana has one of the world's highest known rates
of HIV/AIDS infection. Approximately one in six Batswana has HIV,
giving Botswana the second-highest infection rate in the world
after Swaziland. In 2006, it was estimated that life expectancy
at birth in Botswana had dropped from 65 to 35 years due to AIDS.
His government took drastic measures to
tackle the pandemic, such as free anti-retroviral drug treatment
and a nationwide Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program.
Botswana became the first sub-Saharan African country where free
anti-retroviral drugs are widely available. As a tribute to his
astuteness in dealing with the crisis, anti-retrovirals are known
in Botswana as "Mogae's tablets."
Mogae was selected for the Mo Ibrahim
Prize by a six-member panel led by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general
of the United Nations. The award committee paid glowing tribute
to his anti-AIDS efforts: "President Mogae's outstanding
leadership has ensured Botswana's continued stability and prosperity
in the face of an HIV and AIDS pandemic which threatened the future
of his country and his people."
The panel based its judgment on the Ibrahim
Index of African Governance, which ranks the quality of governance
in sub-Saharan Africa based on economic and social development,
peace and security, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The index was developed under the direction of professor Robert
Rotberg of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The Ibrahim Index aims to promote debate not just in Africa but
around the world on the criteria by which governments should be
The panel also noted that Mogae's economic
management produced "remarkable growth, stymied inflation,
attracted investment and allowed him to pursue diversification
away from diamonds, while simultaneously using tax revenue to
fund investment infrastructure, health and education."
Botswana has been a leading light in African
democracy. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland,
Botswana adopted its new name when it gained independence in 1966.
The country boasts four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership.
It has never had a coup and has had regular multiparty elections
Botswana also boasts one of the most dynamic
economies in Africa. The country has maintained one of the world's
highest economic growth rates since independence, though growth
slowed to about 5 percent annually in 2006-08. Mineral extraction,
primarily diamond mining, dominates the economy. Botswana is the
world's largest producer of diamonds. Through sound management,
its diamond wealth has transformed Botswana from one of the world's
poorest countries to one of the wealthiest in the Southern Africa
region, with a per capita GDP of nearly $15,800 in 2008. Botswana
has Africa's highest average income. By one estimate, it has the
fourth-highest gross national income at purchasing power parity
in Africa, giving it a standard of living equal to that of Mexico
Unlike the majority of African countries,
Botswana has a negligible level of foreign debt. It earned the
highest sovereign credit rating in Africa and has stockpiled foreign
exchange reserves (over $7 billion in 2005/2006), amounting to
almost two and a half years of current imports. And according
to Transparency International, an NGO that monitors official corruption
globally, it is Africa's least corrupt country. Indeed, Botswana
is ranked as the best credit risk in Africa. These are definitely
not the kinds of credentials that are usually associated with
"Botswana has a wonderful story,"
said Mo Ibrahim when the prize was awarded to Mogae. "Every
man, woman and child knows about Mugabe, but people say, 'Mogae,
who is that?' It's great we honor people who honestly and cleanly
served, and served well, and left when their time was up."
Not many people know that Africans have
leaders who honestly and cleanly serve, serve well and leave when
their time is up. Africa's better-known leaders have been despots
such as Amin, Mobutu, Abacha and Mugabe. As Ibrahim noted when
Mogae was announced as winner of the 2008 prize, "I am sure
I am going to hear people say, 'Who is Mogae? Like last year,
people said: 'Who is Chissano?' " Ibrahim was referring to
the inaugural winner of the prize, former Mozambique President
Joaquim Chissano, who stepped down voluntarily at the end of his
tenure. "But everybody knows Mugabe," he quipped.
Chissano won the first Mo Ibrahim prize
in 2007 for "his role in leading Mozambique from conflict
to peace and democracy." In 1994 he won the first multiparty
elections in the history of the country, and was re-elected president
of the republic in 1999. Despite the fact that the Mozambican
constitution allowed him to stand in the 2004 presidential elections,
Chissano decided voluntarily not to do so. He bowed out of office
for an elected successor, Armando Emilio Guebuza.
Chissano was one of the founding members
of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), which fought Portuguese
colonial rule. He played a crucial role in negotiating the 1974
Lusaka Accord, which ended colonial rule, and he has been at the
forefront of Mozambican political life since then. He was prime
minister of the transitional government that led up to independence
in 1975 and was later appointed foreign minister under independent
Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel.
When President Machel died in a mysterious
air crash in 1986, Chissano succeeded him as leader and devoted
himself to restoring peace to his country. He led negotiations
with the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) that in October
1992 succeeded in ending 16 years of internal conflict. His ability
to compromise and negotiate is hailed for helping Mozambique become
a stable, democratic country. He also initiated the constitutional
and economic reforms which culminated in the adoption of the 1990
constitution that led Mozambique to a multiparty system and an
Announcing Chissano's win in 2007, Kofi
Annan, chair of the prize committee, said that "President
Chissano's achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable
democracy and economic progress to his country greatly impressed
the committee. So, too, did his decision to step down without
seeking the third term the constitution allowed."
Chissano was praised by the award committee
for "his government's economic progress, poverty reduction
programs, infrastructure development, anti-AIDS efforts and his
role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy."
He was also commended for his contributions outside his country's
borders, which included providing "a powerful voice for Africa
on the international stage."
Mo Ibrahim paid tribute to Chissano as
"a man who has reconciled a divided nation and built the
foundations for a stable, democratic and prosperous future for
the country," saying "he is a role-model not just for
Africa, but for the rest of the world."
But the rest of the world thought Chissano
was a fluke in Africa's murky waters. According to BBC Southern
Africa correspondent Peter Biles, "Chissano is something
of a rarity in Africa as a leader who has left office with his
Indeed, a persistent concern raised about
the prize is that the committee might soon run out of candidates.
The fact that the prize can only go to a president who won a free
election and then left office in accordance with the nation's
constitution rules out most of the continent's rulers. History,
however, leaves no vacuum. And addressing this concern, Ibrahim
says with a mischievous smile that "there are so many potential
great African leaders that the continent has even been able to
lend one to the United States."
Among Africa's credible leaders is John
Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana, who recently handed over power in a peaceful
transition of government to Ghana's new president, John Atta Mills.
Kufuor himself took over from President Jerry Rawlings in a flawless
exchange of democratic power in 2001. Ghana has therefore experienced
its second peaceful transition of power from one political party
to another in a decade.
Kufuor, an Oxford-educated barrister,
always wanted to be president. He became a member of Parliament
and deputy foreign minister at the age of 30, hoping to achieve
his dream from there. But that lasted only two and a half years.
The regime was overthrown. Taking to the trenches to be a warlord
was, however, not his style, even though he is about 1.93 meters
tall (6 foot 4) and weighs over 110 kilograms (240 pounds). He
stuck it out as an entrepreneur, once running a brick and tile
factory, only to jump back into politics each time democracy was
restored. He eventually became his country's president at age
62 in 2001, after Rawlings defeated him when he ran for president
in the 1996 elections. Kufuor's victory marked the first peaceful
democratic transition of power in Ghana since the country's independence
At the end of the stipulated two terms,
Kufuor made no attempt to amend the constitution to extend his
stay in office and allowed Ghanaians to freely choose their next
leader. This was despite the fact that one of the foremost presidential
candidates, Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, represented Kufuor's political
party, the New National Party (NNP). Akufo-Addo eventually lost
to the rival party's candidate.
Ghana's peaceful transition of power attracted
global attention. French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Atta
Mills' election as a "victory for democracy." Canada's
foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, also said in a written statement:
"Canada congratulates the Ghanaian people for the overall
peaceful, orderly and transparent manner in which the country's
2008 parliamentary and presidential elections were conducted."
Kufuor left office with high popularity
ratings. A Primary Research Associates poll shows that nearly
70 percent of Ghanaians think President Kufuor gave the performance
of his life in his tenure as president of the republic. Seventy
and a half percent of those polled said Kufuor's government had
done "things important to them." Fifty-eight and a half
percent of interviewees expressed satisfaction "with the
way the Kufuor government has handled the economy."
Under his watch, Ghana's gross domestic
product quadrupled from 4 billion U.S. dollars in 2000 to almost
$16 billion in 2008. With this windfall, Kufuor halved the level
of poverty and increased the number of children in primary school
by almost a quarter. He introduced free medical care for the poor
in 2004 and free meals in schools. He took Ghana's daily minimum
wage from 58 cents to $2.25, reduced inflation from 42 percent
to 18 percent and took measures to enhance press freedom.
Kufuor has company in Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete
of Tanzania. After multiparty general elections in Dec. 2005,
Kikwete was declared winner by the Electoral Commission and was
sworn in as the fourth president of the United Republic of Tanzania
on Dec. 21, 2005. If his track record of integrity is anything
to go by, he will be handing his office over to an elected successor
at the end of his tenure.
Kikwete drank from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere's
fountain of wisdom. Kikwete, being very close to the Mwalimu (teacher),
has a governing philosophy and political views that were greatly
influenced by Nyerere. He has been celebrated at home and abroad,
especially in the donor community for fighting corruption, investing
in people, particularly in education, and pushing for new investments.
His successes led the United States government
to grant Tanzania $698 million under the Millennium Challenge
Account assistance program. Indeed, then-President George W. Bush
voiced a vote of confidence in Kikwete: "I'd like to express
my happiness and satisfaction on the way you are committed to
improving the economy, good governance and maintaining peace,
not only in Tanzania but also Africa and the world at large."
Kikwete's first notable success as African Union chairman was
to help bring a two-month political crisis in Kenya to an end
by brokering a power-sharing deal between Mwai Kibaki and Raila
The benchmarks used to select Tanzania
for the Millennium Challenge Corporation agreement were good governance,
investment in manpower through education and health care, and
economic policies. The UK government also granted the country
the equivalent of $500 million for education. In recognition of
the giant leaps made by the small country, the New York-based
Africa-America Institute awarded Tanzania the Africa National
Achievement Award in September 2007.
Still, these leaders and their countries
are not without issues. For instance, Tanzania is in the bottom
10 percent of the world's economies in terms of per capita income.
And despite Botswana's diamond wealth, unemployment is 18 percent,
and about one-third of the people are poor. The election of Chissano
was not uncontroversial. His son was implicated in the death of
journalist Carlos Cardoso, a progressive Mozambican journalist
who was murdered in 2000. Kufuor is presently under attack for
what many Ghanaians believe is an over-the-top retirement package.
Besides, these honest leaders are too
far and between for a continent of 54 countries. However, the
fact that candidates could be found for the Mo Ibrahim Prize in
Africa for two consecutive years shows that democratic change
is gradually taking place across the continent. The problem, however,
according to Ibrahim, is that the world has been slow to recognize
the change. In an interview with The New York Times, he hoped
that the prize will contribute to a lively debate about leadership
in Africa, especially since "almost everyone knows about
Robert Mugabe while far fewer know about Festus G. Mogae."