The Mo Ibrahim Foundation awarded its multimillion-dollar prize for African leaders who step down from power to Namibia’s departing president Monday—making him the first winner after two years in which no one was deemed worthy of award.
The prize committee said they chose Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who leaves office later this month, not only because he didn’t try to hold on to power, but because he welcomed political opposition, invested massively in the fight against AIDS and abolished school fees to make education free for Namibian children.
“We have heroes in Africa. It is not only Mandela,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat and member of the selection committee.
The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership is sought-after not just for its prestige but because it offers a lucrative retirement. It comes with $5 million over the first 10 years and then a yearly stipend of $200,000 for life. To win, a former head of state has to have been democratically elected, served only the constitutionally mandated term and demonstrated exceptional leadership. Only those who have left office in the last three years are considered.
The awarding of the 2014 prize comes as many were starting to wonder if the foundation had been overly optimistic about the possibility of finding qualified candidates.