from Africa in Transition

Mo Ibrahim Foundation Honors Archbishop Tutu

October 05, 2012

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The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced on October 4 that it is making a “one-off extraordinary award” of U.S. $ 1 million to Desmond Tutu, the retired archbishop of Cape Town, “in recognition of his lifelong commitment to speaking truth to power.”

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation once a year may award a former African chief of state a prize of U.S. $5 million and an annual payment for life of U.S. $200,000. The recipient must have been democratically elected, promoted good governance and development, and have left office at the end of his term in accordance with the constitution. It is expected that the foundation will announce this year’s decision before the end of October. However, since the prize was established in 2007, it has been awarded only three times: to Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007, Festus Mogae of Botswana in 2008, and Pedro Verona Pires in 2011. Other years it could find no former chief of state that met the necessary qualifications. That has been taken as an indictment of the quality of leadership by African chiefs of state.

The Foundation has made an “extraordinary award” once before, to Nelson Mandela, who left office long before the prize was established. The fact that it has announced a special award for Archbishop Tutu fuels speculation that this year, again, no former chief of state will be found eligible. It should be noted that the award to the archbishop is substantially less than would be made to a chief of state.

The archbishop is perhaps Africa’s most influential moral leader at present. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that South Africa has produced the “two great moral giants of my lifetime, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.” The archbishop continues to call for South Africa to live up to its calling to be the “rainbow nation” of God, and he does not hesitate to criticize—in blistering terms—the current government when it falls short. He compared President Jacob Zuma’s government to the apartheid state when it declined to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama in 2011 out of fear of offending Beijing. He does not restrict his prophetic utterances solely to Africa: he is also calling on the International Criminal Court to indict former UK prime minister Tony Blair and former president George W. Bush for undertaking the Iraq war on “false pretenses”–the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Mo Ibrahim, who established the foundation, is of Sudanese origin and now based in London. A billionaire entrepreneur in mobile communications, his company, Celtel, had twenty-four million phone subscribers in fourteen African countries at the time he sold it in 2005 for U.S. $3.4 billion. The Foundation also produces an annual index on the state of government in Africa.