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That was a cowardly act, Mo Ibrahim

Mon, 26 Oct 2009 Source: Frimpong, Kwaku

Mo Ibrahim’s eleventh hour decision not to give the Award away this year was not only cowardly but wicked. It defeats the purpose of the institution, and opens the door wide for political enemies of the nominee candidates to be vilified unjustifiably.

The Prize is supposed to encourage African Leaders in the promotion of exemplary leadership. The objective is to help free Africa of the unnecessary strife, war, destitution, inequality, disease, despots and other social afflictions that have bedevilled the Dark Continent. It is a noble concept dreamed up by Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese, who was prepared to put money where his mouth is. A whopping mouth-watering $5m is the Prize for the winner at any given year! Enough to make African Leaders stand up and be counted!

However, the criteria for selecting the winner is not immediately clear to the bystander. The selection process is shrouded in secrecy. So the presumption here is that Leaders, who can bring about visible positive change in their respective Countries to meet the objective of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, would have a chance of picking the coveted Prize.

Change is dynamic and can only be measured in degrees; hence, it makes sense to offer the Award to the African Leader whose leadership has made the greater degree of impact on the objective of the Prize. It is wrong to give the impression that there is a predetermined fixed level of change required for the candidates to lift the Prize. If there is a predetermined standard required by the Umpires, then it is against natural justice not to spell this out to all prospective candidates. It is erroneous to suggest the bar for the winner has been set higher, since change cannot be measured in absolute terms. We view change in relative terms and so for the Prize to have any meaning; positive changes in the respective countries of candidates must be compared; and the one with the greatest impact on the goals of the Mo Ibrahim Prize should emerge as the Winner.

It is against this background that I consider it unfair on candidates, for the Umpires to come up with the excuse that they could not reach a verdict; or that it never intended to award the Prize every year. If the institution wants to have credibility, it must spell out its intentions from the outset and leave nobody in any doubt what their requirements are. By refusing to issue Award this year, it defeats its own purpose of encouraging African leaders to strive for higher standard of governance. A child learning to walk is encouraged with praise every step it makes! Africa can make the giant stride to economic emancipation, freedom and Justice when the Prize encouragement is made for every democratic step towards that objective. It won’t happen if the Prize is hanged on the wall until Africa makes leaps and bounds in the direction of these noble concepts.

If the aim of the Prize is to encourage African leaders to strive for excellence in their stewardship of the continent’s precious assets, then the Umpires should do better to identify positive changes, however small, and encourage it. They should not wait for dramatic and gigantic positive change to occur before rushing in with the Prize. It serves no purpose because once the Prize is set at unrealistic level; it becomes a disincentive for prospective leaders of the continent.

The Umpires feeble excuse not to declare a Winner this year at the last minute, given the hype that surrounded it made a mockery of the event. It showed a cowardly stance the institution had taken on issues they were afraid to confront due to lack of credible evidence. In the event, they exposed the nominated candidates to unjustifiable ridicule and provided a field day for their political enemies to take them to the cleaners. There is no shame for Mo Ibrahim to declare that his pot of gold is not inexhaustible and therefore lean years Africa will have to do without his gold medal. But raising false expectations only to dash them is unforgivable, and must be accompanied by genuine apology and explanation to the world that it is not a snub to the candidates.

My immediate concern is for Ghana’s candidate, Mr JA Kuffour, the ex-President. Ghana under the leadership of Mr Kuffour saw a dramatic transformation and the embrace of democratic values and concepts. The Press never enjoyed so much freedom, fuelled by the advances in Information Technology and Government’s Communications Policies. Kuffour introduced transparency into the system of government, which became the subject of debate across the length and breadth of the nation. His Policies and actions were scrutinised and challenged at numerous debates, hosted by television and radio stations that grew in numbers in the absence of censorship. A host of other public galleries also provided a medium for debate in remote towns and villages. The voice of the opposition parties sometimes even drowned that of the ruling party to the extent that, occasionally some abused the freedom with personal insult to the President. But the gentle giant took them all in his stride, setting good example that a good case is won by the quality of the argument and not by the level of insult.

Ghana found her voice under the leadership of Mr JA Kuffour. The ex-President pardoned his fiercest critics from punishment and imprisonment, when the law found them guilty of infringement; because of a need for political reconciliation and peace in Ghana. His vision for Ghana was a peaceful prospering Nation where political opponents agree to disagree on ideological issues. He governed with parliamentary approval and the legislative power enshrined in him by the Constitution. He was a great ambassador for Ghana on the international stage. Many reputable international organisations recognised this attribute and awarded the gentle giant membership of their organisation.

Ghana’s economy under Kuffour’s leadership saw a huge positive transformation. His government improved on every economic indicator that it inherited from the previous government. The country became a magnet for foreign investors because of a booming economy and his personal charm at the global scene. He introduced several economic planks that were set to add spur to Ghana’s structural development and repair the rot that was eating away the fabric of our society when he came to power. Plans for Free meals and uniforms for school children, National Health Insurance Schemes, Rule of Law, tolerance, easy mobility from improved State Transport and Communications Systems were some of the features of Kuffour’s government. He restored Ghana’s battered international image to its former glory. Kuffour put the pride back into Ghana, so if anybody deserves the Award, it must be the gentle giant, Mr Kuffour!

Unfortunately the appetite for more, is insatiable for humans; hence the more they get the more they want and the less the appreciation as they get use to affluence. It is easy to forget, the dire straits of the past hardships when that periods traits have been washed away by the actions of a good leader like Mr Kuffour. His political foes are crying foul because of their short memory and are seeking to bring the man and his good work down. Ghana is now flooded with innuendoes, unproven allegations, downright lies, disinformation, misrepresentation of facts and despicable back-stabbing, which reached a crescendo when it became clear Mr Kuffour stood a good chance of winning the Mo Ibrahim Prize.

I believe this bug crept its way into the thinking of those responsible for the selection of the Prize Winner. Mr Kuffour’s political foes succeeded in casting doubt in the minds of the Award Judges, about the character of the ex-President. Their relentless campaign to soil Mr Kuffour’s character with innuendoes, leaked fallacious Report to international media outlets, outright lies about the gentle giant and unproven allegations were enough to send cautionary alarm bells ringing in the ears of the Umpires. Hence, it is not surprising that the Umpires backed away from an issue that they didn’t have adequate and strong evidence to base their judgement on.

It is very disappointing, indeed, that envy, pettiness and the vindictive politics being practiced at home, has, in all probability, managed to cross the shores of Ghana into the international arena. Those agents of disinformation, who spared nothing to blacken the good name of the ex-President and deprived him of a deserving trophy, should bury their heads in shame. They have no cause to celebrate a shameful act of betrayal of their country! It is also a cowardly act by the Mo Ibrahim Institution to have succumbed to hearsay and diabolical back-stabbing of Ghana’s candidate. They should have done their home work properly and not given the event the oxygen of publicity that it received; only for them to make a U-turn at the eleventh hour.

Ghana is the bigger loser in this unfortunate event than Mr Kuffour. What better prize would have served as a great incentive for Ghanaian leaders to improve their sense of Fairness, Justice and Patriotism than Kuffour being confirmed as the Winner? The knowledge that the Prize is not beyond the reach of prospective Ghanaian leaders, would have spurred our politicians to clean up their act and hope to improve their chances of a good retirement package from the coveted Prize.

When writers such as Ato Kwamena start using phrases like ``Kuffour felt and saw himself as the best thing’; `Vanity of Kuffour’ based on their subjective view of a State Award, it turns Ghana Journalism on its head. It forces some of us, who would usually take a neutral stance on the slanging match between the NPP and the NDC, to come from the fence and defend the ex-President.

The Medallion, Ato Kwamena alluded to was a gift from the State and not from Mr Kuffour. Ghana as a State elects Members of Parliament to conduct business of the state on behalf of the rest of Ghanaians. The Executive make judgements about the interest of the State and develop action plans to fulfil them, subject to Parliamentary approval. The implementation of such action is considered an action of the State. The Medallion Award was no different from any other action from the State. Ghana awarded her heroes and heroines medals in recognition for exemplary work. Mr Kuffour was a recipient of an award from the state in recognition for his services to the Nation.

It is a gross distortion of the truth to describe it as `Kuffour awarding himself....’ and therefore a `vain’ President. The significance of State Awards is to encourage her citizens to strive for excellence in every sphere of endeavour in order to lift the country to great heights. It is our inability to look beyond the here and now that is stunting growth in our development. Those with good foresight understand the need for State Incentives like Medal Awards, Research and Development, which do not guarantee Returns in the immediate future; but can have a profound long term impact on the prosperity of a nation. Ghana would be better off, if we move away from our preoccupation with short term view about everything and raise our sight a little bit.

Ato Kwamena and like-minded folks should remember that the gentle giant did not nominate himself for the Mo Ibrahim Award, so the notion of Mr Kuffour seeking to redeem himself with the Award is false. The gentle giant was shortlisted for the Award because the institution and the international community saw positive changes in Ghana during his reign.

The Award would have been a rallying point for our politicians to serve the nation better. Mo Ibrahim’s decision not to name a Winner for the Award this year is indeed a lost opportunity to add a feather to the wings of African Politicians.

Kwaku Frimpong

Columnist: Frimpong, Kwaku