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World's biggest prize launched to reward Africa's good leaders

BRITAIN: A top African businessman launched the world's biggest prize to reward good governance by departing African statesmen, with a host of world leaders backing his landmark initiative.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, funded out of the Sudanese mobile phone tycoon's own vast wealth, has been established as an African-based project to recognise good leaders among 48 sub-Saharan African countries - and name and shame the shoddy regimes.

The annual Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership will land a former head of state or government with a five-million-dollar (four-million-euro) prize split over 10 years with 200,000 dollars annually for the rest of their lives. A further 200,000 dollars a year will be made available for good causes espoused by the former leader.

The prize, which will be first granted in 2007, far exceeds the 1.3 million dollars given to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, the annual Ibrahim Index for African Governance will rank the countries according to governance quality, with the idea of showing African citizens how their rulers match up.

The foundation is backed by former South African president Nelson Mandela, the Ghanaian United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US president Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and African Union Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare among others.

"Nothing is more important to African development than good governance," said Ibrahim, the Celtel International telecommunications firm founder.

"I'm ashamed that we always have to look to the rest of the world for assistance. It impacts on our dignity and our self-respect.

"We want to celebrate the guy who managed to take his people out of poverty. That deserves the largest prize in the world.

"Billions of dollars are thrown at African countries. Five million dollars to reward good leaders is peanuts when it comes to matters of life and death."

The winner will be chosen by a team of 18 academics in conjunction with the UN and other bodies such as the World Bank.

They will be informed by the Ibrahim Index, which assesses national progress on sustainable economic development, health and education programmes, transparency and empowerment of civil society, democracy and human rights, security and the rule of law.

The index has been drawn up by experts at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States.

"There are no excuses for anyone to criticise. This is not mixing business with politics: I am a concerned African citizen and this is my private money," Ibrahim told AFP.

"Good governance is the biggest block to African development and this will start a debate about it. We will absolutely name and shame in the index, but we will also celebrate good leaders.

"For once, we want Africa to do something for itself. I have no better way of spending my money."

And he warned Africa's corrupt rulers: "Watch out: we are coming after you."

Foundation board member Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for human rights, said the award would have much greater impact because it was an African initiative rather than simply a Western handout.

"It's greatly significant that this is an African businessman who has invested in 15 countries, made big profits and done it cleanly, and has now decided to put it back in to his own people," she told AFP.

In a video message to the launch, Mandela said: "It sets an example that the rest of the world can emulate.

"The foundation aims to deliver the biggest prize of all: helping to ensure that our rich continent becomes a prosperous one - for all its people."

London, Friday, AFP

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