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Who is Mogae?
Posted on Apr 10, 2009
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 African countries.
“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 open market.
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 reputation intact.”
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.
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