The African telecom tycoon, Mo Ibrahim of Sudan, has conceived of an interesting idea to encourage aging African heads of state to retire (Time story). He’s offering them a stipend of $500,000 a year, plus assorted other goodies, to step down from office and yet still live with style. Ibrahim has gathered some big names in international diplomacy to make the selections, and he is receiving praise (New York Times) for injecting an African perspective to acts of philanthropy associated mostly with wealthy people from the U.S. (Bill Gates, Oprah, Warren Buffet) and celebrities such as Bono. The one obvious flaw in Ibrahim’s approach: will any African leaders volunteer to accept the award, since leaving office will cost them, personally, far more money than Ibrahim can offer. In short, has Ibrahim simply come up with a more polite way of offering bribes to leaders who’ve gorged themselves on corruption and unaccountable political behavior? Ibrahim says he doesn’t intend to reward bad “big men,” so that raises the question of whether the award will have any real effect on African politics if the money will only go towards leaders who were otherwise leaving the political stage. My conceptual objection is a mere quibble, however. Ibrahim is setting a good example for wealthy people in Africa by showing the importance of getting involved and tackling big social and political problems. Next, maybe a wealthy African will encourage grass-roots political action; that’s another missing piece of the African landscape.
Oct 27 2006
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