There is no worthy ex-president in Africa, at least not this year

The Mo Ibrahim award goes to no one this year. The award is intended for former African presidents that have shown good leadership by peacefully relinquishing power and then doing some good after that (mediating a conflict or facilitating dialogue over disputed elections and what not). It’s a $ 5 million award for the first ten years outside of office, followed by $ 200,000 every year for life. Yes, African presidents have to be bribed to relinquish power.

But why aren’t they giving up?

Crude back of the envelope calculations reveals that the answer lies in the macro-economics of these countries. For example, in Uganda, the interest rate is slightly less than the inflation rate (at least according to the central bank website). Which means that if you put your money in the bank or invest it in treasury bills you will not be making much in the long-run.

Now assuming Museveni expects to live for 30 years after he retires, my back of the envelope calculations reveal a present value of only $ 22 million from the Mo Ibrahim award. This is probably change compared to what the big man in Kampala (well, now in Entebbe –  it’s close to the airport for easy escape in case stuff hits the fun) can make every year for the next 30 years if he stays in power. For instance, assuming that Uganda’s economy will grow at an average of 2% over the 30 years and that Museveni takes away 0.1% of the country’s GDP of 34.23 b (at PPP), then the man will have a present value of 25 m. Notice that 25>22, and by the way 0.1% is a very conservative estimate.

So it could be that what Mo needs to attract more contenders willing to relinquish power is more money. $5 million for 10 years and then $200,000 per year for life thereafter is simply not enough.

Alternatively, instead of just giving the ex-presidents the money, it should come with a guarantee that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation will help them invest the money in the international markets. This way, their frame of reference will not be the potential returns in their domestic economies  – which may not add much value to the award money – but the more lucrative international markets.

index of african governance

Mohammed Ibrahim, the Sudanese money-man trying to give African leaders incentives to govern sanely, has this index of African states, indicating their performance on a variety of governance benchmarks. On the most important index (according to me) which is on the Rule of Law, Transparency and Corruption, the best performing country is Cape Verde, followed by Botswana (I was there last summer and I loved it!). Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, Namibia, Ghana, Lesotho and Senegal are also ranked highly on this index. For more information and to look at other indices visit Mo’s foundation website here.

Kudos to these high fliers when it comes to the rule of law. No civil society can exist without laws. Adherence to laws is the true mark of a civilized people. Man sets his own laws and everyone, by residing in any given country, implicitly consents to the laws of that country. So it is important that all people obey laws that they make for themselves. This is not too much to ask, is it?

The failures of most African countries can be directly attributed to the non-existence of the rule of law. It is Montesquieu who said that laws shape cultural mores just like cultural mores shape laws. With good laws we can inculcate in our citizens the virtues of orderliness and predictability. Predictability guarantees me that I will not be shafted by a judge when I am on the right. Predictability guarantees me that I will not be robbed of my property, and that even if that were to happen the law will be on my side. This is the pillar of civil society.

Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in many an African country. Structural Adjustment Programmes, developement projects of all kinds and all manner of foreign intervention will not bring this to the continent. It is up to Africans to be honest with themselves and acknowledge that to be truly civilized is to obey your own laws. Not somebody else’s but your own laws. laws, laws laws.