Former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba on Saturday accepted the $5 million Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership.
The prize committee chairman and former secretary general of the defunct Organisation for African Unity, Salim Ahmed Salim, said Mr. Pohamba’s “focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the prize committee”.
“His ability to command the confidence and the trust of his people is exemplary,” Mr. Salim added.
The award, launched in 2011 by British-Sudanese businessman, Mo Ibrahim, is given to an African leader who was democratically elected, performed well in office, and left at the end of his constitutionally-allowed term.
The award is aimed at encouraging good governance in Africa. It also seeks to discourage “sit-tight” mentality common amongst African leaders who frequently manipulate their countries’ laws to remain in office.
Past winners include former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano in 2007, former Botswanan President Festus Mogae in 2008 and former Cape Verdean President Pedro Pires in 2011.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation said the award was not given for several years because it could find no suitable candidates.
Mr. Pohamba left office in March after two terms. He was involved in his country’s fight for independence and held several ministerial positions after Namibia’s independence in 1990.
He was announced winner in March, but was honoured at an event in Accra, Ghana on Friday night.
“This honour is not for me alone,” Mr. Pohamba said. “I accept it with a sense of great humility, on behalf of the Namibian people, who entrusted me, through democratic processes, to lead our country as president for two consecutive terms.”
The award’s sponsor, Mr. Ibrahim, said, “We need to change the narrative about African leadership. The world knows everything about our bad leaders, but nothing about our heroes”.
The Ibrahim Foundation will pay Mr. Pohamba $5 million over the course of 10 years, then give him an additional $200,000 each year after that.
The ceremony was witnessed by President John Mahama of Ghana, former Presidents John Kuffour, Chissano, Pires, and a number of other African leaders.
Nigeria’s former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, attended the ceremony and was one of several panelists who discussed Africa’s urbanisation at a follow-up event on Saturday.