Friday, October 27, 2006

# Posted 7:25 PM by Taylor Owen  

IN THE SO CRAZY IT JUST MIGHT WORK DEP’T: UK-based Egyptian mobile phone tycoon (and presumably rather wealthy) Mo Ibrahim has one of the better development ideas ever. He is going to give $5 million to African heads of state who leave office democratically and act that way while in power. Just to insure they don't get any post-award-coup ideas, they will also get $200,000 a year for life.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, as it will be called, will be judged by a team at Harvard, based on the democratic delivery of security, health, education and economic development to their constituents. It will now be the world's biggest prize, well in front of the measly 1.3 million noble peace prizes are good for. Clinton, Mandela and Kofi have all indorsed it.

As Patrick B would say - 'well done you!'
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

I'm surprised you're endorsing this prize so uncritically. This seems opposite to democracy - will leaders who listen to their people and institute anti-neoliberal policies receive the reward or will the right-wing Harvard judges declare them 'anti-democractic'?

The people organizing this prize claim to be as 'objective' as possible but democracy is surely subjective? It is the subjective feeling of the people living in the country that should decide any kind of reward.

Finally, this seems like the typical right-wing anti-democratic fetishization of the president or prime-minister as the embodiment of democracy; perhaps Harvard academics should worry more about the fragile state of its country's democracy?
right wing? Harvard?

No more right wing than paying a Head of State 10 times the cost of providing humanitarian services in the hope that a tenth of the money reaches those in need of the services.

But then again you may just be being facetious.

I do recall reading that the government of Mexico spends $5.0 million per year on salary and services for each of its ex presidents. We see what effect that has on the Mexican people.
A splendid carrot; what's the stick?

Sticks have been banned.

Now we have the UN.

[Yes that was sarcasm]
anon 756: the devil is clearly in the evaluation details. I would think they would be along MDG lines, as opposed to structural adjustments, as the latter have proven woefully inadequate to dealing with the development issues clearly at the center of this award. That being said, Wolfowitz, speaking on behalf of the World Bank, has endorsed this plan as well, so who knows (they are much less the pro-structural adjustment/ neo-lib institution they are often made out to be though.) As for it being 'the opposite of democracy,' I don't agree. It may add an unnatural element into the mix, but frankly, I don't see the downsides.

a recent news report (BBC?) pointed out that the targets of this prize--corrupt African leaders--can take in $5 million in an afternoon's work. And isn't it patronizing to assume Africans need to be bribed to be decent leaders? Isn't it defeatist, if not racist, to assume decent values are beyond their reach? Wallydog
I don't mean to be obnoxious but I don't agree that the devil is in the details. This seems like a reductive response to the larger issue that having an outside body, of any political persuasion, adjudicate democratic merit violates basic democratic principles. How does this differ from rule by philosopher kings and queens? How can Harvard academics impose their notions of good governance on the people of Africa? I'm deeply suspicious of any group from the United States meddling, even with good intentions, in the affairs of other countries when there is clearly so much work to do in the United States in reorienting it towards democracy.

What about the people of these nations? What about the civil servants who get no special rewards for attempting to be democratic? And speaking of the details, doesn't the introduction of instant riches for being president introduce incentives at the party level to manipulate one's way to becoming leader?

And finally, doesn't this just reinforce the patronizing attitude of the west towards the global majority? That Africa needs to be bribed to be democratic? As Kant said in defense of the French Revolution, the precondition to freedom (and democracy) is freedom...not bribery and handouts.
Walter Owen wrote, "Isn't it defeatist, if not racist, to assume decent values are beyond their reach?"

Walter, the sponsor of this prize is an African himself. Where is the racism?! Patronizing maybe but not racist.
A National Interest book review of the memoir of former US ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, concludes with this relevant thought:

All this pales against the backdrop of the larger issues raised by Hempstone, namely those having to do with Africa's catastrophic development record. Concerning the main responsibility for this record, Hempstone has no doubt. "There is no shortage of villains", he concludes, "but the principal blame must lie with the criminally inept, corrupt and venal leadership.... Until Africa's Daniel arap Mois are swept onto the rubbish heap of history, there cannot be much hope for Kenya or the continent."

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy, the UN Development Program, the World Bank, the European Union, and a host of private foundations have spent millions of dollars on newfangled programs for democratic elections and "good governance" in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. The results are mixed at best. That is because we can only divine cures by understanding pathologies.

If the donors and international organizations promoting democracy in the developing world had devoted half their resources to a study of how Third World dictators survive, prosper on aid money, divide and rule, get "elected", and play their foreign supporters off against each other, we might all be wise and the benighted peoples in these sad lands that much more hopeful of better lives ahead. At the very least the quest for democratic and effective government in these desolate places might have stood a better chance. Added to his other achievements, Hempstone's book well serves that cause."

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