Njoroge Wachai at PostGlobal

Njoroge Wachai


Njoroge is a journalist who formerly worked for the Kenya-based People Daily. He was Africa Correspondent for the Science and Development Network (SciDev.net), a UK-based web site highlighting science and technology issues from developing countries. He also freelanced for the Switzerland-based Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO). Njoroge was a press fellow at the Wolfson College, University of Cambridge for four months in 2003, where he researched the role of alternative press in the democratization process in Africa. Njoroge currently lives in the U.S. He has studied Journalism and Technical Communication at the graduate level. Close.

Njoroge Wachai


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Exasperation Leads Africans to Action

The Current Discussion: The American magazine Foreign Policy and British magazine Prospect have published a joint list of the world's Top 100 Public Intellectuals. The list includes several PostGlobal panelists. Who's missing from the list? Who would you take off?

Exasperated by squalor, despair, poor governance and the wanton abuse of human rights that have come to define Africa, one man is investing his personal fortune to try to right the situation. In 2006, Mo Ibrahim, a native of Sudan (who also holds British citizenship) and a billionaire telecommunications entrepreneur, launched a reward program to aid African leaders who voluntarily relinquish power and work their hearts out to emancipate their citizens from abject poverty.

Ibrahim would like to improve governance in Africa, an arduous task that others - notably the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Western democracies and the United Nations (U.N.) - have found extremely hard to perform.

In justifying the award Ibrahim observed in an October 2006 article in the Guardian that “…a situation in which leaders face three choices - relative poverty, term extension, or corruption - is not conducive to good governance.” Ibrahim’s reasoning is that most African leaders cling to power for fear of misery and poverty that lurk out outside the trappings of power.

The award program, which is under the aegis of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, has received high accolades and endorsements from such prominent personalities as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (Watch them praise Ibrahim). Clinton and Mandela are, perhaps, two former presidents most passionately mindful of the future of governance in Africa, hence the significance of their endorsement of Ibrahim’s efforts.

Africa recognizes Clinton for his relentless campaign to slash to affordable levels the prices of HIV/AIDS drugs. Mandela, on the other hand, is an iconic and model African statesman, who, despite the constitution allowing him two presidential terms, served only one after the first South African post-independent multiparty election in 1994.

Ibrahim’s philanthropic gesture, it can be argued, only rivals that of Bill Gates - the founder of software giant Microsoft – who, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is pouring billions of dollars to improving Africa’s health and agricultural sectors.

Ibrahim, pointedly, stands out because it’s uncommon for private citizens, especially in Africa, to commit their personal fortunes to governance improvement. In many cases,the wealthy and mighty in Africa stash their money, most of it ill-gotten, in Swiss Banks.

Ibrahim is offering an award of $5 million, which will be dispersed over a period of ten years to successful candidates. Upon the exhaustion of this figure, recipients will receive an additional $200,000 every year, for the rest of their lives.

The criteria for selecting successful candidates, according to Ibrahim, are rigorous. With the help of Robert Rotberg of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Policy, an Index of African Governance has been developed, and will be used as a yardstick to pick the winner.

A selection panel of eminent personalities like the former U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, former Irish president; Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general of the Organization of African Union (OAU), now the African Union (AU); and former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari is already in place to vet potential candidates.

The panel has already picked the first beneficiary, former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, recognizing his effort to bring peace and democracy to his country after many years of internecine war pitting his government against the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO).

Well-intentioned as it is, however, Ibrahim’s award program unfurls the ugly side of leaders in African countries. It’s unfortunate that they’re being cajoled out of power. It is sad monetary inducements are being dangled to them in order to emancipate their citizenry from the yokes of abject poverty. Isn’t this the natural thing these folks ought to be doing?

Mo Ibrahim has a Herculean task before him. He has just started a well-deserved journey that, inarguably, will take years to cover. Kudos to him!

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