October 19th, 2013
02:40 PM ET

Where are Africa's great leaders?

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

The world has welcomed another batch of Nobel Laureates for accomplishments in the sciences, literature, and global peace. But there is another prize, perhaps just as important, for which there was no winner.

We are talking about the Mo Ibrahim Prize, established by the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim. The criteria for winning are listed publicly on the prize website: You need to be a democratically elected African head of state that has left office in the last three years, and demonstrated excellent leadership. If you meet the criteria, you get a $5 million award, plus an annual pension of $200,000 that kicks in after a decade.

The point, of course, is to provide a financial incentive for African leaders to shun corruption. And yet, for the fourth time in its seven year history, the awards committee was unable to find a winner from any of Africa's 50-plus countries. Bravo to the Ibrahim prize for holding high standards, even if that means no grand ceremony.

So what happened? Well, for starters, presidents and prime ministers need to actually step down. Africa's leaders are locked in a marathon to see who can reign longest. The leaders of Equatorial Guinea and Angola have been in power for 34 years. Zimbabwe and Cameroon have had the same men in charge for 33 and 30 years respectively. These and a number of other African states are nominal democracies, but they are essentially run by dictators. Elections, if they're held at all, tend to be a sham, pockmarked by intimidation, fraud, and violence.

More from CNN: Africa's rocky road to democracy

A number of indicators highlight the region's crisis of governance. On Freedom House's global map of freedom, Africa is the region with the highest number of countries listed “not free.” On Transparency International's Corruption Index, most African states are shaded red, denoting graft, instead of yellow, for least corrupt.

Now alongside all of these dismal rankings lie a set of numbers singing a very different tune. Six of the world's ten fastest growing economies from 2001 to 2010 were African. According to Ventures Africa, the continent now has 55 billionaires. Great strides have been made in creating wealth and expanding development. There have been advances in education, healthcare, and poverty alleviation.

So, despite all of these gains, why is Africa so far behind on good governance?

There are, of course, a number of decades-old factors in play, but one of them is new, and strikes us as an interesting one to highlight: China.

For decades, NGO’s and Western countries have tied aid money and trade to promises for greater transparency among Africa’s countries. But China has upended the system. Beijing is known to give aid and sign trade deals with no strings attached. Instead, its priority is to extract commodities at the best possible price. And that, in turn, has led to the commodities boom which has fuelled growth in Africa.

More from GPS: Why Africa matters

According to a New York University study, trade between China and Africa has risen from $10 billion in 2000 to $166 billion in 2011, a 16-fold increase. China is now Africa's largest trade partner. And as we reported last week, China's total aid budget has surged as well, from $1.7 billion in 2001, to more than $189 billion in 2011. A substantial chunk of that aide goes to Africa.

In the short term, Africa's leaders may rejoice at having struck a good deal. They no longer need to listen to Western criticism because China and other countries, like Brazil and India, are willing to trade, no-strings attached.

But Africa's dictators should beware. All they need to do is look north, to the Arab world, and they will see what happens when leaders suppress freedom and stick around too long. Meanwhile, Africa's young population – and it is huge – is getting smarter, more connected, and perhaps more likely, eventually, to rebel against repression.

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Topics: Africa • Governance • What in the World?

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Patrick

    Where are Africa's great leaders, you ask? One of them, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, was murdered in 1961 at the instigation of the C.I.A. by Congolese troops under the command of Mobutu in a fake escape attempt. This man had great plans for the Congo as did Christophe Gbinge in 1964 as leader of the Simba rebels.

    October 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  2. ✠RZ✠

    There are likely many who would be worthy of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, but obviously none eligible.

    October 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  3. Stephanie in Seattle

    WOW... talk about a flaming liberal. Tell the truth about medicare..... we cannot find doctors fro my mother in law because they stopped accepting medicare. We live in a major city. The program is BROKE. To say there are problems with cost is a total lie. We are nearing retirement and the thought of being forced into the medicare system scares the heck out of us. Reagan was right to an extent. We don't have the freedom to opt out and buy our own...but are forced into a government run, failing system.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • Tom

      WOW! Talk about a flaming conserative. Yes there are problems in all healthcare right now. The cost of healthcare rises at a much higher rate than inflation. Funny, but the private insurance industriy follows medicare on reimbursements. You are free to go buy any plan you want in the marketplace. Oh thats right before The Affordable Care Act (Obama Care as Republicans have named it to try to degrade it) private insurance may not have accepted her do to a pre-existing condition. I'm sure you can tell that I am a Democrat, not a Flaming liberal as you have called all of us. I find things I don't like in Obama care but since no one else has even come close to submitting an idea like it, then I think we should give it a chance and make changes as needed. Medicare, if it were to go away tomorrow, would see a lot of elderly with no healthcare at all. I would rather have some than none.

      October 20, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  4. Devesh agarwal

    You talk about long terms of leaders in Africa as a issue. What about the problem in US senate and house. Once these useless politicians have become used to power – none of them want to give up. Why blame only Africa?

    October 20, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Africa is so politically diverse. In some places we will see uprising, in others islamist insurgency. Roots of these evils are apart from graft, rampant corruption and nepotism also discrimination of ethnic minorities.
    In Zimbabwe there might one day be uprising against Mugabe's despotic rule. In Kenya, if the ethnic conflicts and the Somali refugees not taken care of, there will be more jihadism. In Nigeria there might be a secession of the North. Indeed Africa could be a powder keg.

    October 20, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • George patton

      Don't forget j. von hettlingen, that many of these not so great African leaders have been bought and paid for by the right-wing politicians in Washington through the C.I.A. such as Mobutu of Zaire and so many others. This is why Africa is hurting so much!!!

      October 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  6. marc baker

    Zakaria advocates term limits for African leaders how about his endorsement of term llimits for all Congressmen and senators? Zakaria is so inconsistant it isn't funny. He like all the other liberal journalists keeps pushing the same tired Obama propaganda line that cutting government spending, not raising the debt limit and even talking about the debt limit hurts the economy. What hurts in the long run is Obama's irresponsible spending the Obamacare website cost about $500 Million Obamacate is projected to cost double its' initial estimates of $900 Billion. Affirdable Care Act is an oxymoron. we can't afford journalists like Zakaria whose solution to our problems is to do what Obama is doing and just do more of it.

    October 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • kingyahoo

      America is a great nation. But, comparing American health care model to the rest of the civilized Western World, it is Mickey Mouse. Fancy a for-profit health care system that charges $100 for a box Kleenex! Nobody I know of in Canada lost his or her house, or has to declare bankruptcy, or fdie because he or she could not afford medical bill.

      You have been brainwashed by your political system that put money in the pocket of insurance companies that own politicians, especially GOP. Lobbyists should be sent to the front line.

      October 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
      • Shibru

        You hit the nail in the head. We on this side of the boarder have been not just brainwashed, but our brains have been washed out of us, by the decaying politicians that we seem to have lost all of our sense organs. We have become Unidentified Moving Objects UMO. We even keep pressing for was around the world only to see our kids dying when the orchestrator - the Bush's, the Peney's and the MaCain's - through lavish parties to wed their offsprings. Now, with the pharmaceutical industries and the greedy private "healthcare" facilities stand against Obamacare, we tend to join the barking only to facilitate our eventual demise. Shame on us!

        October 23, 2013 at 5:31 am |
  7. Reason

    "Despite all the advances, why does Africa still have so much corruption....? " ... Now that our "GPS" host has laid down his usual perspective on Africa which as usual emphasizes the corruption of the leadership as if Africa were a monolith and then proceeds to conclude with a comparison by showing images of middle eastern youth rebelling.
    A few points to ponder :
    – some of those Middle Eastern countries are also African
    – there are honest and dedicated leaders in Africa that constantly get overshadowed by the bad ones deliberately or ignorantly by the western media . The question is WHY ? Here's a question of conscience Fareed, would you do the same to South Asia ?
    – what is the role of Asian (especially Indian businessmen's) role as middle men in mediating the success of the bad leaders
    – who says that the Chinese foreign aid does not have strings attached ? ITS IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GPS TO HAVE SUCH A RIDICULOUS STAEMENT !!! China is gaining like gang busters but AGAIN the gaining from Africa's mines and resources by both the "benefactors" and their middlemen is not mentioned. How is this different from when the British took their gains, trashed their African colonies while they set-up trade with their Asian colonies ?
    – Does Mo Ibrahim's Prize look at leaders posthumously because if so there is one leader who meets the criteria mentioned and should have been awarded the prize posthumously (unless religion plays a role).

    Fareed your assistants need to be more intelligent and have better historical knowledge and critical analysis abilities. At the very least teach them to not generalize when it comes to Africa. Its the largest and most diverse continent on the face of the earth !!!

    .... and as I complete what I'm writing this note, here comes a story on Rhodesia but showing Indian faces ...I'm confused when did Rhodesia become Indian ? or is a positive African story NOT ALLOWED to show the faces of the people from the country ..... can someone please explain ?

    October 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  8. Professor Jacob Kovalio

    Post-colonial Africa is the basket-case it is NOT

    October 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  9. Margaret Murray

    Just turned on CNN and thought it was a democratic party political broadcast but no it was opinions of Fareed Zaharias . How was it possible after to interview James Baker as a neutral interviewer and hope to ask appropriate questions.

    October 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  10. Saheed Bilewu

    Age has taken away these needed human resource and it seems not to replensh them with forthright and selfless ones. The best resource the universal needs dearly is an upright and altruistic human resource. Unfortunately, Africa has scarcity of this.

    October 22, 2013 at 4:05 am |
  11. African

    Blame it on the west.

    October 22, 2013 at 4:36 am |
  12. Mama Africa

    African nations are in need for a good education that will bring about real change in the continent Mama Africa.

    October 22, 2013 at 4:37 am |
  13. Abel Mabunda

    Thanks for your article: Where are Africa^s great leaders! I think our great leaders are lost in the fumes of colonialism and slavery. The survivors are handpicked puppet leaders either by the West or the East. Any genuine true african leader who dares to folllow the ideas of cheik Anta Diop (Senegal) or Uria Simango (Mozambique) is silenced, killed, burnt and thrown into thin air... corruption in Africa is a reflection of corruption in the East and West! We are globalized, spied upon and manipulated!

    October 22, 2013 at 5:23 am |
  14. Dado

    Blaming China for Africa's governance woes is really below the belt. All those leaders that have been in power for decades and all the bad governance were already firmly entrenched long before China trade and aid started to grow rapidly. Having worked with foreign aid in Africa for over three decades, all I can say is that Western aid, with all the strings attached, did little to improve governance. At best aid improved some people's lives. At worst it got diverted. But basically Western aid was and still is too self-serving, too focused on short-term metrics and as a result it becomes disempowering. Also, despite the rapid growth of trade between Africa and Brazil, China and India, and Brazil OECD countries still dominate African trade which has doubled in nominal terms over the last decade. Nothing seems to indicate that OECD countries are any less interested than China in Africa's extract commodities.

    October 22, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  15. kingbaabu

    I'll tell you were those leaders went but you must first tell me why the colonialists and western powers were complicit in the murders of Lumumba, Sankara, Muritala Mohammed of Nigeria and the list goes on. The great African leaders were killed because they put Africa first instead of the West and maintained non-alignment with any of the overbearing global powers. The west responded by installing, funding and arming their puppets, offering the carrot of aid and wielding the big stick of the ICC to knock us in line. China has shown how global relations should work by treating Africa as equal partners in global trade and not as bottom feeders. As an African, I detest the notion in the west that Africa has nothing to offer other than a cap in hand begging for aid while our resources are being ferried away to the same people who despise us. Albashir of Sudan and his like deserve all the heat they get but equal partnership in global trade in place of meddlesomeness is the Chinese model that the west should take a cue from.

    October 23, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  16. Mike Sciales

    African leaders? Leaders? Nothing but murdering strongmen bent on raping their national resources, Zimbabwe went from export nation to third world basket case in 29 years – thanks Mugabe. DCR – how many dead in that civil war? Sudan? Ivory Coast? Leaders? My sides would hurt from laughing if this wasn't so tragic.

    October 24, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Abobakar Ibrahim

    Botswana's Ian Khama will get it after stepping down. He is doing well so far.
    As Africans we should forget the tragedies of the past, totally, completely. No grudges held. It saddens me to find that some whites in their Countries still treat Africans negatively. Some of my People have intense dynamic intelligence but it is still not applicable to the present day status quo. It is suffocated. Fortunately its time is coming.
    I remember most of my homeboys were exempted from calculus overseas because they easily strode over it. But some rascist lecturers believed a black man cannot be an engineer. Have other races realised that an average black once he has learnt something, it sticks in his brain for a while without the need to refresh. One study once showed an aboriginal child(pre-school) being better than other Kids in memory/intelligence, especially the sought that is not ordered(rote/one dimensional/ABCD stuff as compared AZUD)

    October 25, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  18. Abobakar Ibrahim

    One of the problems with African Leaders, especially the long sitting, is that they morph into larger than life figures. Remember Malawi's Hastings Kamudzu Banda, a man of incredibe/unique mental abilities but look how he ruled over his impoverished nation! He was the undisputed alpha male in Malawi who wanted no challenge and demanded total respect. Overall accountability by Leaders in Africa is so very very very weak it makes me teary whenever i think about it. In itself it creates a blood chilling cliff egde for our Leaders which is gonna increasingly show itself in the coming days.

    October 25, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  19. sandranwadi

    Reblogged this on sandranwadi.

    October 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  20. viktar

    Africa must be free of dictators.

    October 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  21. CharlieSeattle

    With exception to the great Nelson Mandela...

    Tribalism and war kills them off before they can have an influence.

    Third world reality.

    October 27, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  22. Reason

    Really Mike ? i

    October 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  23. Jack

    Where are Africa's great leaders?

    The west has killed them all and will continue to do so.

    Patrice Lumumba
    Thomas Sankara
    Muammar Gaddafi

    When African leaders give the wealth back to their people instead of the neo-colonials of Europe and the US they get killed. Simple as that.

    November 16, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
  24. Fasil

    That is very true. Africa thinks that it is growing by extracting and selling its raw material to China without having the technology to process it and sell it to the world market. In any extractive economic system short term growth is always possible, but not inclusive and sustainable. One best example is Libya under Ghadafi. The country was relatively moving to a middle income status, but went back to rubles for failing to make a political and economic reform that is inclusive and participatory. Africa is led by a bunch of dictators from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe and these rulers will never ever leave power peacefully through election. Change is possible only through revolution. Revolutions invite bloodshed and destruction and all the small economic gains from selling raw material will be lost within a night. Africa needs a political reform more than ever.

    June 19, 2015 at 5:04 am |
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