Africa's future will hinge on the continent's citizens taking a proactive role in governance, and not individual leaders alone, says Jay Naidoo.
"It is not individual leaders who will take our continent forward it will be an overall leadership directive driven by Africa's people," board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Naidoo told the Mail & Guardian after the foundation's prize for good governance in Africa produced no winner for 2012.
At a press conference in London, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said it was not going to compromise on its standard of excellence in a leader.
The award, set up by Sudan-born telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim in 2006, carries a $5-million prize paid over 10 years and $200 000 annually for life from then on, with a further $200 000 per year available for 10 years for good causes backed by the winner.
The prize, which is to be awarded each year to a democratically elected leader who governed well, raised living standards and then voluntarily left office.
But, nobody met these criteria, as in 2009 and 2010, because the panel said there had been no suitable candidate.
"You make your bed, you have to lie on it. If we said we're going to have a prize for exceptional leadership, we have to stick to that. We are not going to compromise," Ibrahim said.
"We are not just in the business of positive messages – we would lose our credibility."
Last year, Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires was announced as winner after he led the fight against Portuguese colonialism, introduced multi-party politics and was praised for living standards.
Naidoo said the fact the award was not bestowed upon anyone did not indicate an overall backslide of governance standards in Africa.
"The leadership award should be held up against the overall governance index, which shows a slight but marked improvement in several sectors including health and education," he added.
"Governance is improving; it's just the simple fact that nobody met our very stringent criteria this year round."
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has awarded the annual prize only three times since it was established, plus two special awards given to former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Other previous winners of the coveted award include Botswana's President Festus Mogae and Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano.
The prize committee said they reviewed a number of eligible candidates "but none met the criteria needed to win this award".
"The award is about excellence in leadership. In the first six years the prize committee has selected three very worthy laureates who continue to be an inspiration and whose examples, we hope, will be emulated."
The inaugural prize went to former president Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007 and Botswana's ex-president Festus Mogae won in 2008.
The prize was not awarded in the following two years.
The London-based foundation also publishes the Ibrahim Index, ranking 52 African countries according to 88 indicators grouped under safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.
There has been no change in its top five this year – with Mauritius topping the index with a score of 83 out of 100, ahead of Cape Verde (78), Botswana (77), Seychelles (73) and South Africa (71).
Somalia remained at the bottom with a score of seven, behind Democratic Republic of Congo (33), Chad (33), Eritrea (33) and the Central African Republic (34).
Ibrahim said that while there had been major improvements in some sectors, the continent's main players were lagging behind.
"Between 2000 and 2011 there is a marked improvement in governance across Africa," he said.
"The major improvements were in health, the rural sector, the economy. The interesting development was in gender. Gender has improved amazingly over the last 10 to 11 years. The highest improvement in any category in the index."
But across the data, "the four main powerhouses in Africa – Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya – appear to be really stuttering. They are not showing really convincing progress."
"East Africa is not doing that well. It has been over taken by West Africa in the category of sustainable economic development ... In general, we see positive development in Africa. The economy is moving forward relentlessly. Education and health is improving, there is great development there. Gender issues are improving ... We see, unfortunately, a little bit of decline in the issues of human rights and participation. Economic development does not give us a reason to be complacent about that." – Additional reporting by AFP