/ 22 October 2007

Chissano wins $5m African leadership prize

Former Mozambique president Joachim Chissano won a new $5-million prize for African leadership on Monday and was hailed as ”a powerful voice for Africa on the international stage”.

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, who chaired the committee that selected the inaugural award by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, particularly trumpeted Chissano’s role in bringing reconciliation to his homeland.

”It is [for] his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy that Chissano has made his most outstanding contribution,” the Ghanaian said, reading from a citation. ”The prize celebrates more than just good governance. It celebrates leadership; the ability to formulate a vision and to convince others of that vision.”

The award gives its recipient $5-million over 10 years and $200 000 annually for life thereafter, as well as $200 000 a year for 10 years towards the winner’s public-interest activities and good causes.

The winner was selected by a six-person committee headed by Annan, chosen from every sub-Saharan African leader who has left office in the past three full calendar years.

Chissano, Mozambique’s president from 1986 to 2005 and chairperson of the African Union from 2003 to 2004, was widely credited with helping end a bloody 16-year civil war in the Southern African country.

A former Portuguese colony, Mozambique gained independence in 1975, but was torn by civil war between the Mozambique Liberation Front and the Mozambique National Resistance, until a peace accord in 1992.

About one million people died in the conflict, which also displaced millions of others.

Annan said: ”It is a measure of the change that has taken place that national and regional elections have been contested in a generally peaceful manner by both sides [that took part] in the bitter civil war. This remarkable reconciliation between opponents provides a shining example to the rest of the world and is testament to both his strength of character and his leadership.”

He added: ”He was a powerful voice for Africa on the international stage and played an important role in pushing debt relief up the agenda.”

Chissano, one of the few African leaders to have voluntarily stepped down from office, was appointed by the AU in 2005 to try to help solve Zimbabwe’s political problems, but President Robert Mugabe rejected him as mediator.

In December last year he became the UN special envoy to help end the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced about two million.

Chissano, whose persuasive skills are legendary, managed to get the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to renew their ceasefire and agree to resume peace talks to end the brutal insurgency.

The foundation behind the prize was created last year by Mo Ibrahim, a wealthy Sudanese businessman and the founder of the Celtel International telecommunications firm.

In September, the foundation released its first annual Ibrahim Index of African Governance, ranking 48 African countries against 58 individual measures.

Somalia was named and shamed as the worst-governed country in sub-Saharan Africa, while island nation Mauritius was on top, followed by the Seychelles, Botswana, Cape Verde and South Africa.

The Mo Ibrahim award is the second leading honour Chissano has won in little more than a year. In September last year, London-based foreign affairs think tank Chatham House awarded him its annual prize for his contribution to international relations. — Sapa-AFP