Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Celtel and good governance in Africa

Features of the week:

The $5m leadership prize for Africa set aside for good governance by the chairman, Celtel International, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, stands as motivator for attitudinal change in leadership and investment potentials on the continent, reports Remmy Nweke.

Leadership to some schools of thought is only born, others made, while yet others achieve it by mere skill or luck.

Defined as the “Capacity or ability to lead by showing the strong leadership during” a given term of office or service, according to the American Heritage dictionary, it is now awash to see programmes on leadership from different tertiary institutions globally as a means of grooming future leaders, especially in developing continents like Africa where leadership rather than being seen as module of capacity to lead others by way of exemplary lives, has become a means of siphoning public funds and impoverishing the populace farther and farther.

For the World Bank Institute, which has become synonymous with good governance and transparency, it defined leadership as important as elements of sustaining economic growth, which “is the key to reducing poverty and the vulnerability of the poor.”

Good corporate governance, as a leadership converse symptom is also an important factor in ensuring a more transparent, fair and just society.

According to World Bank, the coming of information revolution anchored on the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), has transformed the way organizations look at transparency and openness, which further upholds that technological advances have made public administration possible for vital information to be readily available to the public. Thus it is no longer obtainable for companies, institutions or countries to act in isolation.

Leadership, for experts at the is a knowledge driven world and has since shifted even as it could be bottom-up or top-down.

“Those at the top sometimes lead, sometimes just manage, other times operate as venture capitalists investing in the best ideas of leadership, emerging from below,” the experts said.

They also noted that traditional leadership theory is scarcely concerned with top-down leadership in large organizations, as a result, leadership exists in every aspect of life.

Above all, the concept of indirect leadership, they said, involves every person who sets an example for others every day without trying to persuade anyone explicitly to follow suit. Citing an instance of innovators in knowledge-intensive industries as exhibiting a type of leadership that is not associated with the top-down direction of subordinates.

They recognised one characteristic of true leaders, saying that apart from being charismatic, leadership should have a commanding presence, action orientated, honest and ethical.

“All leaders have a drive to differentiate themselves from their peers - whether the individual is a person, a team, a business, a sports club or a nation,” the experts postulated.

Worried by the spate of leadership tussle and corruption that have beheld Africa over the years, chairman of the Pan African mobile operator, CelTel International, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, recently voted the sum of $5 million, about N639,250,000 for African leaders who distinguish themselves without rancour of corruption during their trnure.

Giving details, Dr. Ibrahim, explained why he introduced a prize for Leadership to the tune of $5 million for African leaders, which is bigger than what the popular Nobel Prize Committee offers to winners, as a desire driven in order to salvage the leadership on the continent and basically due to his longing to encourage the development of Africa, mostly in fighting corruption.

The initiative, which has already received endorsement of the outgoing United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, former United States President, Mr. Bill Clinton, United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair and World Bank president, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, is to better the lives of Africans at the end of the tunnel.

He pointed out that corruption for instance, embedded in bad leadership is one of the strongest strings that tie Africa to underdevelopment and poverty, mostly through self-perpetuation in government by leaders.

The prize which is $5 million, he explained, would be spread over ten years, plus $200,000 a year for life for African leaders who rule well and handed over power to a democratically elected successor.

Each year, he said, selected African leader will receive the prize based on criteria developed by Harvard University professor Robert Rotberg, and given each year as long as there is a candidate who meets the criteria, with the first prize slated for presentation in the later part of 2007.

Dr. Ibrahim further recollected that on the continent, most Heads of State or government leave office with no chance of sustaining a lifestyle equivalent to the one they enjoy whilst in office.

“The continent’s problems will not be solved unless governance improves radically. Nothing is more important to African development than good governance. A situation in which leaders face poverty, term extension, or corruption is not conducive to good governance. Today I am launching a foundation, which aims to change fundamentally the choices faced by African leaders,” Ibrahim asserted.

Dr. Ibrahim who built a hugely successful mobile phone business, Celtel, in countries, where most companies would have ordinarily rebuffed with a wave of hand as unfeasibly poor markets such as Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Malawi, made a fortune in 2005 when he sold the company to MTC, a Kuwaiti firm with operations in Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwaitwith huge global ambitions, just as the telco is worth about $3.4 billion.

Reacting to the initiative, ICT Programme Officer at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Mr. Ben Akoh, expressed appreciation for such a project, saying since he noticed the development via the story he has been wondering on the scheme’s pros and cons, yet its pros far exceeds the cons.

“You and I will agree that a certain level of ‘push’ is required to get African leaders to go - or rather cajole them into statesmanship. Perhaps this was what was needed,” Mr. Akoh observed, stressing that the problem is that some die-hard leaders would rather latch onto the power, than leave.

“ They would quantify the cost of their current hold onto power and benchmark that against $200,000 for a year for the rest of their lives and definitely see the scale tip in favour of them remaining solidly in power,” he noted. Emphasising that another question is how this fund could have the potential of growing through willing donors, to sustaining the project.

“I see future generations challenging it … it was a damn good idea. Simple but direct to the point,” he said.
As we look forward to the first prize to be taken before the end of 2007, African leaders should realise too that the whole world and not only Africa is watching.

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