Mo Ibrahim Prize awarded to Chissano

By Jeremy Lovell, Reuters

LONDON — Mozambique’s former President Joaquim Chissano won the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African leadership on Monday.

The US$5 million prize — the world’s largest individual award — was presented by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a ceremony in London’s city hall.

Chissano, a former revolutionary who fought against Portuguese colonialism, ruled the southern African country from 1986 until 2005, winning praise for his sound economic policies in a country that was once one of the poorest in the world.

Chissano, who celebrated his 58th birthday on Monday, was not in London to receive the award.

Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born telecommunications entrepreneur, set up the award as a way of encouraging good governance in a continent blighted by corruption and a frequently loose adherence to democratic principles.

Annan, who stepped down as U.N. secretary-general at the end of 2006, told Reuters earlier this year he expected the prize to make African leaders more aware of their records on human rights and democracy.

Winners will receive US$5 million over 10 years and then US$200,000 ah year for life, with another US$200,000 annually for “good causes” they espouse.

In contrast, the Nobel Peace Prize, which Annan won jointly with the United Nations in 2001, pays US$1.5 million.

Chissano, a former leader in the Frelimo guerrilla movement which fought Portuguese rule in Mozambique for decades and helped to bring it to an end in 1975, was only the second person to serve as president of Mozambique.

A quiet man, Chissano showed his negotiating skills when he concluded a peace deal in 1992 to end a 16-year war with Renamo rebels, laying the foundation for his country’s first multi-party elections in 1994.

He won acclaim for stepping aside after 18 years in power, when he could have stood for a further five year term, saying his decision would create political space for democracy to thrive.

Since leaving office he has been a special envoy for the United Nations, working on resolving conflict in northern Uganda.