JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — And the winner of the Mo Ibrahim prize for African governance is ... no one. Again.
Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born telecom billionaire, launched the $5 million prize in 2007 to reward African leaders who were elected democratically, showed excellent leadership, raised living standards in their countries and voluntarily left office when their terms ended.
But for the fourth time in five years, the world's most valuable prize given to an individual has no winner. The prize committee said Monday that no candidate had met all of the criteria, with the sticking point being "exceptional leadership."
The dearth of extraordinary former leaders isn’t unique to Africa. Mary Robinson, the former Irish president who is on the Mo Ibrahim Foundation board, said that if the prize were for European heads of state, they wouldn't necessarily find winners every year, either.
"We didn't ever expect that we would award it every year," Robinson said at a Monday press conference in London, broadcast live online.
The monetary award, disbursed over 10 years followed by $200,000 a year for life, is intended to encourage leaders of African countries to leave office after their terms expire and build positive legacies on the continent instead of clinging to power.
Cape Verde's former president, Pedro Verona Pires, won the 2011 prize — the last one awarded — for his role in transforming the former Portuguese colony from single-party autocracy to multi-party democracy.
Other previous laureates include Botswana's President Festus Mogae and Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano.
Despite the lack of a winner for 2013, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which is released alongside the prize announcement every year, found that governance in Africa is actually improving.
The index looks at 52 countries — Sudan and South Sudan were not included due to a lack of data — and ranks their progress in the categories of human development, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and safety and the rule of law.
Ibrahim said that 94 percent of Africa’s population lives in countries that have seen improvements in overall governance over the last 12 years.
“There's a new generation of African leaders coming forward. This is giving us hope. I see a lot of good people who just took office," he said.
Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Seychelles and South Africa took the overall top spots on the index. Somalia was the worst-performing country, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic and Chad joining it at the bottom of the list.
Ibrahim said that justice, safety and security remain problems, noting there is less cross-border conflict but growing internal unrest in African countries.
As well, gaps between good performers and bad performers on the index are widening.
“Neither Afro-pessimism nor Afro-optimism do justice to modern Africa,” Ibrahim said via webcast.
“This is now the age of Afro-realism — an honest outlook on our continent. It's about a celebration of its achievements but also a pragmatic acknowledgement of the challenges that lie ahead.”