Monday, October 19, 2009

Motivating Good Governance

The Mo Ibrahim Prize was announced three years ago. At that time I wrote on my previous blog (under the somewhat sarcastic title, "The Best Government Money can Buy?") that "Mohammed (Mo) Ibrahim will use his self-made millions to back an annual $5 million prize to be awarded to former African leaders 'who had demonstrated excellence in government.'" This morning Al Jazeera reported that the prize would not be awarded this year:

The prize committee had "considered some credible candidates" but could not select a winner, Ketumile Masire, the president of Botswana, said on Monday.

He said the foundation "noted the progress made with governance in some African countries, while noticing with concern recent setbacks in other countries".

One can understand the predicament of the prize committee, but it revives my own sense of sarcasm. Is the motive behind the prize still a valid one that has been jeopardized by the current economic crisis? Is the principle a good one that has found itself reduced to haggling over the price? However, rather than take refuge in sarcasm, I would prefer to take this as a sign that governments (and particularly relatively new governments) are, and have always been, inherently fragile. One cannot necessarily reinforce the sources of fragility by throwing money at them. Strength needs to grow along with the government itself; and there is probably no general rule regarding the best "nutrients" for that growth. Ibrahim should be lauded for his out-of-the-box thinking; but solving the problem of good governance may lie elsewhere.

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