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No $5 million Mo Ibrahim prize: no honest African leaders?

This year, cellphone magnate Mo Ibrahim won't be giving a $5 million prize for good governance. Why not?

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In an earlier interview with, a news website focusing on African affairs, Ibrahim told editors that some 26 of Africa's 53 countries had made progress in governance in the past year. His index measures 84 factors, including rule of law, human rights, and economic opportunity.

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"The index doesn't say Africa is bad," Ibrahim says, referring to a report by his foundation that rates African nations in terms of governance. "The index shows countries that are doing well; it shows countries which are doing badly... . It is a mirror. Some of us are good-looking; we look beautiful in the mirror. Some of us are ugly and are going to look ugly because the mirror will not lie. Don't blame the mirror!"

See the index here.

Leaders who won't let go

Yet the past year has seen a worrisome trend nonetheless, a move of African leaders to change constitutions to extend their time in power, or to hand power down dynastically to members of their own family. There have been military coups in Mauritius and Guinea, postelection violence and forced power-sharing governments in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and drastic constitutional changes in Uganda, Chad, and Cameroon to allow presidents to stay in power.

In short, there is still a long rocky road ahead for democratic reform in Africa.

"I commend Mo Ibrahim for acknowledging that in Africa, good governance is the exception," says Marian Tupy, an Africa watcher for the Cato Institute in Washington. "This notion of a 'new morning in Africa' was greatly exaggerated, and now Africa's lack of economic growth, and the lack of general security is catching up with African leaders. Over the past four or five years, the growing global economy gave an incorrect perception, it camouflaged the problems."

Investors often make a better judgment about how a country's reforms are going than do diplomats, Mr. Tupy adds, noting "Now that the global economy is going through a rough patch, money is looking for safe predictable places to go where the rule of law is obeyed, and we are seeing the problems of African governance in full view."