Why Mo Ibrahims petty cash wont stop African leaders from stealing By Jenerali Ulimwengu My criminal law professor, Bob Seidman, always sprinkled his lectures with spot-on anecdotes, which is a smart way of retaining the attention of dullards such as I was. One of his more memorable jewels was about an epitaph on a gravestone: Here lies an honest lawyer. The point was that at last that most rare of species had been found, an honest lawyer, but even this one was lying! One could also imagine a similar epitaph for a politician, another species that is randomly mocked and derided on account of unscrupulous behaviour, dishonesty and double-dealing. So, if, upon scrutiny, a name, a face, and a career of a politician come up suggesting that he or she has done politics honestly and honourably, seeking only to serve the people, shunning corruption, respecting peoples rights and taking only what is his or hers, we ought to celebrate that person, garland him or her and record their name in our yearbook as someone who has done us proud. All this is because too many politicians, like our lawyer in the epitaph, are as prone to lying as dogs are prone to barking. Share This Story 6Share Otherwise we should be able to take honest politicians as the norm, and concern ourselves only with the few bad apples, whom we should uncover and shame and punish appropriately. That is why Mo Ibrahims idea of awarding retired African heads of state who have distinguished themselves through meritorious service to their people is a bright one, although it comes laden with its own complications. One is the criteria used to determine who gets to be rewarded and the benchmarks used to make such determination. This has in a way been dealt with by establishing a checklist of attributes to be considered, and by the choice of a chairperson in the person of Salim Ahmed Salim, whose own moral decency is not much in dispute. The other problem is how to identify deserving candidates, on an annual basis, on a continent that has become a virtual moral desert where jackals and thorns abound and peacocks and flowers are a rarity. This has already been demonstrated by the failure of Salims committee to come up with an eligible person for the past couple of years. Then there is the issue of awarding cash prizes to the winner, which I really do not understand. If this is meant as an incentive to make African presidents desist from robbing their people in exchange for the possibility of a Mo award, the organisers are way wide of the mark. Everybody knows that a bird in hand is better than ten in the bush, and that money in the central bank is more accessible to a president than an iffy award, which may or may not come. Our presidents and their families and cronies can always help themselves to billions of dollars from our national treasuries without too much hassle, and I do not see how this can be countered by the five-million-dollar petty cash offered by Mo. No, cash will not do the trick, which should be to award such prizes as the thieving politicians cannot access. On such prize would be to create a continental pantheon of meritorious leadership, a Hall of Fame of the good and great, where the statues of these valiant men and women would be on display, with multimedia commentaries describing the great deeds to their credit. As for the dearth of good retired leaders, its painfully simple: They are simple too few and far between. Mo and his committee may want to expand their catchment area to include not only heads of state but also great women and men who have served Africa well: Researchers and academics, civil society activists and organisations, clergy, artists and sportspeople, relief workers, and such like. Otherwise Salims committee will continue, year after year, to agonise over lists of people with varying degrees of non-integrity. Everybody knows that a bird in hand is better than ten in the bush, and that money in the central bank is more accessible to a president than an iffy award. Source: The East African My take: ulimwengu anaonekana kuweka a very valid argument ya hoja yake hasa pale anaposema "a bird in a cage ia worth ten in the bush".