March 2, 2015 / 10:39 AM / in 3 years

Outgoing Namibian president wins $5 million Africa leadership prize

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Namibia’s outgoing president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, has won the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s $5 million African leadership prize, an award meant to recognize good governance that had been presented only three times before in eight years.

President of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba attends a dinner at the House of Estates in Helsinki November 12, 2013. REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva

To win the prize, set up by the Sudanese telecoms tycoon in 2007, a leader must have been democratically elected and have left office in the last three years, serving only their constitutionally mandated term. The winner must also have displayed “exceptional leadership”.

The prize committee praised Pohamba’s commitment to the rule of law and respect for the constitution, as well as his promotion of gender equality.

“His ability to command the confidence and the trust of his people is exemplary,” said committee chair Salim Ahmed Salim, announcing the award in Nairobi.

Although elections have now become common on a continent once better known for military coups and instability, some leaders have stayed in office long after their original mandate, often pushing through constitutional changes to hold to power.

Since its inception, the prize has gone to three former presidents, from Cape Verde, Mozambique and Botswana. In other years, no one was found to have met the criteria.

Pohamba, 79, was first elected president in 2005 and is steps down this month. The elections held under his leadership were considered by observers to be free and fair.

Pohamba was a founding member of the now ruling South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), playing a central role in decades of struggle for independence from South Africa.

He was imprisoned in the 1960s for political activism but continued to fight against South Africa’s apartheid government until the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

He held home affairs and marine resources portfolios in cabinet prior to becoming president.

The winner receives $5 million, given over 10 years, and after that $200,000 a year for life.

Ibrahim said most Africans lived in better governed, more just countries than a decade ago, but the improvement was “not vast”.

“If you look at the development of Europe or the United States, it’s a long process,” he told Reuters. “We need to appreciate it’s a tough job, it can’t be done overnight.”

The previous recipients were former presidents Pedro de Verona Rogrigues Pires of Cape Verde, Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and Festus Mogae of Botswana. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was also given an honorary award.

(This version of the story was refiled to remove extraneous ‘only’ in first paragraph)

Additional reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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