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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/6/17

Africa: The Youngest Continent's Next Generation of Leaders

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Message Sean Bennett

This month, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF), the leading organization promoting leadership in Africa, will share the rankings and analysis of the 11th annual Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG).

Providing an extensive analysis of the quality of governance in the continent, the IIAG assesses 100 indicators from 36 independent African and global data institutions to gauge progress across Africa in key areas such as rule of law, human rights, and sustainable development.

Certainly, it is safe to say that for many countries featured in the index, this is not going to be a good-news story. The MIF itself has chosen not to award its flagship prize for Achievement in African Leadership for several years because it could not find a single person meeting its standards. Since the prize's inception since 2006, only four leaders have been found eligible.

Indeed, lackluster leadership is a major loss for the African continent, which is still lagging behind in no small part due to the pockets of ineptitude, corruption, and sometimes downright malevolence of its political class. However, hopes are running high that a new generation of politicians will be able to turn the page and act as key role models for Africa's future leaders. And some of them may even be contenders to break the Achievement in African Leadership prize's losing streak in the future.

Liberia: Presidential Candidate George Weah

Outgoing Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could have been a strong candidate for the prize -- indeed, by peacefully handing over the reins of power she could have helping her country reach a key milestone. Yet her legacy has been marred by her government's failure to meaningfully tackle corruption and inequality. What's more, the peaceful transition was thrown in doubt after the Supreme Court decided to halt next week's run-off vote over allegations of voter fraud. The prospect is a poor one indeed -- if elections are postponed, an interim government will most likely be put in place that would further tarnish Sirleaf's democratic credentials.

On the other side of the political divide, however, leading presidential candidate George Weah is already a role model for the country's youth. He emerged from the slums of Monrovia to become a star soccer player who later used his fame for the greater good, working to help reintegrate child soldiers as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. It's key to note that Weah's graceful acceptance of defeat in the previous two rounds of elections helped set the stage for the current peaceful transition of power. If he can continue to hold his nerve -- even after the Supreme Court's decision to indefinitely delay presidential runoff votes -- then he could prove to be just the statesman his country needs.

Botswana: President Ian Khama

Like his peer Johnson Sirleaf, Botswana's president is one of the few leaders in Africa who could find himself eligible for the prize if he hands over power peacefully.

He presides over one of the continent's most highly developed, well governed, and crucially least corrupt countries, even in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis that has battered both Botswana and its neighbors. The country has now grown from the "vast, trackless wasteland" it was called in 1966 to become the continent's longest continuous multi-party democracy. Thanks to the government's sensible use of natural resources and efforts to diversify the economy, Botswana is now known as the Singapore or Hong Kong of southern Africa.

President Khama is also one of the few leaders in southern Africa willing to call out his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe. He recently went on record as saying that the de facto dictator should have left office "years ago", adding that "It is obvious that at his age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he's not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament".

Senegal: President Macky Sall

Senegal is another of the few stable democracies in the region, with the 2012 elections marking the third peaceful transition of power from one president to another. President Sall has since garnered a reputation for punching above his weight, especially given his country's relatively small size, and for his willingness to openly demand a more equitable deal for Africa. In response the European hand-wringing over the growing flow of migrants from the continent during the 2015 Africa-EU summit in Valletta, for instance, he underscored that if Africa continues receiving unfairly low prices for its resources, there will continue to be migrant flows.

Sall also set a rare example for other African presidents by proposing to reduce his country's presidential term from seven years to five, a significant move in a continent where so many leaders cling to power long after their expiration date. The proposal won approval in a March 2016 referendum but will only be implemented after Mr Sall's term ends.

Nigeria: UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed

Another tenacious African political leader to watch is Nigeria's Amina Mohammed. The daughter of a herder and vet, her illustrious career has involved stints on the Nigerian Federal Council and as Special Adviser to former UN Secretary Bank Ki-Moon. She also played a pivotal role in finessing the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, has been named as an adviser of the President of the UN General Assembly and is a strident voice against climate change.

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I'm an expert in development economics and trade issues currently working in Washington DC.
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