Africa: Some countries not viable - Mo Ibrahim

16 November 2009

African states must integrate immediately or some will not survive, Mo Ibrahim, who funds the world's biggest prize in support of leadership on the continent, said late on Saturday.

Ibrahim was speaking at the opening of a two-day event promoting good governance in Africa , which appears to have slipped following a spate of coups in the past two years.

"Some of our countries, and I'm really sorry to say this, are just not viable," the Sudanese mobile phone tycoon said.

"We need scale and we need that now -- not tomorrow, the next year or the year after."

Several overlapping regional groupings throughout the continent are trying to knit their economies closer together, but the pace and extent of integration is slower than hoped.

"Intra-African trade is 4-5 per cent of our international trade. Why? This is unacceptable, unviable, and people need to stand up and say this," Mr Ibrahim said.

"Who are we to think that we can have 53 tiny little countries and be ready to compete with China, India, Europe, the Americans? It is a fallacy."

The $5 million Ibrahim Prize, which has previously been awarded to outgoing presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Festus Mogae of Botswana, was not awarded this year.

Judges led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said although there were some credible candidates, they would not make an award. They did not explain why.

Mr John Kufuor of Ghana, Mr Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mr Thabo Mbeki of South Africa were among the eligible candidates, all of whom stepped down of their own accord -- a key condition.

"We are poor, we are hungry, we are going without," said Ibrahim. "Something is drastically wrong. I think we have the right to ask our leaders: are they really serious?" he told an audience that included President Jakaya Kikwete.

Celebrities including Senegalese singer Youssou N'dour and Beninois poverty activist Angelique Kidjo performed during the evening, saying leaders needed to do more.

Former Sudanese child soldier and hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal called for greater vision and compassion.

"So many people died that we don't even cry any more," he said in a performance that spoke of his experiences with Kalashnikovs and brought many in the audience to tears.

"To be a president in Africa , it's like you're going to be a big man, because they take all the money. You need a leader that's going to say no to corruption,"he told Reuters after leaving the stage. "When there's no vision, people perish."

Discussion panels on Sunday with several African leaders will address climate change, food security and economic integration, which the Mo Ibrahim Foundation says require Africa's urgent attention.


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