Africa’s toughest award: Why is it so hard to win? (Or is it?)

Africa's toughest award: Why is it so hard to win? (Or is it?)
IN MY VOICE: Bukenya Charles, an NFGL student in Örebro, reflects on the difference between political elections in Sweden and in Africa - and elaborates on what has become 'Africa's toughest award to win'.

When I came to Sweden last year in August, Swedes were preparing for a general election. I can’t remember much of what happened, but what I know is that a new party was elected to government. A few changes happened and then life was back to normal. No big deal at all.

 Next year in February, we shall have another presidential election back home in my country, the fifth since I started understanding what an election is. One interesting thing is that in all the four elections I have witnessed in my country, there has been only one winner, who was also our president long before I was born, and I’m 27 years old now.

And it has been already declared that no one shall stand against him in his party in the coming election.

Well, I know you might be thinking, What a popular president, winning four straight elections." Unfortunately it is not what you are thinking.

In all the elections, I have seen heavy military involvement, mass rigging and torture of political opponents, including some of my family members.

My uncle was arrested in the 1996 election, beaten and burned with melting plastic just for being too close to the main opposition presidential candidate, and the same kind of events continued in 2001, 2006 and 2011 subsequent elections.


Uganda’s oposition leader addressing a rally before being shot in the hand and dragged away by a security operative with glasses

Isn’t that so sad? No. Mine is just an isolated incident on a continent that has most of the world‘s longest serving presidents, presiding over the world’s sickest and poorest continent with the fastest growing population.

Yet many of them have no immediate plans of handing over power to the younger talented generation, but rather are ready to destroy any progress that weakens their grip on power. Zimbabwe’s president is 92 years old, but through his 36 year dictatorship, Zimbabwe has become only poorer.


92 year old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president recently fell while walking on a red carpet.

In 2007, Ibrahim Mo, a Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire established the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awards a $5 million initial payment, and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of state who deliver security, health, education and economic development to their constituents and democratically transfer power to their successors.

Since then, Africa has had over 40 presidential elections featuring incumbents, but only 4 winners have been found for the award. Hence, it has been dubbed Africa’s toughest award to win.

Many countries in Africa had a two term limit on a president but used their wide powers to amend the constitutions just to cling on a little longer. Now in Rwanda, a country where the worst humans are capable of what was witnessed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide; requests to amend the constitution have started being echoed since Kagame is serving his (supposedly) last term.

While I contemplate all this in my mind, I fail to find an answer why many African presidents won’t go home after serving their terms. I can only wonder If a time will come when the Ibrahim Mo Award will not be so hard to win, like it is now. 


Nelson Mandela (RIP) is one of the few African presidents who stood down when his term expired.

This article is part of the In My Voice series, which allows NFGL students to share their opinions, reflections, and reactions to life in Sweden and to viewing the world's events from a Swedish perspective. Contact us at SI News Service if you are interested in contributing.