No to Mo money

In return for stepping down after just two terms in office, Botswana’s (ex) President Festus Mogae will receive $5 million over the next 10 years, and $200,000 per year for the remainder of his life.

From where does this generosity spring? Mo Ibrahim’s prize, whose purpose is to get the incentives right for African leaders. (The full Time story is here, and the NY Times one here.)

Here’s what I wish I knew: did this money play any role whatsoever in Mogae’s decision? I doubt it.

More importantly, are the autocrats of the continent swayed? Also doubtful.

Some leaders are motivated by a vision–one that usually includes them at the head of the state–and a measly $5 million won’t do much to change that intrinsic, possibly insane, motivation and megalomania. Witness Ugandan President Museveni’s ridicule of the Ibrahim prize last year.

Multiply this effect by twelve if the autocrat loathes or fears the politicians that could take his place. Do not underestimate the personal and ideological hatred that pervades personal rule.

And don’t forget: Presidents fear not just their own skins, but that of their cronies. Why has Mugabe held so tight to the reins of power? His generals and ministers may be giving him little choice. Perhaps the Old Man even cares about their fate.

To treat an autocrat as though he were a greedy schemer and not a man of pride and prejudice is misguided. To treat an autocracy as an individual and not a network of power-brokers is naive.

I’m thrilled that Mogae is getting the money; he deserves it. But let’s call it what is is: not an incentive for bad leaders, but a golden handshake for the good ones.

Happy retirement, Festus.