All throughout his presidency, John Kufuor felt he was the best thing that ever happened to Ghana. He also saw himself as one of the best leaders ever to come out of the African continent. That’s why he shamelessly decided to reward himself by spending our millions to buy a medallion to reward himself.

Every Ghanaian who is not blinded by petty party allegiances spoke out against his vanity and Kufuor has since then been looking for an opportunity to prove to Ghanaians that they were wrong in condemning him and that his self-praise was justified. He saw that opportunity in his nomination for the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. He had reportedly been in the running for the prestigious prize with the likes of Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) and Ahmed Tejan Kabbah (Sierra Leone).

Fortunately, the prize committee, made up of eminent personalities like former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, has decided that none of them deserves to be rewarded. They couldn’t have taken a better decision. It is a clear message to Kufuor that he was not the great leader that he thinks he was. Our former leader needed a reality check and I am happy it was delivered by none other than Kofi Annan and the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee. The snub is good for Kufuor and it is good for Ghana.

If Kufuor had won Mo Ibrahim’s prize, we would have had a succession of leaders who would have come along to try and match up to his low standards of leadership and turn around to tell us that they deserve 24 retirement homes, 36 limousines, 12 golden statues and a diamond plated coffin.

Kufuor wasn’t a bad leader. But he just wasn’t good enough to be held up as an example for others to follow. Kufuor had every opportunity to set himself apart and provide excellent, world-class leadership. But he squandered it all and ended up an average leader, with a weak, easy-to-forget legacy – if any at all.

Ask yourself: 20 years from now what will Kufuor be most remembered for? What will I point my kids to as the most enduring mark of Kufuor’s presidency? Kufuor’s supporters will point to such things as national health insurance, school feeding programme, the capitation grant, school feeding programme and other initiatives that still need a lot of tweaking and refinement. Some of them may need to be scrapped completely. These are not enough to win an international prize for excellent leadership.

Compare Kufuor’s record to that of the two previous winners of the Mo Ibrahim Prize. Joachim Chisano took over Mozambique at a time of war and he turned it into a thriving nation at peace with itself. Festus Mogae ruled Botswana, a small, landlocked country with prudence and by the time he left office, the country had become an African economic giant, its people prospering and lacking very little.

Kufuor cannot say he took Ghana out of the doldrums. We are exactly where we were when Kufuor was elected – a divided nation with a healthcare system in utter shambles, a confused educational set-up, a very weak economy (also known as ‘ecomini’), little water to drink, poor energy supply and a non-existent social welfare system, among so many other serious problems. Kufuor knew about all of these problems before he came to power. He solved none. He promised ‘change’ and delivered something close to the same crap Ghanaians experienced under Jerry Rawlings.

That was why his party was kicked out of power just around the time he was supposed to hand over. That his party lost last year’s election is a serious indictment on Kufuor’s leadership and no self-respecting award committee will give him a prize for ‘excellent leadership’. Rewarding Kufuor with the Mo Ibrahim prize would have been an insult to Ghanaians who kicked his party out of power because they saw little good under his presidency.

Mo Ibrahim and his prize committee snubbed Kufuor for the same reasons Ghanaians voted his party out – unbridled corruption, shameless looting of the national coffers and a sickening disregard for the welfare of the people. Instead of building hospitals, Kufuor wanted a luxury presidential villa. Kufuor foolishly chose to spend dozens of millions of dollars to celebrate national independence only to turn around to beg another country for 17 million dollars to fight malaria. No great leader with his head properly screwed on will do this.

Great leaders – like Festus Mogae and Joachim Chisano – know how to prioritise. Kufuor lacked the sense of priority and that one of the major reasons he has been snubbed – he did very little in the interest of the people who elected him. Almost everything was about him, his comfort and luxury and the privileges of his cronies. Any leader of a poor developing country who cooks a retirement package for himself as hefty as what Kufuor did at the end of his term is a reckless looter who deserves to be shamed, not honoured.

In snubbing Kufuor, Mo Ibrahim and his committee are signalling to all Africans that the time has come for us to stop settling for the sort of leadership which only offers tokens. We need transformational leadership; leaders who take a bad situation and turn it completely around. We need leaders who think beyond the next election, those who will take the tough, unpleasant decisions that will take this continent out of the cycle of backwardness, poverty and disease. They are the ones who deserve to be honoured – not the likes of Kufuor and Obasanjo. Mo Ibrahim has set the bar of leadership very high and Africa will be all the better for it. We should give him a prize for that.

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