Mo Ibrahim Foundation Annual Governance Weekend: Marrakesh 2017

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Ayat Abdelaziz and Richard Kweitsu are the Mo Ibrahim Scholars at the University of Birmingham.  Both of them are MSc students in IDD, and were invited to participate in the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Marrakesh.

Over the past ten years, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has committed itself to deepening good governance, accountability and leadership in Africa. To achieve this, the Foundation runs four main initiatives: the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), the Ibrahim Forum, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership and the Ibrahim Leadership Fellowships.

Perhaps the flagship of the Foundation’s programs is the annual Mo Ibrahim Foundation Governance Weekend. The Governance Weekend is an annual high-level discussion forum, organised in an African country, convened around specific issues of critical importance to promoting governance in Africa. The 2017 Governance Weekend took place in April in Marrakesh, Morocco. The Foundation launched its 2017 Ibrahim Forum report titled “Africa at a tipping point” to guide discussions centred around the growing youthful population of Africa and the fact that the continent at the moment stands at a tipping point that ultimately decides its future. The Governance Weekend was focused on three main topics: violent extremism and migration, the risk of democratic recession and the need for inclusive economic growth and jobs for Africa’s youth.

The opening ceremony of the Weekend featured a conversation between Mo Ibrahim and Horst Koehler, former president of Germany, Amina J Mohamed, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN and Bono. In his welcome speech, Mo Ibrahim reiterated the foundation’s commitment to governance promotion on the African continent. He urged Africans to find their own models of governance that effectively deliver rule of law, democracy, human rights, as well as efficient goods and services. He also demonstrated that despite Africa’s negative stereotype in the global arena, the continent possesses extremely great leaders who are working in diverse ways to transform the lives of their people. Highlighting the achievements of previous winners of the Ibrahim prize including Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, Dr Ibrahim wondered why the success stories of these great leaders mostly go unnoticed while bad and corrupt deeds continue to gain much attention.

Photo credit. Mo Ibrahim Foundation 

One of the highlights of the ceremony was a speech delivered by Horst Koehler, who spoke about the importance and relevance of trust and integrity for leadership. According to him, trust is at the very heart of every economy we aim to build. He urged every leader to rise above mediocrity and commit himself to the prosperity of his people.

The first panel in the forum was on “violent extremism and migration” featuring Youssef Amrani, a Moroccan diplomat and politician of the Istiqlal Party, Jean-Marie Guehenno, President & CEO of the International Crisis Group, Martin Kobler, Special Representative, Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya and Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of the Kano, moderated by Jendayi Fraser, the President and CEO of 50 Ventures, LLC. Africa’s population currently stands at 1.2 billion with more than half below the age of 25, and this population is projected to double by 2050. With limited opportunities available for young people along with frustration, the tendency of joining terrorist organisations among youth is quite high. The panel called on governments all over the continent to focus on creating political, economic and social opportunities for young people in order to reduce the growing phenomenon of young people being recruited for violent activities.

Photo credit. Mo Ibrahim Foundation 

The focus of the second panel was on the risk of democratic recession. The panelists were Abdoulaye Bathily, a Senegalese politician and diplomat, Sello Hatang, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Information and Communication Manager, and spokesperson, Mark Malloc-Brown and Amina J Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Against the backdrop of the recent election crisis in the Gambia and the growing debate in DRC over whether Joseph Kabila was going to step down, the panel expressed a fear that a majority of the countries on the continent are at risk of democratic recession. The argument in the session was mainly centred on whether Africa was even democratic in the first place to think of recession and bouncing back or not. In discussions about democracy in Africa, one must be cautious not to perceive Africa as a single country. While countries like Ghana, Botswana and Mauritius and others may be doing well democratically, there are others who are struggling to develop democratic institutions in the first place. Discussions on the risk of democratic recession in Africa must take note of the diverse nature of the continent and the difference in the democratic trajectories of various countries.

Photo credit. Mo Ibrahim Foundation

The  third panel of the forum which was moderated by Abdelmalek Alaoui, Founder and CEO of Guepard Group with Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Moulay Hafid EL Alamy; President and Founder of Saham Group, Minister of Trade, Investment and Digital Economy of Morocco; Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive of the Dangote Group; and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI); Senior Advisor at Lazard as panel members focused on “the need for inclusive economic growth and jobs for Africa’s youth”. The panel bemoaned the growing disconnection between education in the continent and demand on the job market, as many graduates in Africa lack the required skills for employment. It also called on governments to invest more in agriculture as a way of absorbing the growing youthful population in the continent. It was observed that in order to create economic development, there must be a conscious effort to develop and empower women entrepreneurs. More importantly, the panel was unequivocal urging the African Union and African governments to remove visa restrictions on African nationals to facilitate regional trade and freedom of movement.

undefinedPhoto credit. Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Despite the tremendous efforts of the organisers to give the opportunity to young people to directly engage in the ongoing debate by posing questions to the panels, their representation in such event, as any other high-level event, remains very low. Perhaps, moving forward, youth forum or panel exclusively made up of young people might be constituted in order to have a proper representation of youth.

Over the past ten years, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has been relentless in its drive at promoting good governance and democracy on the African continent. As Mo Ibrahim observed, governance is a long-term business, it can never happen overnight. While leaders need to show more commitment in promoting development and democracy, citizens need to rise to the challenge of holding their governments accountable.


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