Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down as president of coup-prone Niger after two terms in office, has won Africa’s top prize for leadership.
Issoufou was awarded the 2020 Ibrahim Prize on Monday for facing “seemingly insurmountable challenges”, ranging from deep poverty to armed rebellion and desertification.
Despite these enduring problems, “Issoufou has led his people on a path of progress”, said a statement by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s award committee chairman Festus Mogae, who is also a former president of Botswana.
“Today, the number of Nigeriens living below the poverty line has fallen to 40 percent, from 48 percent a decade ago,” the statement said.
“While challenges remain, Issoufou has kept his promises to the Nigerien people and paved the way for a better future.”
The first democratic transition
Issoufou, 68, is stepping down next month after 10 years in office.
His decision to quit after two terms has enabled Niger to have the first democratic transition between elected leaders since it became independent from France more than 60 years ago.
The handover has been contrasted with that of other countries in West Africa, where presidents have overseen constitutional changes enabling them to extend their time in office – often at the cost of violent protests.
Issoufou’s preferred successor and right-hand man, Mohamed Bazoum, won last month’s runoff, although the results were contested by the opposition and subsequent violence in the capital Niamey killed two people.
The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership is based on principles of sound government, respect for term limits and democratic elections.
It has been awarded since 2007 by the foundation set up by British-Sudanese telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim.
Issoufou is the sixth recipient of the award. The prize has not been awarded in some years because of a lack of a suitable winner.
Past winners include former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and South African apartheid fighter and former President Nelson Mandela, both of whom were also Nobel Peace laureates.
Winners receive $5m over 10 years.
Niger is the world’s poorest nation, according to the UN’s benchmark of human development, and is struggling with soaring population growth.
It is also fighting two armed rebellions that have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.