ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

For the fourth time in five years the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has failed to find a suitable candidate for the world’s most valuable individual award ($5 million over 10 years, then $200,000 per year for life): the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but is enduring a serious leadership deficit, as exemplified by the deeply flawed re-election in Zimbabwe of the continent’s longest-standing authoritarian leader, Robert Mugabe.

In the past eight years of the foundation’s existence, only four African leaders have received the prestigious award. The recipients to date are former president of Cape Verde, Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires in 2011; former president of Botswana, Festus Gontebanye Mogae in 2008; former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Alberto Chissano in 2007; and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who received an honorary award in 2006.

The coveted leadership award seeks to hold African leaders to account and incentivize good governance on the continent in conjunction with the foundation’s annual flagship publication, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), which rates countries on the basis of four categories: (1) Safety and Rule of Law, (2) Participation and Human Rights, (3) Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and (4) Human Development.

Despite the failure to find a worthy candidate that met the award’s strict selection criteria, of the 52 countries considered in the IIAG, “overall governance continues to improve at the continental level.” Diverging from overall improvement, the sub-category of Safety and Rule of Law has been declining, and while the good performers are improving, the bad performers are only getting worse, widening the governance gap on the continent.

According to the IIAG, Liberia, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, and Sierra Leone have made the most significant progress since 2000, and each is a post-conflict country. Historically good performers in the IIAG, such as Botswana and Mauritius, continue to improve overall.

The IIAG’s findings also reinforce the conclusions of the annual Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom. The top-ranked African countries in the IIAG tend to score better on overall economic freedom; Mauritius is ranked eighth, and Botswana is ranked 30th in the world.

Over the next five years, 48 countries in Africa will hold elections. These opportunities for new leadership should not be scoured at the hands of the aging political elites who continue to rule many African countries at the peril of their people.