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Posted Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Botswana's ex-president wins leadership prize
By Celia W. Dugger              
JOHANNESBURG — A foundation dedicated to celebrating and encouraging good government in Africa awarded its annual prize on Monday to Botswana’s former president, Festus G. Mogae. He was honored for consolidating his nation’s democracy, ensuring that its diamond wealth enriched its people and providing bold leadership during the AIDS pandemic.
festus g. mogae
Festus G. Mogae, trained as an economist, was Botswana's president for two terms.
Mr. Mogae, 69, a man with a modest style, will receive $5 million over the next 10 years and $200,000 per year thereafter for the rest of his life. Over the coming decade, the foundation may also grant another $200,000 a year to causes of Mr. Mogae’s choice.

The award, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, is bestowed by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, named after its founder, a Sudanese billionaire. Mr. Mogae was selected by a six-member panel led by Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations. The panel also included this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Martti Ahtisaari.

Mr. Ibrahim said in a telephone interview that he hoped that the prize would stir debate about the importance of leadership in Africa and turn the spotlight on men and women who contribute the most but receive far less attention than leaders like Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who is still hanging on to power after 28 years in office.

“Botswana has a wonderful story,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Every man, woman and child knows about Mugabe, but people say, ‘Mogae, who is that?’ It’s great we honor people who honestly and cleanly served, and served well, and left when their time was up.”

Mr. Mogae studied economics in Britain, first at the University of Sussex and then at Oxford. He was twice elected president of Botswana, one of Africa’s most reliable democracies, stepping down in April. He took over what the prize committee described as a country that was “already one of the continent’s success stories.”

“President Mogae’s outstanding leadership has ensured Botswana’s continued stability and prosperity in the face of an H.I.V. and AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and his people,” the committee said.

For years, Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, the region’s most powerful country, was in a kind of denial about AIDS and its causes and resisted large-scale drug treatment of his people. During that time, Botswana under Mr. Mogae’s leadership started an ambitious effort to provide universal treatment.

He had himself tested publicly for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. When he realized that the stigma of H.I.V. and AIDS was so great that people were avoiding testing, he changed the national policy to make testing a routine part of medical care.

“That was a gutsy policy move,” said Richard G. Marlink, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who worked with Botswana to help build its AIDS treatment program.

Since he stepped down in April after the two terms allowed under Botswana’s Constitution, Mr. Mogae has continued his work to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and AIDS through Champions for an H.I.V.-Free Generation, a group of former African presidents and others sharing the same goal.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Tuesday, October 21, 2008.
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