DAKAR, March 8 (Reuters) – Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou has won the 2020 Mo Ibrahim prize for African political leadership by fostering economic progress while joining in regional efforts to tackle the Islamist militant threat.
He is the sixth head of state in Africa to win the $5 million award, to be paid out over 10 years, and the first since Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2017. The prize, founded by Sudanese telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim, was not awarded between 2018 and 2020 due to a lack of suitable candidates.
Issoufou, who was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2016, has distinguished himself by stepping aside after two terms, unlike a handful of African leaders such as Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara and Guinea’s Alpha Conde, who changed constitutional term limits to run a third time.
“In the face of the most severe political and economic issues, including violent extremism and increasing desertification, President Mahamadou Issoufou has led his people on a path of progress,” said Festus Mogae, chair of the prize committee and a former president of Botswana.
“While challenges remain, Issoufou has kept his promises to the Nigerien people and paved the way for a better future.”
The number of Nigeriens living below the poverty line has fallen to 40% from 48% a decade ago, Mogae said, and Niger had made headway in areas such as improving opportunities for women.
Niger’s ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum was declared the winner of the election to succeed Issoufou last month, although the opposition candidate decried the results and deadly protests broke out.
Landlocked Niger faces multiple security crises, with militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State encroaching from its western borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, and the Boko Haram insurgency spilling over from Nigeria in the south.
The spread of Islamist militancy has prompted a coordinated response by West African countries which make up the G5 Sahel group, including Niger, and are supported by a 5,000-strong French counter-terrorism force.
The rising insecurity has compounded a host of economic challenges including drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and low prices for Niger’s top export uranium. (Reporting by Nellie Peyton Editing by Bate Felix and Mark Heinrich)
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