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Monday, October 22, 2007

Mozambique's Chissano wins Africa leadership prize

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Mozambique's former President Joaquim Chissano, who stood aside after leading his country to peace and democracy after years of civil war, won the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for African leadership on Monday.

The $5-million prize -- the world's largest individual award -- was presented by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a ceremony in London's city hall.

Chissano, a former revolutionary who fought Portuguese colonial rule, served as president of the southern African country from 1986 until 2005, winning praise for his pragmatic policies in a nation once one of the poorest in the world.

He won acclaim for stepping aside after 18 years in power, when he could have stood for a further five-year term, saying he wanted to create political space for democracy to thrive.

"President Chissano's achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to his country greatly impressed the committee," Annan said in awarding the prize.

"So, too, did his decision to step down without seeking the third term the constitution allowed."

Chissano, celebrating his 58th birthday on Monday, was not in London to receive the award.

He was in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on a mission as U.N. special envoy to peace talks between the Ugandan government and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

Chissano has also been working with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which issued war crimes indictments against five top LRA commanders in 2005.


Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born telecommunications entrepreneur, established the prize as a way of encouraging good governance in a continent blighted by corruption and a frequently loose adherence to democratic principles.

Annan said he expected the award to make African leaders more aware of their records on human rights and democracy.

"The prize celebrates more than just good governance," said Annan, who stepped down as U.N. head at the end of 2006.

"It celebrates leadership. The ability to formulate a vision and to convince others of that vision; and the skill of giving courage to society to accept difficult changes in order to make possible a longer term aspiration for a better, fairer future."

Winners will receive $5 million over 10 years and then $200,000 a year for life, with another $200,000 annually for "good causes" they espouse.

In contrast, the Nobel Peace Prize, which Annan won jointly with the United Nations in 2001, pays $1.5 million.

Chissano, a former leader in the Frelimo guerrilla movement which fought Portuguese rule in Mozambique for decades until independence in 1975, was only the second person to serve as president of Mozambique.

He succeeded liberation hero Samora Machel, who was killed in a plane crash in 1986.

A quiet man, Chissano showed his negotiating skills when he concluded a peace deal in 1992 to end a 16-year war with Renamo rebels, laying the foundation for his country's first multi-party elections in 1994.

While highly regarded for the role he played in reviving Mozambique's economy, he has areceived criticism for his close friendship with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

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