Africa's political leaders are being offered a US$5 million prize and a stipend for life if they do not plunder the national coffers or rig elections.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US president Bill Clinton are backing the initiative formally launched yesterday in London by a foundation started by a Sudanese-born telecom tycoon, Mo Ibrahim.
Mandela said the award, which is for former leaders who have shown "excellence in leadership," will contribute to "Africa's political and economic renaissance."
Blair said it supported efforts to "encourage exemplary leadership".
But sceptics say that the award will only emphasize the power wielded by individual leaders and fails to recognize the real causes of corruption and abuse of power.
Ibrahim said the prize is necessary to encourage African leaders to consider a fourth alternative to those they currently face when nearing the end of their term, namely "relative poverty, term extension, or corruption."
"Nothing is as important as good governance in ensuring development and reducing poverty," Ibrahim told reporters.
"Africa's leaders face many challenges and this award will help recognize those of them that have done well," he was quoted as saying.
The annual winner will be chosen by a board that presently includes former Irish president Mary Robinson. He or she will receive the US$5 million over 10 years and US$200,000 a year thereafter. They are also allotted US$200,000 a year to be given to good causes.
But Hassan Lorgat, head of the South African branch of the global anti-corruption group Transparency International, said the thinking behind the prize is flawed because it puts the emphasis and responsibility for good governance on one person.
"It targets individuals and at best you can pick a few dozen leaders for the prize and that reaffirms the principle of the `big man,'" he said.
"It doesn't read Africa's problems correctly. Those who keep governments accountable are ordinary people and that accountability needs to be strengthened. That's where he should have put his money. Or into the parliaments that could hold leaders accountable," Lorgat said.
Ibrahim, 59, who launched mobile phone company Celtel, will fund the prize through his charitable foundation.
Lorgat said many of the worst leaders remained in power with the backing of powerful foreign governments.