Cicero and Cato vs. Caesar; Caesar vs. Pompey; Caesar Wins All, Then is Murdered

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris is amply reviewed, under this link,  in the New York Times.  My contribution in this article is to bring the book and the times to your attention and to offer a simple timeline of major players at the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. (Click on the following link to get a PDF file of the chart in the image below: Roman Republic Ends; you may use this image if you give me credit at

Roman Republic timeline

The Roman Senate

At the center of the book is the Roman Senate.  Outside Rome are the provinces, and the battles led by Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, among others, to add even more territory to the nascent Empire.

The Roman Senate was different from what we see in the US Senate:

The senate passed decrees called senatus consultum, which in form constituted “advice” from the senate to a magistrate. While these advices did not hold legal force, they usually were obeyed in practice.

The senate directed the magistrates, especially the Roman Consuls (the chief-magistrates) in their prosecution of military conflicts. Only the senate could authorize the disbursal of public funds from the treasury. As the empire (NB: not yet Empire) grew, the senate also supervised the administration of the provinces, which were governed by former consuls and praetors, in that it decided which magistrate should govern which province.

The senate also played a pivotal role in cases of emergency. It could call for the appointment of a dictator (a right resting with each consul with or without the senate’s involvement). However, after 202 the office of Dictator fell out use (and was revived only two more times) and was replaced with the senatus consultum ultimum (“ultimate decree of the senate”), a senatorial decree which authorized the consuls to employ any means necessary to solve the crisis.

The senate operated while under various religious restrictions. For example, before any meeting could begin, a sacrifice to the gods was made, and a search for divine omens (the auspices) was taken.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina, from a 19th century fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome.

Meetings usually began at dawn, and a magistrate who wished to summon the senate had to issue a compulsory order. The senate meetings were public, and were directed by a presiding magistrate, usually a Consul. While in session, the senate had the power to act on its own, and even against the will of the presiding magistrate if it wished. The presiding magistrate began each meeting with a speech, and then referred an issue to the senators, who would discuss the issue by order of seniority. Senators had several other ways in which they could influence (or frustrate) a presiding magistrate. For example, all senators had to speak before a vote could be held, and since all meetings had to end by nightfall, a senator could talk a proposal to death (a filibuster or diem consumere) if he could keep the debate going until nightfall. When it was time to call a vote, the presiding magistrate could bring up whatever proposals he wished, and every vote was between a proposal and its negative. At any point before a motion passed, the proposed motion could be vetoed, usually by a tribune. If there was no veto, and the matter was of minor importance, it could be voted on by a voice vote or by a show of hands. If there was no veto, and the matter was of a significant nature, there was usually a physical division of the house, with senators voting by taking a place on either side of the chamber.

The ethical requirements of senators were significant. Senators could not engage in banking or any form of public contract. They could not own a ship that was large enough to participate in foreign commerce, and they could not leave Italy without permission from the senate. Senators were not paid a salary. Election to magisterial office resulted in automatic senate membership. (Source)



All the the constitutional and latent powers of the Senate were used by the various players and factions to further their interests and, for some, their quest for ultimate power. Caesar was a master in this realm. The book shows that certain alliances, and the power they created, were obtained through marriage between influential families, where women were the pawns in these maneuvers.

After reading this book, I accessed the Internet to  get a larger picture of the events during the 40 years of Roman history it covers. What follows is a recapitulation of some of my reading. I choose to juxtapose Cicero and Cato, the scholars and intellectuals (as well as politicians) dedicated to order and process, against Caesar, the soldier-politician dedicated to accruing power to build the empire he intended to lead.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106—43 BCE)

Cicero was an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Significantly, he was not a soldier; he detested warfare and violence. Although known as a philosopher, he placed politics above philosophical study. The only periods of his life in which he wrote philosophical works were the times he was forcibly prevented from taking part in politics. He was murdered on December 7, 43 BC.

Cicero’s political career was a remarkable one. At the time, high political offices in Rome, though technically achieved by winning elections, were almost exclusively controlled by a group of wealthy aristocratic families that had held them for many generations. Cicero’s family, though aristocratic, was not one of them, nor did it have great wealth. But Cicero had a great deal of political ambition; at a very young age he chose as his motto the same one Achilles was said to have had: to always be the best and overtop the rest. Lacking the advantages of a proper ancestry, there were essentially only two career options open to him. One was a military career, the other a career in the law.

To prepare for the latter career he studied jurisprudence, rhetoric, and philosophy. Cicero proved to be an excellent orator and lawyer, and a shrewd politician. He was elected to each of the principle Roman offices (quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul) on his first try and at the earliest age at which he was legally allowed to run for them. Having held office made him a member of the Roman Senate.

During his term as consul (the highest Roman office) in 63 BC he was responsible for unraveling and exposing the conspiracy of Catiline, which aimed at taking over the Roman state by force, and five of the conspirators were put to death without trial on Cicero’s orders. Cicero was proud of this, claiming that he had single-handedly saved the commonwealth. Cicero enjoyed widespread popularity at this time – though his policy regarding the Catilinarian conspirators had also made him enemies, and the executions without trial gave them an opening.

Cicero discovering the tomb of Archimedes by the Austrian baroque painter Martin Knoller (1725-1804)

In 60 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus (the First Triumvirate) combined their resources and took control of Roman politics. Recognizing his popularity and talents, they made several attempts to get Cicero to join them, but Cicero hesitated and eventually refused, preferring to remain loyal to the Senate and the idea of the Republic. This left him open to attacks by his enemies, and in January of 58 BC the tribune Clodius (a follower of Caesar’s), proposed a law to be applied retroactively stating that anyone who killed a Roman citizen without trial would be stripped of their citizenship and forced into exile. The law passed. Cicero was forbidden to live within 500 miles of Italy, and all his property was confiscated. This exile provided the time for his first period of sustained philosophical study. After the political conditions changed, his property was restored to him, and he was allowed to return to Rome, which he did to great popular approval, claiming that the Republic was restored with him.

Cicero owed a debt to the triumvirate for ending his exile (and for not killing him), and for the next eight years he repaid that debt as a lawyer. Because he still could not engage in politics, he continued his studies of philosophy.

The triumvirate collapsed with the death of Crassus. In 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, entering Italy with his army and igniting a civil war between himself and Pompey. Cicero was on Pompey’s side, though halfheartedly. He felt that at this point the question was not whether Rome would be a republic or an empire but whether Pompey or Caesar would be Emperor, and he believed it would be a disaster in either case. Caesar and his forces won in 48 BC, and Caesar became the first de facto Roman emperor. He gave Cicero a pardon and allowed him to return to Rome in July of 47 BC, but Cicero was forced to stay out of politics. Most of the rest of his life was devoted to studying and writing about philosophy.

After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Cicero again returned to politics. Hoping to see a restoration of the Republic, he supported Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian (later called Augustus) in the initial stages of Octavian’s power struggle with Marc Antony. But in this case, Cicero had chosen sides too soon: Octavian and Antony were temporarily reconciled, and Cicero was proscribed as an enemy of the state and murdered on December 7, 43 BC. (Major Source).

Marcius Porcius Cato Utensis


Cato (right) and his daughter, Porcia, who married Brutus, one of Caesar’s assassins (et tu brute?). Image source.

Cato the Younger was a Roman political figure whose opposition to Pompey and Caesar helped hasten the collapse of the Roman Republic.

Orphaned when a child and raised in the house of his uncle M. Livius Drusus, the reformer, Cato early cultivated habits of austerity and made a great show of political and moral probity. After serving as military tribune in Macedonia (67-66 B.C.), he toured Asia to prepare himself for public life. As quaestor, or minister of finance, Cato was notable for his punishment of corrupt treasury clerks and the strict rectitude of his accounts. But he was not free of favoritism. As tribune elect in 63, he prosecuted for electoral bribery one of the men who defeated Catiline for the consulship, exempting the other because he was a relative.

Cato’s fiery speech on December 5 led the Senate to vote for the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators who had been caught in Rome after an unsuccessful attempt at seizing control of the state. As tribune in 62, Cato blocked attempts by Metellus Nepos and Julius Caesar to recall Pompey to deal with Catiline and his army in Etruria.

When Pompey returned from the East, Cato led the senatorial opposition against him. He also outraged Crassus and the equestrians by refusing to allow reconsideration of the tax contract for Asia. The result was the formation of the First Triumvirate by Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar to attain their political ends. During Caesar’s consulship in 59 Cato bitterly opposed the triumvirate’s bills for the redistribution of land and the grant of an extraordinary command to Caesar. So violent were Cato’s tactics that Caesar at one point had him imprisoned only to think better of it later. In the following year the triumvirs rid themselves of Cato by offering him a special command in Cyprus. Though Cato was aware he was being removed from the center of power, his exaggerated sense of duty made it impossible for him to refuse.

When he returned to Rome in 56 B.C., he attempted to block the election of Pompey and Crassus to their second consulship. They therefore prevented Cato’s election to the praetorship, for which he had to wait until 54. To check the rioting and anarchy which developed in 53 and 52, Cato supported the proposal of the senatorial leaders to make Pompey sole consul. Thereafter he continued to back Pompey but only as a counterforce to the growing power of Caesar. Because Cato refused to cultivate the great politicians, he failed to win the consulship for 51.

In the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, Cato chose Pompey and was given command in Sicily, which he evacuated after the arrival of the Caesarian forces in order to avoid bloodshed. He garrisoned Dyrrachium for Pompey during the Battle of Pharsalus and after Pompey’s defeat joined the Pompeian refugees in Africa. There he refused military command because he had not held the consulship but took charge of the city of Utica (whence he derived his surname) and organized its defenses. When Caesar crushed the Pompeians in the Battle of Thapsus in 46 and approached the city, Cato committed suicide.

After his death Cato became a symbol of republicanism in the continuing struggle against Caesar, Antony, and Octavian. But during his lifetime his conservatism and obstructionism served only to strengthen the forces he opposed. (Source)

Gaius Julius Caesar, 102 B.C.-44 B.C.

Julius Caesar paved the way both for the end of the republic and the creation of the empire under his nephew Octavian, or Augustus Caesar. As a general he led military operations in Britain and elsewhere, and as dictator of Rome, he put through valuable reforms. But his actions, including his celebrated affair with Cleopatra, earned the distrust even of his closest friends, who conspired in his assassination.

Caesar (image source) was born on July 13, 102 B.C., to an aristocratic but not wealthy family. During his childhood, Rome was caught in a struggle between the aristocratic party, led by Sulla (137-78 B.C.), and the popular party, which—though its members were aristocrats as well—favored a greater distribution of power. With his aunt Julia’s marriage to the popular party leader, Marius (c. 157-86 B.C.), Caesar became linked with that faction, and he further increased his standing by marrying Cornelia (d. 67 B.C.), daughter of Marius’s ally Cinna (d. 84 B.C.) They later had a daughter, Julia.

Sulla established a dangerous example, one Caesar himself would later imitate, when in 88 B.C. he marched his troops into Rome. This ultimately meant the end of Marius’s power, and Sulla demanded that Caesar divorce Cornelia. Caesar refused, and had to go into hiding. His mother’s family convinced Sulla to relent, and Caesar returned to Rome and entered the army.

While serving in Asia Minor in 80 B.C., Caesar earned a high military decoration for bravery in the battle to take Mitylene on the isle of Lesbos, and went on to take part in a war against pirates from Cilicia. Following the death of Sulla, Caesar went back to Rome in 77 B.C., but soon after earning a name for himself as prosecutor in an important legal case, he traveled to Rhodes for further training in rhetoric. On the way, he was captured by Cilician pirates and held for ransom. After his release, he led a force to victory against the pirates, then—without being commanded to do so—led a successful attack against Mithradates of Pontus (r. 120-63 B.C.). Soon after this, he gained his first elected office as military tribune.

Cornelia died in 67 B.C., and within a year, Caesar remarried. Again the marriage had a political angle: Pompeia was the granddaughter of Sulla, and Caesar wanted to establish closer ties with Crassus (c. 115-53 B.C.), a leading figure in the aristocratic party.

To get ahead in Rome, a politician had to spend money on bribes and lavish entertainments for fellow politicians and the Roman citizens. As aedile, a type of magistrate responsible for all manner of public affairs, Caesar heavily outspent his colleague Bibulus (d. 48 B.C.), sponsoring the most magnificent set of gladiatorial games Rome had ever seen. Later, he obtained a position as governor in Spain, where he made back all the money he had spent—probably by means that were less than honorable.

Meanwhile Pompeia became involved in scandal when a character named Pulcher got into an all-female party at her house disguised as a woman. Caesar promptly divorced her. He was soon elected consul with Bibulus, but by then it was clear that only three men in Rome really mattered: Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey (106-48 B.C.)

The latter had just returned from his defeat of Mithradates, and together the three formed the First Triumvirate in 60 B.C. Pompey even married Caesar’s daughter Julia to solidify their bond, but despite their mutual claims of loyalty, the alliance was an uneasy one.

Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

The conflict would be delayed for many years, however, while Caesar went to Gaul. Anxious to gain military glory, he went looking for awar, and he soon had one when the Helvetii, from what is now Switzerland, tried to cross Gaul without permission. He drove them back, then dealt with the Suebi from Germany. Next, as a means of preventing the Celts of Britain from aiding their cousins on the mainland, he led the first Roman invasions of that island in 55 and 54 B.C. In the course of these campaigns, Caesar killed perhaps a million people, but eventually placed all of Gaul firmly under Roman control.

Julia died in 54 B.C., breaking the bond between Caesar and Pompey, and in the following year, Crassus was killed in Asia. Soon Pompey ordered Caesar back to Rome, and Caesar, knowing he would be killed if he went back alone, brought his army with him. By crossing the River Rubicon, a shallow stream which formed the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy, he passed a point of no return, making conflict with Pompey inescapable.

Pompey moved his forces to Greece in order to regroup, while Caesar defeated Pompey’s legions in Spain. The two met in battle at Pharsalus in Greece in 48 B.C., and though Caesar’s armies won, Pompey managed to escape. He fled to Egypt, where he was killed, and Caesar, hot in pursuit, soon had his attention diverted by Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.). They began a romance, and Caesar aided her in war against her brother, Ptolemy XII (r. 51-47 B.C.).

At the same time, Mithradates’s teenaged son Pharnaces (r. 63-47 B.C.), taking advantage of Caesar’s distraction in Egypt, had attempted to regain his father’s kingdom in Pontus. Caesar went to Asia Minor, and destroyed Pharnaces’s army in just five days. Afterward, he made his famous report of his victory: “I came, I saw, I conquered”; or in Latin, “Veni, vidi, vici.

In 47 B.C. Caesar returned to Rome, where he assumed the powers of a dictator, and quickly pushed through a series of reforms. Most notable among these was his effort to reduce unemployment by requiring that every landowner hire one free man for every two slaves working in his fields. He increased the membership in the senate from 300 to 900, and included Celtic chieftains from Gaul in Rome’s legislative body.

Marc Antony Offers Caesar the Crown

Marc Antony offers a king’s crown to Caesar, who refuses it

Caesar managed to combine the authority of numerous political offices, giving himself more power than any Roman leader had ever enjoyed; yet he seemed to want more. He placed his portrait on coins, an honor previously reserved only for the gods, and declared that the month of his birth would no longer be called Quintilis but “Julius” or July. Instead of standing before the senate when he spoke to them, as rulers had always done before, he sat—more like a monarch than a citizen. His junior colleague Mark Antony (82?-30 B.C.) even tried to convince him to wear a crown.

Had Caesar accepted the crown, it would have been such an offense to the Romans’ views on government that he would have been an instant target for assassination. As it was, assassination was not long in coming. Just before leaving for a campaign in Persia, Caesar planned to address the senate on the Ides of March, or March 15, 44 B.C. Unbeknownst to him, however, a group of some 60 influential Romans—led by his supposed friends Brutus (85-42 B.C.) and Cassius (d. 42 B.C.)—had joined forces to assassinate him. As he entered the senate chamber, the assassins jumped at him with daggers, stabbing him 23 times. It would fall to Caesar’s nephew Octavian (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) to avenge the murder, which he did on his way to assuming power and establishing what would become the Roman Empire. (Source)

Nicolò Machiavelli: His Times, His Observations & His Advice to Princes

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is often cited, but rarely quoted. Many people who mention him believe they know what he is all about in his advice to princes, in general, and the ruler of the Florentine Republic, in particular—Lorenzo “The Magnificent.”

(left to Right) Piero de’ Medici, Lorenzo's Father (1416-1469); Lorenzo de’ Medici, "The Magnificent" (1449-1492); Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), A

From Left: Piero de’ Medici, Father to Lorenzo de’ Medici; Nicolo Machiavelli

Machiavellian” is defined by Webster’s Collegiate dictionary, 10th Edition, as “suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli: specifically: marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith.” describes the adjective, in part, as: “…political expediency…placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority and carry out the policies of a ruler…characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty.”

Secular and Papal States of Italy at Year 1500 C.E. -- (click on the image)

Secular and Papal States of Italy at Year 1500 C.E. — (click on the image)

Before we take these definitions as final and complete, perhaps we ought to look at Machiavelli’s words and judge for ourselves, keeping in mind he and Lorenzo lived 500 years ago in a city state surrounded by other often hostile city states, including The Church’s Papal States, and emerging nation states such as Spain and France, and “barbarians.”

I have excerpted a good many of Machiavelli’s conclusions and advice to his prince, all based on the world as it had been and was in the 16th Century. I think one can see, with careful reading, many lessons relevant today, for human nature has not changed, merely the forms of government containing humans. One may certainly disagree or at least debate whether Machiavelli’s philosophy of man is accurate or correct, but surely this remains a matter of opinion. (See the end of this article for a question to you, the reader, in this regard).

Chapter III: Concerning Mixed Principalities:

  • (M)en like to change their masters, hoping to improve their lot.
  • (H)owever strong your army may be you will always need the good will of the inhabitants to enter into a province (as in a conquest or occupation).
  • It is a normal and natural thing to want to acquire possessions, and when men who can, do acquire they will receive praise and not blame, but when they cannot and yet strive to acquire at any cost, herein lies the blameworthy mistake.
  • (W)hoever is the cause of another’s coming to power, falls himself, for that power is built up either by art or force, both of which are suspect to the one who has become powerful.

Chapter V, Concerning The Way To Govern Cities Or Principalities Which Lived Under Their Own Laws Before They Were Annexed: In republics there is greater life, greater hatred, more desire of vengeance, and the memory of their ancient liberty gives them no rest; so the safest way is wither to extinguish them or go live with them.

Chapter VI: Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired By One’s Own Arms And Ability. This chapter is considered by some to show the heart of his world view and advice to Lorenzo. Here are two paragraphs from this chapter:

Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), a powerful priest who opposed Lorenzo’s liberal rule

“Those who by valorous ways become princes…acquire a principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease. The difficulties they have in acquiring it arise in part from the new rules and methods which they are forced to introduce to establish their government and its security. And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

“It is necessary, therefore…to inquire whether these innovators can rely on themselves or have to depend on others: that is to say, whether, to consummate their enterprise, have they to use prayers or can they use force? In the first instance they always succeed badly, and never compass anything; but when they can rely on themselves and use force, then they are rarely endangered. Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. Besides the reasons mentioned, the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.”

Chapter VIII, Concerning Those Who Have Obtained A Principality By Wickedness: A prince occupying a new state should see to it that he commit all his acts of cruelty at once so as not to be obliged to return to them every day, and thus, by abstaining from repeating them, he will be able to make men feel secure and can win them over by benefits.

Chapter IX, Concerning A Civil Principality: A wise prince must adopt a policy which will insure that his citizens always and in all circumstances will have need of his government; then they will always be faithful to him.

Chapter XII: How Many Kinds Of Soldiery There Are, And Concerning Mercenaries

  • A prince must have strong foundations, otherwise his downfall is inevitable. The main foundations of all states, new, old, or mixed, are good laws and good arms.
  • No state is safe unless it has its own arms, rather than it is completely dependent on fortune, having no effectiveness to defend itself in adversity.
  • There is nothing so inferior or unstable as the reputation of power not founded on its own strength.

Piero de\’ Medici (1472–1503), called Piero the Unfortunate, was the Gran maestro of Florence from 1492 until his exile in 1494. He was the oldest son of Lorenzo de\’ Medici, and older brother of Pope Leo X.

Chapter XIV: That Which Concerns A Prince On The Subject Of The Art Of War

  • The principle study and care and the especial profession of a prince should be warfare and its attendant rules and discipline
  • He must never let his mind be turned from the study of warfare and in times of peace he must concern himself with it more than in times of war.
  • A wise prince … must never be idle in times of peace but rather by his industry make capital of them … so that when fortune turns against him he will be prepared to resist her blows.

Chapter XV: Concerning Things For Which Men, And Especially Princes, Are Praised Or Blamed

  • A man striving in every way to be good will meet his ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence it is necessary for a prince, if he wishes to remain in power, to learn how not to be good and to use his knowledge or refrain from using it as he may need.
  • Some habits which appear virtuous, if adopted would signify ruin, and others that seem vices lead to security and the well-being of the prince.

Chapter XVII, Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared: Since love depends on (the prince’s) subjects, but the prince has it within his own hands to create fear, a wise prince will rely on what is his own, remembering at the same time that he must avoid arousing hatred (emphasis added).

Chapter XVIII: Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith

  • There are two ways of fighting, one with laws and one with arms. The first is the way of men, the second is the style of beasts … Therefore a prince must know how to play the beast as well as the man.
  • A prince must know how to use either of these two natures and that one without the other has no enduring strength.
  • One must be a fox in avoiding traps and a lion in frightening wolves.
  • Hence a wise leader cannot and should not keep his word when keeping it is not to his advantage or when the reasons that made him give it are no longer valid. If men were good, this would not be a good precept, but since they are wicked and will not keep the faith with you, you are not bound to keep faith with them (emphasis added).

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was an important Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. His most notable work, shown here, is “The Birth of Venus.” The Medici family gave him political protection under which he produced other masterpieces [click on the image]

There you have the essence of Machiavelli’s world view, his view of man, and his advice to rulers. I ask you to consider whether your view of man is that he is:

  • Good
  • Bad
  • Both
  • Neither
  • Something else

Whatever your view, it will influence the advice you would give to a ruler, if you were called upon to do so.

The Dismal Record of African Leadership…


…and the Past Role of European Countries

Who am I to say this, and how dare I say it?

I am merely responding to the announcement made by the prize committee of The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership that no prize will be awarded this year. Here is the press release. The main web page of the parent organization describes the nature and origin of the prize:

The Ibrahim Prize recognises and celebrates excellence in African leadership. The prize is awarded to a democratically elected former African Executive Head of State or Government who has served their term in office within the limits set by the country’s constitution and has left office in the last three years.

The Ibrahim Prize consists of US$5million over 10 years and US$200,000 annually for life thereafter. It is the largest annually awarded prize in the world. The Foundation will consider granting a further $200,000 per year, for 10 years, towards public interest activities and good causes espoused by the winner.

In October 2006, Dr. Ibrahim launched the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to support good governance and great leadership in Africa. In 2007, Dr. Ibrahim stepped down as Chairman of Celtel International to concentrate on this initiative.

Founded in 1998, Celtel International has brought the benefits of mobile communications to millions of people across the African continent. The company operates in 15 African countries, covering more than a third of the continent’s population, and has invested more than US$750 million in Africa. In 2005, Celtel International was sold to MTC Kuwait for $3.4 billion.

Before I tell you of the past winners of this prize, I want to draw a picture for you of the grievous state of governance and leadership throughout the continent of Africa by calling attention to a few historical and present facts and factors.

Facts on Africa

There are 53 internationally recognized countries in the continent of Africa, including the six island states of: Cape Verde, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Seychelles.

Of these 53 states, 52 are former colonies of, or protectorates of, or were occupied by, one or more of several states in Europe: Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The only country not so colonized or dominated, Liberia, was settled by freed slaves from the USA, its territory having been expropriated in 1822 from the many local tribes who had not formed a nation state.

[Image Source. Please click on the image for greater clarity]

To get a notion of the relative poverty of living even at the world average GDP per person per year of US $10,400, here are the figures (in US Dollars) of the top 20 countries and the European Union, which has 27 countries in its membership:

[Please click on the image for greater clarity]

  • Fifty-two of the world’s 192 countries have a GDP/person below $2,300 per year. Thirty-six of these countries are in Africa. Think of it: on average, the 689 million people in these 36 African countries subsist at a level approximately 7%, and less, of that enjoyed by the average person in a European Union country. The savagely-led country of Zimbabwe is at $200 per person per year. Zimbabwe’s dictator, President Robert Gabriel Karigamombe Mugabe, has been in power for almost 30 years, ever since the predecessor country, Rhodesia, was overthrown.

As mentioned above, every one of Africa’s countries, except Liberia, has been, at one time or another and in varying degrees, a vassal state of one or more European countries. It is well known that, with some exceptions, these states, while under foreign domination, were stripped of natural resources and essentially plundered. The stripping of natural resources continues in most of these countries today, with relatively few examples where a diversified economy under true democratic rule obtains.

Of the six countries currently at a GDP level above the world average, most are still extracting minerals from the soil as the major part of their economy: oil, diamonds, manganese, timber.

It is well known that the world’s major economies have poured money and aid into Africa, to no lasting effect, again with a few exceptions. This, in my view, shows the futility of sending money and goods into countries to help people who are ruled by despots and thieves.

Dr. Mo Ibrahim has the better idea, in my view. As can be seen above and under the links provided, his foundation will reward with significant money and recognition those African leaders who turn away from pillage and one-man rule, toward democracy that is not merely in name only; and, toward raising the standard of living for the people through good husbandry of resources and in diversifying the economy.

The prize has been awarded since 2007. Here are the awardees (text and photos taken directly from the foundation’s website):

Joaquim Alberto Chissano, 2007—Mozambique

In 1992, President Chissano helped to end Mozambique’s 16-year civil war and reconcile a divided nation, working tirelessly to negotiate piece with the RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) rebel group. To cement the reconciliation President Chissano offered 15,000 places in Mozambique’s 30,000-strong army to former opposition RENAMO soldiers.

President Chissano implemented a deliberate shift from Marxist-Leninist ideology to multiparty democracy and a mixed economy. He successfully negotiated a reduction in Mozambique’s debt repayments and oversaw reforms that have led to sustained economic growth. During his time in office, Mozambique began the journey of reconstruction and development, with improvements in healthcare, increased access to education and greater empowerment of women.

Between 2003 and 2004, President Chissano served as Chair of the African Union. During his presidency he was a powerful advocate for Africa on the international stage, particularly in promoting the debt relief agenda.

Festus Gontebanye Mogae, 2008—Botswana

At his inauguration ceremony in 1998, President Mogae vowed to address poverty and unemployment. His time in office was characterised by programmes to develop education and health infrastructure, and to privatise parts of the economy, notably the airlines and telecommunications industry.

Under President Mogae’s stewardship of the economy and careful management of the country’s mineral resources, Botswana experienced the steady economic growth that has characterised its post-independence history. Having been one of the poorest African countries at the time of independence, President Mogae consolidated Botswana’s place as one of the most prosperous countries on the continent.

After decades of enforcing strict anti-corruption measures, Botswana is regularly ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. Describing the principles that guided his time in office in his final State of the Nation address, President Mogae said that “prudent, transparent and honest use of national resources for your benefit has been my guiding principle and code of conduct”.

Following the Botswana Democratic Party’s victory in the October 2004 General Election, President Mogae was sworn in for a second term in November 2004. He again promised to fight poverty and unemployment, and pledged to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana by 2016.

In April 2008, in accordance with Botswana’s constitution, President Mogae stepped down as President, having served two terms in government. He was succeeded by Seretse Khama Ian Khama.


In the face of massive aid in money and goods perennially provided African people by other countries and NGOs through the governments of their respective countries, small and direct-to-the-people efforts pay off at least equally well. In the above photo showing orphans in Kenya, you will see Jacinta Njoroge Lahti, a native of Kenya and a resident of Sweden, who founded the depicted orphanage and school. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Stockholm International, which club continues to be a major supporter of the school.

Note on figures used in this article

All figures were derived from The CIA World FactBook