Retired president Mwai Kibaki is among the top contenders for the lucrative Sh450 million Mo Ibrahim Prize, which is awarded to former presidents who excelled during their reign.
The award comes with Sh450 million ($5 million) over a period of 10 years and is the largest annually awarded cash prize in the world.
It will be presented in Nairobi on Monday, March 2, further fuelling speculation about the chances of the former president of winning it.
If he wins, Mr Kibaki, who retired in March 2013, will also get Sh18 million ($200,000) annually, after the end of the first payout over the 10 years, for life.
To be eligible for the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, one must be a democratically elected president who has left office within the last three years after serving their constitutionally mandated term.
They must also have demonstrated exceptional leadership by rising above constraints to develop their countries, lift people out of poverty and pave way for prosperity in the future.
Kibaki is competing against former Mozambique president Armado Guebuzza and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia both of whom left office last year after completing their terms.
Four other African presidents have left office within the last three years but may not be considered because of the manner in which they left office how they got into office.
Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s former president, who just recently returned from self-exile, was defeated in his quest for a controversial third term by Mack Sall in 2012 in an exercise that was marred by violent protests.
Self-exiled Amadou Toumani who was the President of Mali from 2002 to 2012 was ousted in a military coup just before his second term ended.
And even though Shariff Shekh Mohamed of Somalia (2009-2012) and Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia (2011-2014) both served as presidents of their respective countries they were not elected through universal suffrage.
Marzouki was elected by the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, a body that was in charge of restoring the country back to democracy after the fall of Ben Ali.
Mohamed was voted in by parliament in an election that was conducted in Djibouti after the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf the previous year.
All the three contenders for this year’s award have a sizeable portfolio of achievements made during their times in office.
In Mozambique, Guebuzza, who last year pulled a surprise when he returned a luxury Mercedes Benz offered to him as a gift by a business association, is hailed for fighting corruption during his reign.
During his time a number of ministers and public officials who engaged in corruption were jailed. Over the last few years, Mozambique has also experienced economic growth rates in excess of seven per cent, with notable improvements in agricultural, manufacturing industry, trade and transport sectors.
On his part, Pohamba inherited a rather stagnant Namibian economy slowed down by the high HIV and Aids prevalence rates and over reliance of the South African economy when he took office in 2005.
By the time he left office, the economy was growing at four percent per year courtesy of a diversified mining economy. Today, the country is one of the world’s largest producers of Uranium.
Analysts, however, are putting their money on Kibaki, a career economist credited for turning around the economy of Kenya from a 24 year slump during the Moi era.
Kenya’s economy in the 10 years under Kibaki experienced a major turnaround from 0.6 per cent when he took office to seven per cent before the 2007 general elections. It, however, slumped to 1.7 percent before rebounding to seven per cent by the time he left office.
Among other things, he is credited for the introduction of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), free primary education, an emergence of the middle class, a new constitution, democratic and judicial reforms and massive infrastructure development.
“The panel is likely to emphasize on how the economies of all the contenders performed when they were in office and if that will be the main criteria then president Kibaki has a real chance,” says Professor Winnie Mitula of the University of Nairobi.
“All the contenders are possible winners but if you look at how Kenya managed to move from a path of economic ruin in 2002 and then again after the 2007 post-election violence which was during commencement of the first and second terms of his term means he deserves the award,” she says.
Mitula argues that although the 2007 post-election violence may dampen the chances of the former president the selection panel will find it difficult to overlook his other achievements.
“The fact that as a country we were able to move out of that situation is what will matter most. Most African countries that get in such situations never come out,” she said.
Previous winners of the award created by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim are Pedro De Verona of Cape Verde (2011), Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana (2008), Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007) and former South African president Nelson Mandela who received a honorary prize. The award was not given last year, 2013, 2012 and 2009.