RECOGNITION: Mo Ibrahim announces the special award to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in Johannesburg on Thursday. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
Billionaire philanthropist and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Mo Ibrahim. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO

THE Mo Ibrahim Foundation awarded a "one-off extraordinary award" to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Johannesburg on Thursday, in recognition of his lifelong, consistent commitment to speaking the truth and being a voice for justice and democracy.

The foundation, which was established by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim, rewards good governance on the African continent.

The award, which will be presented to Mr Tutu in Dakar later this year during the annual Ibrahim Discussion Forum, includes a grant of $1m that Mr Tutu could use for his various foundations, or at his own discretion, Mr Ibrahim said in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Former president Nelson Mandela is the only other recipient of such an award, and Mr Ibrahim said the fact that both of these awards had been given to South Africans was a coincidence, but also "a compliment to South Africa".

Mr Tutu was "an outstanding African civil society champion" who gave a voice to the voiceless and spoke hard truths, Mr Ibrahim said.

While people did not always agree with the archbishop’s comments, he was "a very powerful voice".

"Whether one agrees with Archbishop Tutu or not, his contribution to dialogue, to accountability, and to the debate on Africa’s future has been unparalleled", he said.

The award would not replace the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which has been awarded annually since 2007 to a former head of state who has demonstrated excellence in office. This award was not given to anyone in 2009 and 2010 because of a lack of suitable candidates.

Foundation board member and former Cabinet minister Jay Naidoo said the special award would "hopefully inspire more people to stand up and speak truth to power".

The award was given at a time when there was "growing political arrogance" on the continent, Mr Naidoo said.