Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano has won the first Mo Ibrahim prize rewarding a retired African head of state for excellence in leadership.
Mr Chissano, who is credited with bringing peace to Mozambique, had been seen as a frontrunner for the prize.
The prize, announced by former UN head Kofi Annan, is worth $5m (£2.5m) over 10 years, and then $200,000 a year.
Mobile phone millionaire Mo Ibrahim is funding the project in the hope it will help improve governments’ performance.
The Sudanese businessman also hopes it will increase Africa’s self-sufficiency and bring a day when the continent’s people no longer need to live on aid.
Mr Annan chaired the panel that awarded the first edition of the prize, billed as the largest of its kind.
“It is (for) his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy that Chissano has made his most outstanding contribution,” Mr Annan said after announcing the winner.
“This remarkable reconciliation between opponents provides a shining example to the rest of the world and is testament to both his strength of character and his leadership,” he said.
After winning independence from Portugal in 1975 Mozambique suffered a civil war that lasted until 1992.
Mr Chissano was the country’s president from 1986 to 2005. He also served as chairman of the African Union in 2003 and 2004, and has worked as a UN envoy.
Mr Annan praised Mr Chissano’s role at home and more widely in Africa.
“His decision not to seek a third presidential term reinforced Mozambique’s democratic maturity and demonstrated that institutions and the democratic process were more important than personalities,” he said.
“He was a powerful voice for Africa on the international stage and played an important role in pushing debt relief up the agenda.”
Mr Chissano is something as a rarity in Africa as a leader who has left office with his reputation intact, says BBC southern Africa correspondent Peter Biles.
The panel of judges also included the former Irish President, Mary Robinson, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and the head of the Organisation of African Unity, Salim Ahmed Sali.
They assessed the relative merits of 13 African former heads of state, all of whom left power in the past three years.
Among these at least six took power by staging coups.
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