The Daily Trust Award conceived the ‘African of the year award’ in 2008 with the motive of identifying and recognising ordinary Africans, doing extraordinary service to the people of Africa in their chosen endeavours.
Over 800 nominations were received by the Award Committee across the continent out of which Gregoire emerged victorious.
Grégoire will formally be presented with the ‘African of the year award’ 2015 in January in Abuja, Nigeria.
Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Chairman of the Prize Committee of the Daily Trust African of the Year award, at the unveiling of the Winner for 2015 in Accra on Thursday, recounted that Grégoire had traversed parts of Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo rescuing mentally ill people, some of whom have been put in chains by their families.
“He is the only recourse for hundreds of people with mental disabilities. In giving him this award, the committee acknowledges the huge challenge the continent faces in taking care of mentally ill people.
“We congratulate our African of the Year awardee and hope that the prize sum of $ 50,000 donated by UBA Plc, a pan-African bank, will go a long way in helping him to sustain his humanitarian work.
“We encourage all African at home and abroad to join us in identifying ordinary Africans who are deserving of winning this award in the coming years,” the Chairman stated.
The Chairman said: “For doing the extra-ordinary work of caring for the mentally ill under very precarious circumstances including to the danger to his life, Gregoire Ahongbonon, the founder of Gregoire St. Camille Association, deserves to be named the African of the Year 2015.”
Dr Salim said this was the first selection by the reconstituted prize committee comprising members who were drawn from the five sub-regional blocs in Africa.
They include Mona Omar of North Africa, Mr Pascal Kambale of Central Africa, Ms Gwen Lister of Southern Africa, Mr Amadou Mahtar Ba of West Africa, and Professor Sylvia Tamale of East Africa.
Gregoire was born in 1953 to a farming family in a remote village in Benin and migrated to Côte d’Ivoire.
Popularly called ‘global mental health activist’, he had been involved in the caring for people excluded from society, such as prison inmates and people living with HIV/AIDS, for 10 years.
In 1994, he founded the St. Camille Association for people with mental disorders in West Africa.
In 2015 alone, besides increasing the cost of feeding to about $ 115, the Association has added four new centres to the previous eight.
It now boasts of 12 rehabilitation centres in three West African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo and has helped 2500 people within the same year, of which 1800 have successfully reintegrated into their villages of origin.
Gregoire runs the organisation with the financial support of non-governmental organizations.
Gregiore’s St Camille Association mission aims at giving dignity back to people with mental disorders, through care, support, and help to reintegrate them back into society.
The St Camille Association provides shelter, medical treatment and follows up on people with mental disorders, and helps their social reintegration and rehabilitation through work.
Grégoire is a devout man who suffered depression after losing his business in the early 1980s.
The maiden award, for 2008, was given to Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist, who offered free reconstructive surgery to victims of rape in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2009, the award went to late Dr Tajudeen Abduraheem, a Nigerian civil society activist, for his exemplary contribution to pan-Africanism, human rights and good governance across Africa.
In 2010, Mr Danny Jordaan was honoured with the award, a sports administrator, who supervised the hosting by South Africa of the first ever FIFA/Coca-Cola World Cup.
The 2011 award went to Judge Fatimata Salifou Bazeye, former head of Nigerien Constitutional Court who was sacked for upholding the rule of law and resisting an attempt by a sitting President to illegally amend the constitution for tenure elongation.
The award for 2012 was given to South Africa’s former President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, for his outstanding leadership of the AU High-level Implementation Panel on Sudan and the success of the panel in bringing Sudan and South-Sudan back from the brink of war.
In 2013, the award went to Dr Donald Kaberuka, former President of the Africa Development Bank, in recognition of his “Africa 50 Fund” initiative which to address the continent’s infrastructural challenges.
However, the 2014 award was skipped because of the Ebola pandemic.