’The man giving Africa a bright future – A self-made billionaire’’ &: ‘’Britain’s most influential black person’’
A VERY RARE BREED: For some time, thoughts about how to develop Africa and eliminate those issues that militate against efforts at pulling Africa out of despondency have occupied my mind. Why is Africa lagging behind other continents? That question should naturally bother a patriot and the concerned. A close examination of development challenges of Africa reveals both opulence and pervasive poverty. However, Africa’s potentials make the continent the next frontier for the global economy. One of my findings is that Africa holds great potentials as the next frontier to the global economy. Africa really has no reason to be poor, had there been conscientious efforts, dedication, and commitment to building the continent by its political and military leaders. The negative effects of the poor culture of governance, docile civil society, lack of foresight, and proper mobilization for good governance are strong factors militating against the advancement of the poorest continent in the world.
Why is it that several African countries continue to wallow in poverty in spite of huge human and material endowments? Africa possesses over 60 percent of the world’s arable land. But Africa’s story is a paradox; a mixture of opulence and squalor. It is evident that Africa is also suffering from poor management of the continent’s vast human and material resources, terrorism, and conflicts, as well as the incoherent implementation of policies and institutional reforms for the enforcement of rules and regulations for the economic and political transformation of the continent. It has been proven that Africa has some of the best brains who were/are highly endowed to transform the continent. How to manage the resources of Africa appears to be the greatest headache of successive leaders in the continent who plunge their nations into avoidable conflicts and catastrophes on account of selfishness and inability to provide good governance that is globally regarded as the major factor that drives development.
CHAMPIONING A CAUSE WITH MULTIPLIER EFFECT: He might not be very popular like several other very rich billionaires; but Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim (Mo Ibrahim) is one of the few people that are championing a cause that both, directly and indirectly, affects the well-being of all Africans. As an African who realizes the importance of good governance to development, Mo Ibrahim has promoted that objective with unimaginable commitment knowing very well that the missing ingredient in the continent’s political and even corporate governance is good governance. Mo Ibrahim a London, United Kingdom-based businessman who pumped his accumulated funds from his mobile telephony in Africa in a piece contributed by him and published in Independent newspaper says: ‘’Africa is full of hope and potential, maybe more so than any other continent. ‘’The challenge is to ensure that its potential is utilized. ‘’We will aim to play a part in that by equipping people with the information they need to assess the performance of their political leaders, by rewarding outstanding leadership; and by helping to equip some of the brightest and best with the skills they need to allow African countries to meetthe expectations of their people
THE MOTIVATION — AFRICA DESCRIBED AS A HOPELESS CONTINENT: It is highly remarkable that Mo Ibrahim was challenged by a publication in ‘The Economist’ in 2010, stating that ‘’Africa was the Hopeless Continent that was economically backward and that its political leadership was at best corrupt and at worst murderous’’. Ibrahim’s response to that publication was to establish a foundation to address the problem of governance in African nations. He explains that the foundation promotes excellent leadership and good governance.’’ What stands Mo Ibrahim out in the world is the fact that his foundation awards the biggest annual prize in the world – worth US$5m over 10 years – to former African leaders who have governed well, respected their constitution and left office with their country in better shape than they found it. Converted, the prize amounts to about two (2) billion naira spread over five years; or two hundred million (N200million) naira per annum, or N18million naira per month for any African leader who is adjudged to have excelled in providing good governance to his/her people. Now think about this. Mo Ibrahim never put that facility in place so he could win government contracts, control any African government, or achieve any political ambition. Ibrahim knows the importance of good governance as the single most important factor of development.
THE SIT-TIGHT SYNDROME: The Council on Foreign Relations identifies Sub-Saharan Africa as home to ‘’many of the world’s longest-ruling heads of state, but civil society and regional blocs may be slowing the trend of extending presidential terms in some areas. By early 2019, three African heads of state had been in power for more than three decades each: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya in Cameroon, and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. ‘’More than a dozen other African heads of state have been in power for at least ten years. In August 2017, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after thirty-eight years in office, and in November of that year, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was forced from office after thirty-seven years by a military coup. In 2019, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir was ousted after three decades in power.’’ This is one of the reasons why Mo Ibrahim has remained committed to the pursuit of an agenda that promotes the culture of good governance in Africa.
LUST FOR POWER: In his address at the Convocation ceremonies of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in 1974, its Chancellor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo stated that: “Power enslaves: absolute power enslaves absolutely. I have made a diligent search through history, and I have not come across a single instance where a regime, be it military or civilian, which has come to power at its own will, and has wielded that power for many years, has found it easy to extricate itself from the sweet uses and shackles of power, and then hand it to others outside its own hierarchy. It is possible, quite possible, that my search is not exhaustive and so, I stand to be corrected.” One year later, Awolowo submitted that: “Let us make no pretense about it, every human being loves power; power over his fellow men in the state, or in business enterprises; or failing that; power over his wife and children, and over his brothers, sisters, and friends, or, in the case of children, power over his playmates. Of these categories of power, the desire for power over one’s fellow men is the strongest.
WHO IS MO IBRAHIM? Dr Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British billionaire businessman with a business empire that cuts across some sub-sectors of the economy. He was born on 3 May 1946 in Sudan but grew up in Ethiopia. His profile on his foundation’s website reads: Dr. Ibrahim is the Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which he established in 2006 to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. He has a distinguished business career. In 1989 he founded Mobile Systems International (MSI), a world-leading cellular consulting and software provider and in 1998, Celtel International, one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies that pioneered mobile services in Africa. Dr Ibrahim is also Founding Chairman of Satya Capital Limited, a private equity fund focused on Africa. According to a publication: New Yorker Ibrahim’s net worth is US$1.18 billion (2018) He worked for several telecommunications companies, before founding Celtel, which when sold had over 24 million mobile phone subscribers in 14 African countries. Ibrahim is credited with “transforming a continent” and is said to be the “most powerful black man in Britain”, He is described by two influential publications as ‘’The man giving Africa a bright future – A self-made billionaire’’ (The Guardian of London) and was named: ‘’Britain’s most influential black person’’ as he continues to ‘’inspire transparency in African government by giving away millions to the continent’s leaders.’’ (Encyclopedia Britannica)
EARLY LIFE: Ibrahim was born in northern, of Nubian descent, the second of five children, four of whom were boys.(Wikipedia) His family moved to Egypt when he was young, and father Fathi was employed there by a cotton company, and his mother Aida was very keen that they all get a good education. Ibrahim earned a bachelor’s degree from Alexandria University in Electrical & Electronics and a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bradford, England He obtained a Ph.D, from the University of Birmingham, in Mobile Communications. In between his education, Mo Ibrahim returned to Sudan and started working for the telephone company, Sudan Telecom. He taught at the University of Birmingham, until 1983 when he left the academia to become the technical director of Cellnet (later O2), which handled wireless operations for British telecommunications giant BT. In 1989 Ibrahim resigned in order to found Mobile Systems International, a firm that designed mobile networks. He later sold the company to Marconi, telecommunications company for more than $900 million in 2000,
AS A & PATRIOT – I AM AN AFRICAN; I AM NOT AFRAID TO INVEST IN AFRICA: He never forgot Africa while growing in the business world. While still working for Mobile Systems, Ibrahim decided to address the lack of a pan-African mobile telephone network by creating, in 1998, MSI Cellular Investments, which was later renamed Celtel International. He created a business plan that was built around the idea that no bribes would be given or accepted by him and his cofounders, in stark contrast to standard dealings among many African companies. Ibrahim told CBNC in an interview that when he founded the company in 1998, he couldn’t get funding. Part of the problem was the perception that African countries were corrupt. “If that was the perception of Africa, nobody’s going to invest in Africa,” Building a telco in Africa was labour-intensive because of the lack of infrastructure. “We had to build all the infrastructure ourselves. I had to put in the microwave (technology), the fiber myself, to connect the powers to the exchanges,” Ibrahim said. It’s also costly. “Typically, you get at least 50% funding from the banks … (but) we could not get any … ‘’We in Africa had to build the company with equity, with our money, because the banks (would) not touch us. That was the picture at that time,” he added. But Ibrahim — who was born in Sudan and grew up in Egypt — saw Africa as a continent with huge potential. “I’m an African. I’m not afraid of Africa. I believe there’s a big gap between perception and the reality of Africa.
BETWEEN PERCEPTION & REALITY: Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim founded Celtel International in 1998, one of the first mobile phone companies serving Africa and the Middle East. He sold it to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Company for $3.4 billion in 2005 and pocketed $1.4 billion. No bank was prepared to take the risk of financing Mo’s business plan to move into Africa. Therefore, he sold his interests in Celtel for $3.4 billion in 2005. Mo Ibrahim asserts that: ‘’Whenever there’s a big gap between perception and reality, there’s a wonderful business opportunity.” The banks wanted all of Celtel’s assets as security in return for a loan, which Ibrahim eventually agreed to because the company needed the money. Celtel expanded quickly to become one of the largest companies providing mobile communications services in Africa, offering coverage to more than a dozen countries and hundreds of millions of people. In 2005 Ibrahim sold Celtel to MTC Kuwait for $3.4 billion but continued to serve as chairman of the company until 2007, when he retired from its board. In 1998, MSI spun off MSI-Cellular Investments, later renamed Celtel, as a mobile phone operator in Africa. After some years, when Celtel needed long term sources of capital, they considered doing an IPO on a reputable stock exchange, for instance the London Stock Exchange. When it became public that they considered a public offering, they received a lot of alternative offers. Many wanted to buy the company, and Ibrahim and his team decided to sell Celtel in 2004 to Kuwait-based Mobile Telecommunication Company (now Zain).
IGNORANCE OF THE WESTERN WORLD ABOUT VAST & LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITIES IN AFRICA: African Leadership magazine reveals that: ‘’Ibrahim commenced his business from his dining room in West Hampstead in London to create and sell two highly successful companies, making a personal fortune in the process and turning many people into millionaires. The Forbes Rich List puts his wealth at $2.5bn, and he appears regularly at the top of lists of influential black Britons, and Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and Kofi Annan speak admiringly of his vision. The man himself insists he’s just an engineer who happened to work hard, be in the right place at the right time, and have a reasonable amount of common sense. His latest venture entails nothing less than the re-branding of Africa and the generating of pressure for better, less corrupt governments on the continent. Aware of the disproportionate follow of information between the developing and developed nations, Ibrahim is dissatisfied that:, “All we hear about Africa in the west is Darfur, Zimbabwe, Congo, Somalia, as if that is all there is. ‘’Yet there are 53 countries in Africa, and many of them are doing well.” Dr. Ibrahim invested in Africa when he realized that others were not doing so due to their ignorance of the continent. He believed in Africa as a place to do business and was willing to take the risk that he was right.’’
WHY AFRICA NEEDS TO CELEBRATE MO IBRAHIM: Ibrahim recalled a time when an American contact said it was unlikely his company’s board would invest in Uganda because Idi Amin was running the country. But Amin had left Uganda 15 years previously and the investor was unaware!. Africa needs to celebrate Mo Ibrahim for his initiatives and contributions to the continent’s development. As a pioneer, he showed other financiers and investors that opportunities abound in Africa and it is profitable to invest in Africa. Mo Ibrahim’s telecommunications company was established at a time when there were virtually no other providers on the continent. He attuned his business plans to suit the needs of Africa’s societies. Although people in Africa often could not afford monthly contracts, they very much wanted to have cellular service. Dr. Ibrahim brought supply in line with demand by creating prepaid cards that offered customers cellular service for just a few dollars. This disclosure by Ibrahim again raises the importance of the New World Information & Communication Order (NWICO) The term originated in discussions within the Non‐Aligned Movement (NAM), following proposals for a “new international economic order,” is an aspiration by the global south to democratize the international communication system and rebalance information flows worldwide. UNESCO played a major role in fostering the debate until the early 1980s.
CREATED SEVERAL AFRICAN MILLIONAIRES: When Celtel was sold for $3.4bn in 2004, the staff shared $500m, and 100 people, most of them African, became millionaires. Ibrahim himself would have preferred not to sell; he was merely hoping to raise capital, but he accepted shareholder pressure to take the unsolicited offer. The number of mobiles on the continent grew from 7.5m users in 1999 to 76.8m in 2004, an average annual increase of 58%. Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, says: “You don’t get out of a taxi anywhere in Africa without the driver giving you his mobile number. Walkthrough a market in Nigeria, and you see women checking the prices of potatoes in the next village. Nomads in Somalia use their mobiles to work out the best time to bring down their animals.” Ancillary businesses sprang up – kiosks where phones could be charged or airtime bought – and the mobile phone also brought Africa some other, unanticipated benefits. (The Guardian of London)
PUTTING GOVERNANCE AT THE CENTRE OF AFRICA’S DEVELOPMENT: The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is an African foundation, established in 2006 with one focus: the critical importance of governance and leadership for Africa. It is our conviction that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life of African citizens. The Foundation focuses on defining, assessing, and enhancing governance and leadership in Africa through four key initiatives: Changing the perceptions of an entire continent might seem to be a rather large ambition. But Ibrahim has already had a hand in one revolution. He sold mobile phones into Africa at a time when most of the large operators were refusing to do business there, so helping to create the fastest-growing mobile-phone market in the world, one where phones have become a force for political freedom as well as trade.
FIGHTING CORRUPT LEADERSHIP & PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE IN AFRICA: Ibrahim has for the past 15 years focused on fighting corrupt leadership in Africa through the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. After the sale of his communications outfit, Ibrahim subsequently focused his attention on investing and philanthropic efforts, in particular the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which he created in 2006 in an effort to foster improved governance of African countries. The foundation promoted increased transparency and accountability and from 2007 awarded the Ibrahim Prize to African leaders that meet standards established by the foundation’s board. Recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who, under challenging circumstances, have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity highlights exceptional role models for the continent ensures that the African continent continues to benefit from the experience and wisdom of exceptional leaders once they have left national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent is an award and a standard for excellence in leadership in Africa, and not a ‘first prize’, there is not necessarily a Laureate every year.
THE PRIZE: The Ibrahim Prize celebrates excellence in African leadership. It is awarded to a former Executive Head of State or Government by an independent Prize Committee composed of eminent figures, including two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The Ibrahim Prize:
- recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity 2008
- highlights exceptional role models for the continent
- ensures that Africa continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of exceptional leaders when they leave national office, by enabling them to continue in other public roles on the continent
Prize criteria: Former African executive head of state or government who must have left office in the last three years; democratically elected served his/her constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated exceptional leadership.
Award Prize: $5million USD over ten years
With a $5 million initial payment, plus $200,000 a year for life, the Prize is believed to be the world’s largest, exceeding the $1.3m Nobel Peace Prize.
- In 2007 the inaugural Prize was awarded to former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique for “his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy. Nelson Mandela was also made an Honorary Laureate in recognition of his extraordinary leadership qualities and achievements.
- In 2008, President Festus Moghae, the third president of Botswana, won the Ibrahim Prize. He was rewarded for his outstanding leadership has ensured Botswana’s continued stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/AIDS pandemic, which threatened the future of his country and people.
- In 2009 the Prize Committee did not select a winner. The controversial decision came following the consideration of “credible candidates” and was interpreted by many as a laudable act in establishing a standard of credibility for the Prize.
- In 2010 the Prize Committee decided not to award the prize. Ibrahim said that the purpose of the Foundation is to challenge those in Africa and the world to debate what constitutes excellence in leadership. The standards set for the prize are high, and the number of eligible candidates small. So it is always likely that there will be years when no prize is awarded.
- In 2011 the Prize was awarded to Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde
- President Hifikipunye Pohamba Namibia President Pohamba was awarded the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for his role in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and economic development.
- President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf governed Liberia after it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focused on building a nation and its democratic institutions. Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.
MO IBRAHIM’S PERSONALITY: Many people are impressed by Mo’s vision. His daughter, Hadeel who manages the foundation says her father has ‘’great charisma, but it’s more than that because there’s so much beneath it. ‘’I was impressed by how much people wanted to work for him, how far they were prepared to go beyond the call of duty. “No one works harder than he does. When there’s a delay at an airport, you can see him trying to work out how to improve the system. I remember once on holiday we were in a traffic jam that cleared suddenly, and he talked about how particles bunch. He engages with everything around him, and he makes you smarter in the process. When I first left university and wanted to work in development, I was quite a tomboy. He’d go on at me to wear nice clothes. He’d say that counts as well because he believes that people who do serious things take themselves seriously. He wanted me to be the best in every possible way I could – and certainly not self-righteous in a socks-and-sandals way. He enjoys his work and he wants everyone to enjoy it. It’s difficult to talk about your father dispassionately, but it seems to me fitting that he gives a prize for excellence, because he is consumed by the desire for excellence in all he does.” (Guardian of London)
PRIZE AS INGREDIENT FOR DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA – TONY BLAIR RECEIVES $500,000 FOR A SPEECH: At a function, several African journalists were extremely interested in how President Mogae planned to spend his money, a line of questioning that visibly irked the normally urbane Ibrahim. “I do not ask you how you spend your salary,” he said testily to one. “Half a million over 10 years would not be a large sum of money for the executive of a western company. It’s not even the salary of a CEO. Tony Blair is paid $500,000 for one speech and no one asks how he is going to spend it. We do not query the giving of money to people who already earn well. Besides, this is not public money. It’s not at the expense of anything else. It’s my money. Sorry, but I’m a crazy guy.”
AFRICA IS BLESSED WITH POTENTIAL LEADERS: Once, Mo Ibrahim told journalists that: ‘’Africans should realize that there are so many potential great African leaders that the continent has even been able to lend one to the United States. The most thoughtful commentators argue that donor pressure won’t rid Africans of their corrupt leaders; only Africans can do that. Nor will aid solve Africa’s economic problems, however necessary it might be in the short term. The only long-term hope for the continent’s economies is business development.
FILLING THE GAP: The widening gap between the rich and the poor is such a worrying development that Boutros Boutros Ghali & Kofi Annan, two former Secretaries-General of the United Nations have produced landmark Reports in which they agreed that ‘’without peace, there can be no development; and without sustainable development, there can be no durable peace. Additionally, they contended that: ‘’without respect for human rights, democracy and credible elections that reflect the will of the people, there will be neither peace nor development.’’ In First World nations, this issue is being addressed through philanthropy by rich people in those societies. It is to be noted that the rich in Nigeria are also fast embracing philanthropy through giving to worthy causes and promoting development through their corporate social responsibility schemes. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Risks document indicates that: ‘The richest 85 people in the world share a total wealth of about $1.64trillion.’’
It adds: ‘’85 richest people on earth have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the population. ‘’Those wealthy individuals are a small part of the richest one per cent of the population, which combined owns about 46 per cent of global wealth.” Elsewhere, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam asserts that: “We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. ‘’Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.’’ A sympathizer of humanity, through a very strong belief in utilizing globalization to close the gap between the rich and the poor, President Bill Clinton states that ‘’’Poor nations have to build systems that those of us in wealthy nations take for granted – economic, financial, education, health-care, energy, environmental, government service, and other systems that make prosperity and security possible and provide predictable rewards to citizens for hard work and honest dealings.’’ Again, good governance remains the recipe.
HONOURS & AWARDS: Dr Ibrahim has received numerous honorary degrees and fellowships from a range of academic institutions including Birmingham University, Bradford University, De Montfort University – Leicester, Imperial College – London, London Business School, Royal Academy of Engineering, SOAS – University of London, University of Pennsylvania and Lancaster University. Dr Ibrahim is also the recipient of a number of awards including The GSM Association’s Chairman’s Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007), The Economist Innovation Award for Social & Economic Innovation (2007), BNP Paribas Prize for Philanthropy (2008), Oslo Business for Peace Award (2009), Raymond Georis Prize for Innovative Philanthropy in Europe (2010), Clinton Global Citizen Award (2010), the Millenium Excellence Award for Actions in Africa (2012), the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2012), the Africare Leadership Award (2013), the Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize (June 2013), the Eisenhower Medal for Distinguished Leadership and Service (May 2014), the Foreign Policy Association Medal (June 2014), International Republican Institute (IRI) Freedom Award (2015), Danish CSR Honor Prize (2015), David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2017). Dr Ibrahim was made Commander of the Order of the Lion (Senegal) by President Macky Sall (February 2014) and Commandeur of the Wissam Arch by H.M. King Mohammed VI of Morocco (July 2014).
More of Mo Ibrahim is required as shining examples to the poorest continent.