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Mo Ibrahim: Entrepreneur, Visionary, Philanthropist
March 27, 2011 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Mo Ibrahim (wikipedia) is a Sudanese-born billionaire with opinions and goals for modern Africa. A recent New Yorker article profiled him. Earning his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and subsequent employment in telecom led him to found Celtel, the wildly successful(LGT PPT file) corporation that brought the mobile telephone revolution to Africa, despite a corporation-wide refusal to participate in the rampant corruption and bribery seemingly required at the time (~9:30 in this interview). He eventually sold Celtel to MTC Kuwait, which allowed him to focus on other pursuits, namely further development and investment within Africa.

Currently, he wears several hats. He sits on the board of ONE with Bono, to fight poverty. He is the co-founder of Satya Capital, which invests in African companies. He is the chair of the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, dedicated to promoting excellence in leadership. The foundation has an annual prize, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, granting five million dollars and a pension to an uncorrupt African leader when hecedes power peacefully. It is a larger prize than a Nobel and its selections have naturally caused controversy. The 2007 winner was Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique. The 2008 winner was Festus Mogae of Botswana. Since that time, the Foundation has not awarded the prize, as in its view there were no appropriate recipients. The Foundation also maintains an index of governance, using data from other sources to rank African nations, based on factors such as freedom of expression and access to clean water.
posted by knile (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just a factoid, Celtel was then rebranded at Zain and is now Airtel Africa, operating in 16 countries.
posted by infini at 7:05 AM on March 27, 2011


This is how it starts. African economies are growing faster now than many others. Of course they start from a pretty big deficit. Great post knile.
posted by caddis at 7:31 AM on March 27, 2011


I'm confused; I thought we all hated capitalism here?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2011


I'm confused; I thought we all hated capitalism here?

There's capitalism and then there's capitalism with an ethical conscience that reinvests money back into the continent's governance and provides fellowships and sets up foundations.
posted by infini at 8:39 AM on March 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Good post. Thanks.
posted by Hobgoblin at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2011


This is how it starts. African economies are growing faster now than many others. Of course they start from a pretty big deficit. Great post knile.

Unfortunately as a whole African economies are not growing faster then, for example, China. They are growing, but not that quickly.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 AM on March 27, 2011


Interesting in that NYer article is that Ibrahim focuses on governance as the root of problems in Africa, while Bono (who is quoted praising Ibrahim and he sits on Bono's board) and Jeff Sachs (who famously said Africa is corrupt because it is poor, not poor because it is corrupt), continue to advocate assistance strategies that prop up the authoritarians that Ibrahim is trying to bring down or ease out of power.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


We like capitalism when it's acting like charity and hobnobbing with the likes of Bono. Never mind how much private capital and profit motives have done to bring increasing prosperity to the African continent, as they have in the world of telecommunications. I wouldn't be surprised, if Ibrahim's sole accomplishment had been bringing cell phone access to even the poorest of villages, as has happened in real life, he would be thought of as yet another evil capitalist leeching off the poverty of Africans.

Unless he extends the olive branch to Western icons of the concerned, and makes charitable amends for the being successful, he gets no credit for the improvements in life Africans have enjoyed from his profit-motivated ventures.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, as laudable as it may be, seems tragically comic, not only in that winning criteria sets such a low bar, but despite that, they've had trouble finding candidates that can be bought off by the prize. This points to a real challenge facing so much of the African continent: that pillage, kleptocracy, and petty ethnic grudges remain so attractive and/or profitable, Ibrahim's carrot has few (or no) eligible takers. Why settle for a paltry(!?!) $5+ million by leaving office when you said you would, when it's so much more fun to be king of the little backwater slice of the planet?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:31 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have never understood the point of this prize If politicians are honest, they won't be motivated by it. If they're dishonest, or downright evil, they can pillage all they want and then run off to comfortable exile in France or Saudi Arabia if the plebs get too stroppy.

Given that the prize is named after himself, I am tempted to say that it is really about him and some cheap publicity. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing - it's just not going to change Africa and we should pretty much ignore it.

The Ibrahim Index on the other hand seems to have done a lot of good in supporting good governance by shaping Africa's citizens' and civil society's perceptions of and demands from their governments. A more bottom-up, democratic function.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 1:21 PM on March 27, 2011


First, great post knile.

There's capitalism and then there's capitalism with an ethical conscience that reinvests money back into the continent's governance and provides fellowships and sets up foundations.

And then there is plain-old, greedy, money grubbing capitalism that nonetheless brings with it benefits to the poor.

Never mind how much private capital and profit motives have done to bring increasing prosperity to the African continent, as they have in the world of telecommunications.

Excellent comment 2N2222.

A study from 2005 suggested that in a typical developing country, an increase of ten mobile phones per 100 people boosts GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points.

Why someone invests in bringing wireless technology to developing nations is far less important than that they do so.
posted by three blind mice at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for the Wall Street Journal book review by a British historian that turns into a rant about what a flawed, overrated and possibly homosexual man Ibrahim is. I mean, you know it's inevitable, right?
posted by happyroach at 3:08 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always nice to have so much money.
posted by championsgate at 5:38 PM on March 27, 2011


Dammit there's no need to be jerking knees so much here. Capitalism is not itself evil, but god one could be forgiven for assuming it must be by how it's practiced in Western nations. Why aren't other capitalists, no matter what country they're from, as honest, hard-working and decent as Mo Ibrahim?
posted by JHarris at 6:51 PM on March 27, 2011


I'm confused; I thought we all hated capitalism here?

I dont hate capitalism. I hate corruption. When you allow the capitalists to buy the rules instead of serve as a cog in the economy you get what we have. Capitalism should be an economic model that benefits a country, not vice versa. That requires an educated electorate, quality free press, and elected officials who can get into and stay into office without being influenced by corporations, and laws that harness the strength of capitalism and ameliorate its downside... Umm... we have a bit of work to do.

There is no country on earth where citizens can thrive with pervasive white collar crime and government controlled by corporations.
posted by jcworth at 8:53 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Interesting in that NYer article is that Ibrahim focuses on governance..."

That's because Bono doesn't know what he's talking about, does it need to be written out?
posted by stratastar at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2011


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