African Telecom Billionaire Mo Ibrahim On Why The Mo Ibrahim Prize Is Still Important

Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim is one of the richest men in the world. In 1998, telecom entrepreneur founded Celtel, a mobile phone operator that enjoyed an active presence across multiple African countries. When he sold the company in 2005 to MTC Kuwait in a landmark $3.4 billion transaction, Celtel had more than 24 million subscribers in 18 different countries. Ibrahim, 67, who is now worth $1.1 billion according FORBES’ latest estimates, subsequently established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a non-governmental organization established to promote African development, with a special focus on promoting good governance in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation publishes the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an annual assessment of African countries based on the quality of their governance.

But the foundation is arguably more well known for its annual Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awards an initial $5 million payment and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of state who deliver security and health to their electorates and democratically transfer power to their successors.

Ibrahim is currently in Casablanca, Morocco as a special guest of the Kingdom’s Minister for Industry, Commerce & Trade, Moulay Hafid Elalamy who is presenting Morocco’s new industrial strategy on Tuesday. I briefly caught up with him earlier today at the Hyatt Regency, Casablanca and used the opportunity to find out from him why he believes the Mo Ibrahim Prize is still important.

There has been no winner for the Mo Ibrahim Prize for the past two years. Does this break your heart?

It’s a bit disappointing, but it goes to show that governance and leadership in Africa is miles away from where we want it to be. It’s a work in progress.

A lot of people expected former President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya to be the recipient for last year. What happened?

I’m not on the prize committee, so I wouldn’t know. I don’t check with them to ask them questions. I trust their judgment completely.

$5 million is a lot of money, no doubt. But do you think it’s enough motivation for an African leader who has billions of dollars at his disposal?

We are not trying to bribe African leaders to be good. Of course, these presidents have access to a lot more money than this. But we have a number of reasons why we believe this prize is very important: We need to turn the spotlight on positive role models for the African people. The Western media is always so excited to blow up stories about African kleptocrats like Mobutu Seseko, [Sani] Abacha and all the other crazy people who run some of our countries.

But Africa also has some unsung heroes apart from Mandela, and very few people know anything about these decent African leaders. We have people like Joaquim Chissano [former President of Mozambique], Festus Mogae [former President of Botswana] and Pedro Pires [former President of Cape Verde] – remarkable African leaders who are our laureates. These names are not very well known internationally, and even Africans don’t know them, unfortunately. It’s about recognizing the good ones, and making them role models.

So, the prize – considering that it’s a significant amount of money- helps to raise the profile of the award and helps stir a conversation about good governance in Africa, which is what we are looking to achieve. Usually, towards the end of the year when the prize is being offered,  there is a lot of speculation about who will win the prize and then that conversation spirals into a conversation about good leadership. We need Africans to continually have that conversation, and the amount of people calling, trolling the Internet and proposing names of people who deserve to win – that’s important because it puts the spotlight on these people.

I’d argue that we help drive conversations about leadership and governance in Africa, which is good. Finally, we find that when good African leaders eventually leave office, they have nothing to do. They have no pension or in some cases their pension is small, and they have not stolen money, so they have nothing. Unlike American and European leaders who can easily write memoirs and get millions in advance fees and royalties or get millions in speaking fees at conferences or charge huge sums for consulting fees, African leaders don’t often get those opportunities after leaving office. What will they do? And many of these good leaders have initiatives they want to continually support in areas like education, healthcare, climate change, etc. So the money given to these people helps them set up their foundations and carry on with their good work.

Follow me on Twitter @MfonobongNsehe

Source: Forbes Business

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