Lunch with the FT: Mo Ibrahim

William Wallis – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
February 15 2008
An excerpt, and further evidence that the Weekend section of the FT is one of the best reads in journalism.
…Until recently, the mention of Mo Ibrahim outside the circles of telecoms buffs or African business aficionados tended to elicit the response: “Mo who?” Google him since he sold Celtel, his African mobile-phone company, for $3.4bn and he starts popping up in the company of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
This is perhaps more for the audacity – some say hubris – of his new, philanthropic mission than for the size of his fortune. Where Gates has decided to do battle with micro-organisms wreaking preventable havoc across Africa, Ibrahim is taking on a more visible, if equally pernicious, enemy of African development. After we have ordered our starters – on his advice I go for pasta, he opts for carpaccio and parmesan – Ibrahim turns to this latest project: persuading African leaders to rule more wisely, more fairly and for shorter periods.
A decade building mobile-phone networks across the continent has convinced him that business and trade, not charity and aid, will ultimately bring prosperity to Africa. But neither tactic can succeed without a radical shift in the way the continent is governed.
“The country is so lush, so green,” he says, recalling a flight over Kenya before the violently disputed outcome of December’s elections. “How come the people here could ever be hungry? Look at these spaces, huge, endless spaces, animals, water. I came to the conclusion that unless you are ruled properly, you cannot move forward. Everything else is second. Everything.”
African leaders, Ibrahim continues, look to retirement as they would to the edge of a cliff, beyond which lies a dizzying fall towards retribution and relative poverty…
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