Greatest Africans: Dr. Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim

By Joburg Post

“I left Sudan when I was 25 or 26 years old. If I had stayed, I would never have ended up being an entrepreneur. You can have the qualities, but if you don't have the environment, you just wither away. It's like a fish: take it out of water, it will not survive.” 
- Mo Ibrahim

Dr. Mohammed "Mo" Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire. He is widely considered to be the most powerful black man in Britain.

Early life and education 
Ibrahim was born in Sudan in 1946, and is of Nubian descent. His father was a clerk by profession. His family moved to Egypt when he was young. Ibrahim was a bright student and after completing his preliminary studies, he earned himself a Bachelor of Science from Alexandria University in Electrical Engineering. He returned to Sudan and started working for the telephone company, Sudan Telecom. Before long he moved to England and earned a master's degree from the University of Bradford in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, and a PhD from the University of Birmingham in Mobile Communications. 

Marriage and family 
Ibrahim has a daughter, Hadeel Ibrahim, who is Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, vice chair of the Africa Centre in New York, and board member of the Clinton Foundation; and two sons Hosh and Sami Ibrahim. He resides in Monaco. 

In the early 1980s, he took up the profile of a professor at Thames Polytechnic, which later on became University of Greenwich, teaching students undergraduate telecommunication courses. In 1983, he left his academic career to take up the position of a technical director of Cellnet. Cellnet was a subsidiary of the British telecommunication giant, British Telecom (BT) and was responsible for handling the latter’s wireless operations. Having gained enough experience in the field of telecommunication, he left his job at BT in 1989 to set up his own firm, Mobile Systems International (MSI). A consultancy and software company, MSI basically dealt with designing mobile networks. During the late 1990s, he realized the lack of pan-African mobile phone network. Aiming to fill in for the need, he created MSI Cellular Investments, in 1998, which was later on renamed Celtel International. Unlike his other ventures, Celtel was an operator and not a design consultancy. What was unique to Celtel was its approach of being a no-bribe company. Ibrahim decided that no bribe would be given or accepted by either him or the co-founders. The approach was one-ofits-kind as almost all African companies engaged in bribery in their dealings. Celtel was a major success, effectively changing the scenario of mobile communication services. It went on to become the largest service provider in Africa, offering coverage in more than a dozen countries. Ever since its emergence, the number of mobile phones in the continent grew from 7.5 million users in 1999 to 76.8 million users by 2004. In 2000, he sold MSI to Macroni for about $900 million. At that time, the company had 17 subsidiaries and a workforce of about 800 people. Its employees held about 30 per cent of the company shares. 

In 2005, Ibrahim sold Celtel to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Company for a whopping $3.4 billion. Though Ibrahim himself was not keen on making the deal, he bowed down to the pressure of the shareholders. Subsequently, after selling Celtel, he channelized his energy and vision towards investing and philanthropic activities. In 2006, he founded the Mo Ibrahim foundation, with an aim to improve the governance in African countries. Founded in London, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation established a rating system for the governing bodies through the Ibrahim Index, thus promoting increased accountability within the African companies. In 2007, the foundation launched the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The award is conferred annually to African leaders who meet the standards set by the foundation. Its first recipient was former Mozambique president, Joaquim Chissano. The Mo Ibrahim Prize is worth $5 million. Additionally, a life stipend of $200,000 per year is paid to the recipient. In totality, the prize has become the largest individual prize in the world. Since 2010, he has been an active supporter of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. The commission is a United Nations initiative and aims at spreading the benefits of broadband services to unconnected people. 


In 2007 Ibrahim was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Economics by the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, and in 2011 an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He also initiated the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, Under The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which awards a $5 million initial payment, and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of state who deliver security, health, education and economic development to their constituents and democratically transfer power to their successors. Dr Ibrahim has pledged to give at least half of his wealth to charity by joining The Giving Pledge. The Foundation offers scholarships at University of Birmingham, SOAS, and London Business School. These scholarships are on topics of International Development at University of Birmingham, Governance of Development in Africa at SOAS, and an MBA at London Business School. The scholarships are initiated for African students, both master students and postgraduates. A respected international philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim is credited with "transforming a continent" and is thought to be the "most powerful black man in Britain". According to the Forbes 2011 Billionaire List, Mo Ibrahim is worth $1.8 billion, making him the 692nd richest person in the world. Mo Ibrahim was also selected for the TIME "Top 100" list in 2008.


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