African Billionaire Talks Governance, Charity

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Mo Ibrahim

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Mo Ibrahim is known as one of the most transformational figures in the history of Africa. The communications mogul founded Celtel International, now one of Africa's leading mobile phone operators, with the explicit goal of creating a successful business free of corruption.

Although a billionaire, the Sudanese-born businessman easily recalls a modest childhood.

"We did not starve, but we were not rich either," says Ibrahim, whose net worth is an estimated $2.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Ibrahim studied engineering in Egypt and made a name for himself as a no-nonsense businessman. He amassed fortunes building communications infrastructures.

Not Afraid of Africa

But his successful worldwide business ventures didn't overshadow his passion to invest in his native land, despite the reluctance of others.

"During my work, I noticed that none of the operators were willing to invest in Africa," explains Ibrahim, citing widespread perceptions of corruption and unpredictable returns among industry companions. "I was not afraid of Africa," he says.

The lack of fear lead to his investment of more than $750 million in the continent's communication's infrastructure, providing mobile phone service to scores of Africa's inhabitants through his company Cel-tel.

On Giving Back

Ibrahim sold Celtel three years ago for $3.4 billion. He was then faced with deciding what he would do with the money he made from the sale.

"I really don't need that money," he says. "I [already] live quite comfortably."

Ibrahim knew he wanted to give back to Africa, but didn't want to start just another charity.

"I see charities as painkillers, like aspirin. They help, but they don't cure the problem."

Instead, he founded the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to promote good governance in Africa. The foundation recognizes nobility in African leadership by awarding a $5 million prize annually.

"I have to give it back to Africa," he says.

In a two-part interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Ibrahim shares milestones in his personal life and discusses his rise to financial and philanthropic success.



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