A Conversation With Mo Ibrahim
Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and member of CFR's Global Board of Advisers, discusses good governance and leadership in Africa.
The Home Box Office History Makers Series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in international relations.
(UNKNOWN): Your attention, please. Hello, everybody. Keep eating your desserts and drinking your coffees. If you can take this moment before we begin to check your cellphones and electronic devices and please turn them off so we don't have any interruptions to our discussion or to the sound system.
I wanted to remind everyone, this meeting is on-the-record and it is being streamed live on CFR.org and on our YouTube channel. Enjoy the discussion. Thank you.
FLAHERTY: Good afternoon. My name is Pam Flaherty. I'm the president and CEO of the Citi Foundation, and it is my privilege to be your presider here today for what I think will be a terrific conversation.
This is the "History Makers" series, and it focuses on contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in U.S. foreign policy or international relations. And before I introduce our guest, I want to be sure to say a big thank you to Richard Pepler and HBO for their support of this terrific series, introducing all of us to people who truly make a difference in the history of our world.
So we are honored today to have a very special guest. He clearly is a person, I think, who everybody in this room knows. I won't repeat the long biography, which is mostly recognition and prizes, all well deserved. But I will start out by saying he—obviously, Dr. Mo Ibrahim is the founder of one of the—Celtel, a cellphone company that has managed to transform the lives of millions of Africans. But he is perhaps best known globally for two of his initiatives. One is the Ibrahim Prize for Governance in Africa, and the other is an index which ranks the governance of various states across Africa.
So with that as an introduction, we'll launch into our conversation. And as you know, we will have a conversation for a few minutes and then engage you and the audience, so think about what you might want to pursue with Dr. Ibrahim.
OK. Let's start at the beginning. I'm very interested in, what was it about your upbringing and your family in the Sudan that enabled you to be sitting here having accomplished all that you have?
IBRAHIM: I am a Nubian. I know that you—you know what a Nubian means, but Nubians is a very old race. It straddled the borders between Sudan and Egypt, that's actually one of the oldest civilizations of the world. And in our village, the social fabric is amazing of—of our Nubian people. You don't go to sleep if your neighbor is hungry. Somebody has a problem. It's a problem for everybody.
And it is that—that strong collective feeling of us that—we have a saying which says, the shroud has no bucket. When you die, people wrap you in this shroud to bury you, and (inaudible) it has no buckets. So your American Express or your wallet will not—you'll not take it to the grave with you. There's no point in trying to hoard money after life, so better really to share with people.
So it's this kind of values, I think, which is really very important for me. I really respected it a lot. I think this is very humane, really wonderful.
FLAHERTY: You also obviously had opportunities for education and achievement, which opened the way becoming an engineer, getting the degrees you did, opening those doors. How did that happen?
IBRAHIM: I was really lucky. And I think the person I owe a lot to is really my mother. My mother was very keen in educating us. I come from a typical family. I mean, we—by U.S. standards, we'd be classified as poor. But our standards there, we were—to be like average family. Like, we never went hungry, but we're not rich.
And my mother had this obsession with education as a way to move forward. And she said you guys really want to be somebody in future, education—you have to go to university, whatever it is. And it is very important from, you know—for brothers—I had three brothers and a sister, and we all ended up going—really going to education, so it is following what we're doing, insisting that we pay full attention. So I really owe a lot to her.
And, of course, I had the opportunity later to travel to U.K. to do my doctorate and my research work there. And that was a great opportunity and very grateful for that, too. So I'm lucky.
FLAHERTY: And she got to see you be the success that you are?
IBRAHIM: Unfortunately, she died. You know, that's my main regret. You know, I have said (inaudible) actually, but you cannot have everything in life, unfortunately.
FLAHERTY: So you became very successful as a businessman. And you created this company, which—a cellphone company, which has made such a difference in the lives of so many Africans. How did you see the opportunity in cellphones at the time you did, when obviously others did not? And did you at the time think it would be as transformative, as well as successful financially?
IBRAHIM: Before I start the African operations, I—I formed a company which was consultancy and software company. I come from that background. I'm an engineer. I'm a techie, really. And I ended up leaving university, and I was supposed to be an academic, so I guess I'm a failed academic.
And I went to the industry, end up in technical director at British Telecom. I designed the first mobile network in U.K. And then I got fed up with British Telecom, because it is just a huge bureaucracy, but it was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn a few things (inaudible) crucial for my success later on in business, because I learned everything we should not do in order to be a successful businessman. I always said that Vodafone is actually the gift of British Telecom, because British Telecom should have been Vodafone, really. But that's another story.
So I left BT after a while, and I just—I said I want—I want my freedom, really. I cannot work for this behemoth of bureaucrats. So I started my company, which quickly became the largest in the vendor technology company. We designed probably half the digital networks in Europe. And we did some operations. Actually, we had 400 engineers working for us in U.S.
So that was a consultancy and software company, focused in the area of mobile communication. My customers was really the big telecom operation. I lost my radio, I guess. Try to put it here. I think it will be all right here. I'm a radio engineer, you see, so I...
FLAHERTY: I'm counting on you to handle this.
IBRAHIM: I hope we still have sound. So my customer, as I said, were really the mobile communication company around the world. And (inaudible) many of them (inaudible) but we're not network operators. We take contracts to plan the whole network, analyzes our software (inaudible) et cetera.
And all the time, we're getting requests from Africa, people saying, we need to have this wonderful technology here. But operators were not interested. And I used to speak to my friends, you know, the operators of various baby bells here or British Telecom and Vodafone in U.S. or Deutsche Telekom, whatever. And they were not interested.
And I remember once the Ugandan government got in touch with me and said, look, we have a free license. Somebody needs to come and bid this, we're not charging you any money. At that time, when everybody was bidding, paying a lot of money for licenses everywhere in the world, but nobody wanted to go to Africa.
I remember I was having a dinner in London with a friend of mine who's in the board of one of the baby bells, which was very active across the world acquiring licenses, et cetera. And I said to him, look, why don't you guys go and do Uganda? And he said, Mo, are you crazy? You know, Uganda has this guy—have you heard of Idi Amin? I said, yes, I heard about him. He said, this country is run by ideologue. You know, do you want me to go and operate in a country run by that dictator? And I said, my friend, Idi Amin left that country 20 years ago.
And this is true. And he—he just laughed his head off, and he said, see, this is the problem. We are so ignorant about the area, he said, I'm a member of (inaudible) international director of (inaudible) company. And half the people of my board don't even have a passport. So if I, the most sophisticated guy in our board, think Idi Amin is still in Uganda, what do you think the rest of my board will think about Uganda? They'll think those people still live up in the trees.
This is the words of my friend. It's meant, really, nicely. This is not a derogatory remark. But it—I was really shocked when I heard that. How could people be so ignorant about Africa? And immediately, it's become apparent that there's a huge gap between perception and reality about Africa. And for any businessman, when you have a gap between perception and reality, you have a wonderful business opportunity. And nobody could see that.
And so we said, look, OK, we will go and do that. We'll form an operating country...
FLAHERTY: And what year was that?
IBRAHIM: That was in 1998.
FLAHERTY: Not so long ago.
IBRAHIM: Not so long ago, 15 years ago. So I said, OK, we'll go and do that. And what helped at that time, we—our first company, which is called the MSI, the technology company, we sold it at that time, and good price for it, about $900 million or something. So we had a little bit of cash to really invest in the new operation, and that's how we started the journey, and we transformed ourselves from a service company to an operator. And the rest is history.
FLAHERTY: The rest is history, they say.
IBRAHIM: We just got on (inaudible) and did it.
FLAHERTY: At this time that you did this, did you realize not only the business opportunity, but what it was going to do to transform the lives of Africans?
IBRAHIM: I always, always appreciated the potential of cellular phone as a technologist, because—and you have to remember, I mean, we—the revolution in cellular was so fast, people forgot the time when there was no mobile phones. People forgot that.
The problem before that, for 100 years, we had the telephone system which actually was not personal. If I call you, I'm not calling you. I'm calling either your home or your office. It's not personal. I'm calling a physical location somewhere. This is not a personal communication at all. This is not—so the telephone was not about people. It was about places, geographical places, one place or another place.
Mobile phones changed all that. And suddenly you carry our identity with you, your device on you all the time, if you choose to. And so I appreciated the potential, but I have never appreciated the huge impact it—really it had on Africa. I wish I say, I'm so clever, I really saw and all that by design. No, I'm not. And I was not aware of all this, and it was a wonderful surprise to see how really mobile phones were so crucial for Africa.
Africa is the second-largest continent on Earth. It's huge. And what you see in the map—actually look at the map of the world, it's not true, because the people play with the dimensions, because Africa is so big, it just destroys this beautiful view of the world. So the—it's true.
If you—if you go through Google, by the time you move from Europe to Africa, they have this game, because you want to really push Africa, make it nice and compact. We are not. And, I mean, some of our countries, two or three of African countries, are bigger than the whole of Europe. It's just countries in Africa. And this is not connected. That is a huge impediment for the development of the country, industrial and technical development, and also for the social, really, needs of people.
FLAHERTY: Do you think there's further potential for cellphones to continue to transform and add value?
IBRAHIM: Absolutely. I mean, what we're fighting for in Africa now is broadband, what we need. Because, obviously, mobile is going to be the main platform for Internet. And what we want is, really, to put more broadband and—to enable Internet, because that is a wonderful tool, also, for our people, from education to business to—you know, all sorts of things. And that's something we're really trying to do. I'm trying to convince the Internet giants that that's a good area for investment, and I hope they are listening.
FLAHERTY: It may be something you have to do yourself again.
IBRAHIM: We are investing in some of these companies, yes.
FLAHERTY: That's very exciting, very exciting. Clearly, you're most well known, I think, around the world for two signature initiatives, one I talked about in the introduction, the prize, and one the index. But maybe they're both intended to promote this good governance in Africa. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to that as deciding your life's work going forward, that you were going to address this issue?
IBRAHIM: Yes, what happened, we sold the mobile company, Celtel, on 2005, after seven years. And—well, we sold the company essentially because the company was mainly funded by equity, because—which is very strange, because it's a mobile company and it's profitable, absolutely. But we—no banks will lend us money. It's really unusual. We had operators in 15 countries. We were the largest taxpayer in 9 or 10 African countries. And we're making profit of around $400 million a year profit. And still banks will not lend us money. They love subprime debt in U.S. They love other things.
But Africa, no. So we had to measure the problem, because we just funding through equity. And you could give that (ph) with any other mobile operation anywhere. It's just grotesque. But (inaudible) because the company was so successful, some of my shareholders were funds. Many of them actually were also development funds (ph), OPEC (ph) from U.S. here (ph) was a shareholder. We have the Defit (ph) from U.K. We have quite a number of the do-gooders, also, were wonderful partners.
And many of those people needed to realize their profit, because they came at $2 a share, $5 a share, something like that, and we were planning to list the company on London, which I would have loved to do, to be the first big telecom listing in London (inaudible) African, and then we'll see offers to buy the shares. The Goldman Sachs and Citi were handling our listing—our IPO. And the expectation was the share would be probably $40 around that time, you know, the pricing, and we received offer for—I think it was close to $60 a share.
So some of my shareholders said, no, please, let us—you know, we bought at $2 and $5, we want to show that investment in Africa pays, and that's important for us and for our shareholder and other people. It's good. And I said, fine, I'm not going to vote on this. Let us sit together and agree and what you want to do. And they said, OK, we want to sell. So I said, fine, we sell.
So when we sold, I—of course, I made a lot of money. And I really didn't need all that money, so I said, look, I'd better give this money back to Africa. But how I'll give it to Africa, I thought—I should give it to Africa in a way which helped change Africa. It's not by dealing with today's problem, I mean, taking milk to the—baby's milk to Darfur or blankets to Somalia or—it's very nice and wonderful, but what about tomorrow, next week? Why do we have Darfur? Why do we have problems in Somalia? Why?
So I said, let us go to the root of the problem. So I think our problem in Africa has been governance. There is no need for Africa to be poor. Africa is a very rich continent, extremely rich continent. Our land is rich. Our seas are rich. And we don't have many people in Africa. We are less than 1 billion people. That's two-thirds of India or China. And we are a continent. You can fit both India and China in Africa and they get lost, we are so big. And we have much more resources than any of these two countries anyway and much less people.
So why are we poor? That's question (inaudible) used to raise. Why are we poor? I mean, you guys are rich. And I think we are poor because we really, to a large extent, failed in our governance project. We failed to marshal our resources, natural and human resources, for the (inaudible) the development of our countries.
That's why we said, let us have a foundation which focused on the issue of governance and leadership. That's what Africa needs. If we have decent government in Africa, which focused on what is needed by people and really focused in the quality of leadership, we are to see leaders who come and really do the tough work, take the country forward. We don't want leaders who are there because of the fun or because the presidential place, plane and the palace, and the good wine and the good life. No. We want people to come and serve. That was very important for us. So that's why we decided to do this foundation, and that's where the idea of the index and the prize came.
FLAHERTY: Tell us a little bit about the index and how you thought about that and created it. And then, I guess most importantly, what has it shown you about the trajectory of governance in Africa? Has it improved over this last decade?
IBRAHIM: Well, right. The idea of the index is simple, because we say we want good governance, but what is good governance? We said it's important to define what's good governance, and not only to define it, but also to measure it. Then we can have a proper objective conversation about something defined. And instead of just using slogans and...
FLAHERTY: The engineer.
IBRAHIM: Yeah, so that what is we tried to (inaudible) and so we came to a conclusion that, really, governance has so many pillars, and good governance—to many people, you know, we ask people—some would say governance is about transparency, no corruption. Some people say human rights. Somebody would say about good education, no, health care, about economic development.
It's—actually, governance is about all of this. So that's why we measure 88 indicators, in every African country, and we publish that every year. And, of course, it's a huge amount of work. We, of course, cannot do it ourselves alone, so we have agreements with 25 international organizations, anybody who collect any useful data. The World Bank collects certain data about business; we have agreement with them. We have the raw data, not the data which has been massaged or—we get the raw data on these areas. The IMF has data on the economics or the fiscal policies, whatever. We get that data.
We (inaudible) or (inaudible) Freedom House has some data. The Economist Intelligence Unit collects certain data. Governments collect data. So we have 25 organizations which are not connected. We collect all this data. We scrub it. And we plug in the gaps by using our own contractors. And we publish that every year, and we rank the country, and we publish it in a way where you can rank it the way you wish. You can rank it globally or you can take our—I'm only interested in rule of law or I'm interested of the quality of the courts, judiciary. Is it independent or not independent? I'm interested to see about violent crimes. I'm interested in inflation, in economic development, fiscal policy, education, gender. We have seven indicators to measure gender issues.
So you can go and just pick any data. It is freely available. We don't claim any IPR on it. We give it away. We'll publish it in so many languages to enable different people to use it. And we send CDs of the information to all civil society major organization in Africa (inaudible) to universities, to the government, of course. And we try to facilitate a discussion within each country around the index, because I think any country leader is just like a chief executive of a major corporation. And like chief executive should come every year to the stakeholders and tell people what happened, what they achieved, what's the situation of the company, and that can only be done by members, not by poetry or by singing or by dancing or...
And so that's why we're trying to really facilitate an objective discussion between civil society, stakeholders, and the governments around it. It's not our intention to name and shame anybody. It is a mirror, and we try to be the mirror in front of them. If somebody sees an ugly thing, maybe it's because they're ugly. It's not the fault of the mirror, you know?
FLAHERTY: So what does the mirror show? What does it say? What is—what have you shown over the last decade?
IBRAHIM: (inaudible) we have—we have—we have data now for 10 years, because when we published, we also—what's important, also, is not the instant picture of what happened this year, which we produce, but you need to look at over the 10 years, where the countries are moving, and are they moving up and down, where they are—and it's a fascinating picture when you try to trace what is going on, what is the link between rule of law and development, which comes first. What is the development? And this is a very interesting subject for people to look into.
The main outcome of the last 10 years is where Africa in general improved governance from 2000 to 2012. And most of the countries improved their governance. Actually, countries where 94 percent of the population live improved in governance. That's good news.
Most development took place in the area of economic opportunity. The economy have moved consistently, fantastically forward. The area of human development, health and education, these two of the big movers forward, improved quite a lot.
And very interesting, without the issues of gender, gender improved by 37 percent over the last 10 years. So when we're told that our friends in Africa, wow, wonderful, you know, but it said no. It moved 37 percent because we (inaudible) coming from a very low base.
So we have a big issue, really, still, and we have—but it's good. At least we are moving in the right direction. We were concerned about stagnation in the area of human rights, the area of safety, violence. Two areas we measure there, one is the conflict, armed conflicts, and what happened is conflicts across borders have diminished. That is good news. But conflicts inside countries have increased, internal conflicts. And internal death, violent deaths increased as a result of that.
And that is the flag we're trying to raise. You say, what is happening? Why we have this tension in some of our society? We have five or six or seven countries where we can see that tension and internal conflict, because, I mean, you all watch the news, what's happening in Egypt, in Libya, but that also happens in other places over the last few years, a lot of internal tensions. And we think, really, a number of dimensions there, some is political, like maybe what's happening in North Africa, but some of this is economic, because although there is a marked growth in economic development, we don't think development was equitable.
The outcome of the new riches in Africa probably was only limited to the top 1 percent or 2 percent of the population, and there's no trickle (inaudible) so we can see the gap is really widening between people at the top of the pyramid and people at the bottom of the pyramid. And we say this is dangerous, because that produced a lot of internal tensions on the fabric of society. And so this issue of inequality is really pressing, and you can see what happened in the mines in South Africa, what's happening in other—that all is a sign, a red light for us.
FLAHERTY: I would be remiss—I want to turn this over to our members—but I would be remiss not to ask you about the prize. Has it met your expectations? Has it achieved what you wanted to achieve?
IBRAHIM: I think it has been a wonderful idea, because it helped focus the debate in Africa about the performance of African leadership. It has many—there are many benefits for this. First is that, as I said, you know, dinner—main dinner conversation in the next week will be around the African leadership, because we're going to announce on Monday the result of the prize committee. I'm not a member of the prize committee, by the way, because (inaudible) governments. And they will announce that on Monday who is the winner.
All Africa will be talking, why—why not my president? Why this guy win it? Why nobody won it? Or why this guy won it? And that's important, because it focuses people's minds on the quality of leadership we need in Africa.
It's also important for—for Africa brand outside, because I guess if I asked you how many of you knows Idi Amin, can you just raise your hand, if you heard about Idi Amin? How many of you know Mobutu? Right? How many of you know Festus Mogae? I think I made my point.
FLAHERTY: I think you made your point.
IBRAHIM: Yeah, these are the wonderful leaders who Africa—unsung heroes. Unfortunately, nobody knows about them. President Chissano, President Mogae, President Pires, wonderful people did wonderful things. Please go and check. Go to our website and check what these people did. And then why you know only our criminals or the bad guys, you know? And I think I made my point.
FLAHERTY: I think you made your point beautifully. OK, we're now going to open it to members. And let me remind you that the title of this is "History Makers," so it's not about current events, so please keep that in mind. We'd like you to stand and say your name and your affiliation. And we would also like to ask you to please make your questions short, make it a question, not a speech, so that as many members as possible can participate.
So we have one right here. And wait for the microphone please.
QUESTION: Yes, Carol Brookins, former U.S. executive director of the World Bank. Mo, you broke major ground in Africa with your model, with your business model. And what was it that was unique about your business model, both in your own staff on the continent, your own team, and how you negotiated with countries, that was able to keep Celtel isolated from some of the egregious behavior that had been happening?
IBRAHIM: That's a very, very important question. In our first board meeting—and I had a very really powerful board. Recall, I had the man who founded Vodafone was in my board. I had Lord Pryor (ph), who used to be (inaudible) in U.K., famous guy, who was in my board, Sir Alan Raj (ph). I had a lot (inaudible) a director from the World Bank, from IFC (ph), from—I have a lot of very (inaudible) people on the board.
I had one seat on the board only. That's also about governance. Those—at that stage, I owned a majority of the company, but only had one seat. We discussed corruption. And we said, this company will not pay one dollar in bribes. Everybody on the board said that, said fine.
I said, how, ladies and gentlemen, are you going to ensure that? You are a wonderful board. You meet, you know, every three months. The people who are coming under pressure, it's not you. It is the chief executives working in the countries. How are we going to support that? And that was (inaudible) because there's no (inaudible) I mean, all—all these great companies here in Europe or whatever, they all have anti-corruption policies. It's a question of how they execute it. Do they put in place the measures which ensure there is no corruption really? That's where they fail.
So we did something very strange. We said, OK, what we're going to do, we're going to say any check in excess of $30,000 needs to be signed by the board. The question here was, how can we ensure the company runs smoothly with that? And the answer was, we need to have some strict financial discipline within the company, which actually was very beneficial for us, but also I needed the full support of the board.
So I said, gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen—because I had some ladies on the board—if you are serious, what you need is to make sure you are available within 24 hours if there's any need for any expenditure exceeding $30,000, I can communicate with all of you, because I need—you know, a board resolution on the phone need everybody to sign up. So I cannot afford to miss anybody, so I need all your contact numbers, everywhere, and we need to be—are you willing to do that? And that was the price of doing it, and they did it, and it was—for seven years, that's the life of the company, we never had a problem. Whenever I needed the board, they were there, because they were serious people who really wanted to produce a model company which doesn't pay bribes.
We're not allowed to have any license in any company without a public tender. We will only participate in public tenders, and otherwise we don't participate in that. So it is—it is easy. It can be done if we in the management want—want to do it. That's why I always say corruption is not just about politicians. Look at the businesspeople, as well, because they have a role to play there.
FLAHERTY: Yes, right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. I'm Dan Sharp with Resilience LLC. Mo, your two contributions to the world, the index and the prize, are, as you describe, a mirror, a reflection of reality. What is the cause of the improvement? To what extent does the index and the foundation lead to these changes? Or are there major other forces that you are harnessing to cause these improvements that can and should be reinforced?
IBRAHIM: That's a difficult question, because I don't believe there is a silver bullet to resolve all these issues. A number of things happening in Africa which—why Africa is moving forward.
Number one is the end of the Cold War. The end of Cold War was crucial for Africa, because during the Cold War, the superpowers acquired client states. And clients are clients, so it doesn't matter if they're dictators or they're killing their people, stealing their money, or whatever they're doing, because our client—our main enemy is the other superpower there, and I need to secure whatever raw material or whatever places or whatever I need to do it. And that's how people like Mobutu prospered, because they have benefactors looking after them.
And the end of the Cold War was wonderful, because suddenly this link ended, and there's no interest now for the United States or what was called the Soviet Union to go and support a dictator (inaudible) that's not acceptable even to the public opinion in the United States or anywhere else, because there is no excuse now. So that was a very important factor which people overlook, actually.
The second important factor, of course, the growth of—we seen in the emerging market, China and other places, which also have the raw materials sort of surge in demand, although the—the raw materials is contributing well than—less than one-third of the growth in Africa, actually. Growth in service industry, for example, far exceeds the growth from raw materials. But, anyway, that was a factor which helped to set (ph).
The third one is the rise of civil society. This is a very important development in Africa. Half of African people are below 19 years old.
IBRAHIM: Africa is a country of kids, a country of young people—sorry, a continent—I acquire the American—I've been here for three days, and already acquired the American disease...
... of calling Africa a country. You guys...
FLAHERTY: Welcome to America.
IBRAHIM: Sorry. Thank you. Anyway, so young people is a big story in Africa now. When they measure half the population of Africa is below 19 years old, it's—and this—those young people are better educated than our generation, better informed than our generation, better connected than our generation.
A 19-year-old kid can read any newspaper in the world, can watch any TV station, can see any YouTube, can communicate with—when I was 19 years old in Sudan, we had two or three newspapers run by the government. Yeah? To get a photocopy of, you need permission from the police. You know, you can—it's a different world. You have only one TV station run by the government. That's it. You cannot watch anything else.
So all that's changed. So the rise of civil society is very important, because it's very—civil society is—really provides the checks and balances on these governments. What we're trying to do is also to add (inaudible) by helping civil society, giving them the tools, helping the governments themselves to look critically at what they're doing. So it is really a lot of different factors coming together to help and move Africa forward.
FLAHERTY: Very interesting. Yes, back here?
QUESTION: Thank you. Kathleen McCarthy, the Graduate Center, CUNY. You mentioned the strong communal traditions in your village when you were growing up as one of the factors that shaped your role as a philanthropist. And certainly many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have very strong traditions like that. But to an outsider, it seems like your role as a philanthropist, who really wants to get at root causes of social issues, rather than just giving money for relief, is fairly unique.
Despite the fact that there are many concentrations of individual wealth on the continent, is that a correct perception? If so, why? And what, if anything, are you doing to try and change it?
IBRAHIM: That's a very interesting question. And we are having conversation with the African businesspeople. And, you know, at least one friend of ours (inaudible) also with Bill Gates and—from South Africa (inaudible) to look for more people also to sign the pledge.
And what we're trying to move actually—African philanthropy historically had been limited to what you call the family, extended family. What you call family is Africa is really like a few hundred people, sometimes thousand people. This you call family, because a fourth cousin is a family. And so it is—so they do things—they look after their extended families, their villages, their localities, et cetera. But what we needed that—is to move that to a different level.
So in our discussion, we say, you know what? Actually, the honorable giving is to give something for somebody you don't know, you have never met, and you will never meet. But, you know, somebody needs something, and really—the best example I always give, Mary Robinson, the (inaudible) president of Ireland, once was telling me a story.
She said, during the potato famine in Ireland many years ago, some Indian tribes here living somewhere in this continent who have never seen an Irish man in their life heard there are some people dying of hunger called Irish, and those guys are somewhere, you know, beyond the big sea. And those guys made boxes of food, and they sent it to Ireland. That was an amazing, really, act of humanity.
You have no idea how they look like, even. And she said to me, the first thing (inaudible) when I became president is to go and visit those people and to thank them, and to say, I'm probably alive because you sent that food to my grandparents, and I came here to say thank you. That is a wonderful story, I think. What we need is to learn one or two things from those Indians. That we're trying to tell our friends here.
QUESTION: Rachel Robbins, most recently with IFC. Mo, you talked about the opportunity with the young people and education, teaching leadership and ethics. I'm familiar with Ashesi University in Ghana, but are there others like that? And do you really see a growing surge of educational institutions that are promoting this?
IBRAHIM: Yes, it's happening. And a lot of universities are popping up. Also, for—it's becoming now also lucrative business. I can see a lot of private university—I'm not sure about the quality, but there are so many, are popping up everywhere. Education is very important.
And, yes, the states do what they can, but also it's important that business also get involved, and it is a profitable line of business. We are comfortable with that. What worries me about education, it is not about the number of seats in universities or the number—it's about, what exactly are we educating our young people?
I was in Pretoria a month ago, and there was an event at a University of South Africa in Pretoria. I was asked to deliver the annual Mandela Lecture. And it was to be delivered at that university. So—because he went there.
So I was talking to the chancellor before I went to speak, and I asked him, I said, how many students do you have? And he said, I have 300,000 students. I said, how many of them are studying agriculture? And he just looked—and he said, less than 2 percent. So I said, we're spending all this money to educate 300,000 people, 2 percent of them doing agriculture. Agriculture is the most important thing for us in Africa. You know, what are we teaching our young people?
There's a missing link between our curriculum and what we're teaching and the industry out there, where the jobs come from. What kind of skills our people need? Because, yes, poetry is lovely. Literature is great. Law is wonderful. But we cannot just keep generating lawyers and literate people, et cetera. And, you know, but who's going to build the houses, build the roads, do the telephone lines? We really need a balanced system of education to deliver skills which really are needed, because those guys are going to need jobs (inaudible) when half your population is 19 years, below 19 years old, do you think how many million of people are coming to job markets every year? And what happens if you don't provide jobs for them?
That's why I think the IFC, your organization, should get involved and speak and talk with the educational authority in Africa about what—what's the future of jobs?
FLAHERTY: Let's—way in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Laurie Garrett from the Council. A global health question. In 1978 or '79, Idi Amin invaded Tanzania and insisted that part of the invasionary strategy was raping women that were of different ethnic groups as they made their way across Uganda, through the Rakai and Bukoba (ph) districts. And that spawned today's HIV-AIDS pandemic and certainly started the great spread across East Africa.
When you look back from 1978 to today, what do you imagine to be besides—or in addition to the lives lost, the greatest impact this pandemic has had on your continent?
IBRAHIM: Right. While I have really total respect for you and for the council, I'm not sure about the accuracy of the story you opened the discussion with, and I'm not sure that that's really the source of AIDS. But maybe that's a separate debate for professional health people, and I'm not a professional health person, but I'm just questioning the accuracy of the story.
But to answer the main question, really, which—the effect of the pandemic, I mean, it was horrible. And it especially crucial sectors of the population were lost—large number of teachers, for example, were lost. And some of our leaders were rather slow in acknowledging the problem, because it seemed like shameful, something we don't talk about, we sweep under the carpet, and that was extremely damaging.
But things changed. And the commitment now to fight this is really wonderful. The response of the international organization—and I really wish here to commend, also, what my friend, Bill Gates, is doing. I mean, it's—he and Melinda have done a wonderful job, really, in that area, people like (inaudible) there's a lot of people who really did very well in (inaudible) or Festus Mogae, the guy who did it (inaudible) he did a fantastic job, also, in counseling other African presidents about how to react to the problem.
According to our data, which will be published on Monday, actually, and I had a brief look at it before it's been published, the—the treatments now is widely available to people. It's a huge improvement in the—and that's one of the reasons that we see health improve a lot in Africa, and—so things are definitely moving forward.
And the cases—the fight is done now in that nobody in Africa now is afraid or shy to talk about the problem. Once that happened, yes, you can deal with it.
FLAHERTY: Yes, right here.
QUESTION: My name is David Phillips (ph) from Columbia University. There were two revolutions in Sudan, in April of '64 and then October of '85. Some people refer to the events of last week as a third revolution. It started in (inaudible) with the death of a businessman, and it spread across the country, when fuel subsidies were removed. What role did social media play in organizing the protest? Do you think that these protests have longevity? And why don't we hear more about these events in Sudan in international media? More than 200 people have died, but it's like a tree that's fallen in the forest.
IBRAHIM: That is a very, very good question. And I was really puzzled why the media is silent about what's going on in Sudan. I mean, 50 people died in Egypt, it made the front page of New York Times, FT, everywhere. It was a front page news. Two hundred people were killed in Sudan, demonstrating against the dictatorship, nothing. I could not even find even one line in the back pages or even the (inaudible) nothing.
I'm puzzled, to be honest, why they're not paying attention to what's going on there. Sudan has one of the most brutal, illegitimate regimes in Africa. It committed crimes in Darfur, committed crimes in—it actually pushed, really, for separation of the country. The only country in Africa that's going against history. When Africa is talking about unity and union and (inaudible) 50 years of African Union, so that is only country of Africa that's going in the opposite direction and is splitting our country apart.
But we understand why, because the government of the north was not helpful at all in really building the relationship with our brothers and sisters in the south. They really pushed them away. And I wrote at that time an op-ed in the FT, and I said, if I'm (inaudible) of course, I'll (inaudible) for separation, because I (inaudible) I cannot live under this kind of situation.
So it is terrible, what's happening there. Social media, of course, is vital, and it was indicative that the—twice the country cut the Internet and (inaudible) the Internet. The media, they closed seven newspapers. They banned any newspaper from publishing anything other than the statements from the Ministry of Information. Nothing. You cannot report anything other than what they've given to you before that.
The censors from the security forces sit physically in the newspaper to—they don't censor—they don't check the paper after it's—before it's published. And some—two newspapers decided to close down, not to publish, because they said we are no longer generous, so it's no point in doing it. Yesterday, there was a demonstration by the journalist (inaudible) in front of the high court or somewhere to have—just to stand there (inaudible) they were beaten up. They were beaten up.
And so that's what's happening, and everybody's silent. I don't know why. You are the professor. You tell me why.
FLAHERTY: Now, we're getting near the end, so who has a brilliant question? Oh, hands are still up.
Way back in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Alice Dear, former U.S. executive director of the African Development Bank. With all the changes that has come to grassroots society in Africa, with mobile technology, do you envision a similar kind of change or transformation that could take place with solar energy to grassroots people that would empower them? And would you consider turning your engineering mind towards that next challenge? Thank you.
IBRAHIM: Well, solar energy, of course, is wonderful for us. We have a lot of sun. And I understand, also, the prices are coming down, and we hope nanotechnology and other technology will help bring the price down.
Unfortunately, I'm not longer in business. And I—I don't have the energy of this—if you are in business, you have to put your soul, your life into your work, really. And this work on the foundation is just pulling us in every direction, because sometimes—in fighting for Africa, actually, you can end up in Brussels arguing with the MPs there to introduce anti-corruption law, transparency stuff. The energy bills are there to match to what (inaudible) trying to impose here on the energy companies and the—the American Institute of Petroleum or whatever they call them, we are fighting hard, pushing against it. I think you know that story.
So a lot of fights which affects Africa actually sometimes happen outside of Africa. So I wish I had the energy or I wish I was an younger man, but I hope—I'm sure—there's so many young people coming forward and they do much better than what we did.
FLAHERTY: We still have time for another brilliant question. Over here?
QUESTION: Peter Klatsky, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. At the risk of being less brilliant, but still very interested, I'm interested in your opinion as a former chairman of the telecom companies, the telecom network, the cellphone network has a tremendous potential in serving the health needs, particularly in remote, hard-to-reach areas.
IBRAHIM: Sorry. In remote...
QUESTION: Remote, hard-to-reach areas. For example, I work in western Uganda, where one of the drivers of maternal and child mortality is access to the hospital. In my own experience, we're sending out...
FLAHERTY: Short. We're at the end.
QUESTION: Sure. So in setting up an emergency transportation communication reimbursement system for women experiencing emergency obstetric—obstetric emergencies, I was surprised that the telecom providers and the aggregators said I couldn't get free access to the network and that the air time wouldn't be donated by anybody. I'm curious to what extent telecoms serving communities that—when there's not a profit motive on anybody's end, it's just about improving access for the rural poor—to what extent should they feel responsible to provide access to the network?
IBRAHIM: Yeah, I—I think there should be an element of social responsibility with—you know, for those companies to help as much as they can. And I cannot comment, because I'm out of this business. I mean, if I was still executive, a guy came to me, maybe I would let you in. I don't know.
But I—it's something really up to the conscious of the people who are running these networks.
FLAHERTY: Well, we've reached the end of our time. I think you know here at the Council we have a commitment to end on time. I want to thank Richard Pepler and HBO for sponsoring, for supporting this incredible series of interviews. And, of course, most importantly, we want to thank...
IBRAHIM: Thank you very much.
FLAHERTY: ... Dr. Mo Ibrahim, an extraordinary...
IBRAHIM: Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you very much. I really (inaudible) thank you.
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