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NAIROBI, Kenya—Mo Ibrahim has long been a man on a mission. Several missions, in fact. The Sudanese-born telecoms tycoon, who trained as an electrical engineer, founded Celtel International in 1998, building it into one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies. In 2006, a year after he sold Celtel and guided by a belief that governance is the basis for growth and prosperity, he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to promote African leadership and good governance on the continent.
Deeply passionate about Africa, Ibrahim is a fierce critic of those who fail it, while loudly—and financially—championing its heroes. In 2007, he launched the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which pays out $5 million to individual winners over 10 years. Recipients honored for uplifting their countries and smoothly transitioning power to successors are South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (honorary recipient), Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba, Cabo Verde’s Pedro Pires, Botswana’s Festus Mogae, and Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano.
The sudden rise and sweep of COVID-19 has left Ibrahim impressed with Africa’s immediate response, but cautious about the continent’s future, especially concerning the potential long-term economic fallout. In this edited interview, Ibrahim talked about what he sees as Africa’s prospects during and after COVID-19—and why strong partnerships must support countries’ future growth.
By Jason Hopps