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African Philanthropist Gives Back


I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, in the place where Dr. King preached his last sermon, clergy are coming together to make a new push for poor children. But first, part two of our conversation with African entrepreneur and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim. Ibrahim is one of the founders of Celtel International, now one of Africa's leading mobile phone operators. He wanted to prove that one could succeed in Africa without engaging in corrupt business practices. But then, three years ago, he sold the company to start the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. His new goal, to promote better governance in Sub-Saharan Africa by recognizing and rewarding leaders who embrace transparency and the rule of law, and who step down according to the laws of their countries. It awards those leaders five million dollars upon leaving office and 200,000 dollars annually until their deaths. It is the largest annually awarded prize in the world.

Last week, Mo Ibrahim, who lives in Britain, was on a U.S. tour, and he was kind enough to stop by our studios in Washington. In the first part of our conversation that aired yesterday, Mo Ibrahim discussed his successful career and business philosophy. In part two of our conversation, he talked about his philosophy of philanthropy. ..TEXT: Mr. MO IBRAHIM (African Entrepreneurand Philanthropist, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation): The difficult question was how to give back. I respect the people doing charities, but I see charities as pain killers, like aspirin. They help, but they don't cure the problem. And that's why I decided I wanted to do something different. Now, it struck me then that the one issue which is really central to our problems in Africa, the one issue which is a prerequisite for our development and to go anywhere, is that of good governance. And without good governance, there's no hope for any country. By the way, everybody needs good governance. You need good governance in the United States. Everybody - we need good governance in the United Kingdom. But our need in Africa is even more urgent because it's a matter of life or death for our people, frankly.

MARTIN: The Mo Ibrahim Foundation does a number of things. But I think the thing for which it is perhaps best known in this country is the prize for good governance, five million dollars for a leader who is recognized for good governance...

Mr. IBRAHIM: Yeah.

MARTIN: Who peaceably leaves, who doesn't change the constitution to favor his own continuation of power.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Exactly.

MARTIN: But I want to hear it, it's an incredible prize. As I think I mentioned, the largest annually awarded prize - or it's available to be awarded annually - in the world. And yet, it's a pittance compared to what some of these people can steal.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Yes. We don't see the prize as a replacement of loot. The guys who are stealing are not our guys. We are not interested in them. We are interested in the good people who really come and do the right thing in their countries. And that's who worries us. We need to look after those people. Michel, you compare your leaders with our leaders. To start with, what keeps a Western leader awake at night? Deflation...

MARTIN: I would argue it would be terrorism.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Expenses. Well, I know U.S. maybe has one or two issues about Iraq and terrorists, maybe. And also, maybe terrorism should be put in its right place. I mean, how many of those attacks have you had here compared with other people?

MARTIN: Well, OK. But I think one would argue with you about the trauma of that experience.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Sure. No, I respect that and appreciate that.

MARTIN: And that is not the way it's lived. I mean, you can - the people don't live that way. They don't say, oh,gee, it could - you know.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Right. Yeah, but I mean, the number, the - OK, I mean...

MARTIN: Yeah. But anyway, I take your point.

Mr. IBRAHIM: OK. So our leaders have to worry about - I have half a million people with HIV-AIDS. I have no drugs for those guys. I have malaria epidemic. I need to deal with that. We have so many kids coming to school age. Where will I build the schools for all those people? We have power cuts everywhere in the country. How can we generate enough power? Half our people don't have clean water to drink. And on top of that, we also have terrorists. They blowing up also hotels and buildings in Kenya and God knows where. There's so many issues facing, really, a leader of an African countries.

And there are very little resources. There are very few think tanks to help them through it or support it. There's not much strong media to also help. So it's a very lonely and tough job. And I think, if a leader comes and really faces all these issues and really face them expertly and do the right thing, I think that person needs to be honored. That's number one.

Number two, somehow, in the West, you created a system to deal with a very sensitive issue, which is what a president do after they leave office. And actually, your leaders here or in Europe, they start to become rich after they leave office, you know? Tony Blair charges half a million dollars when you want to go for, you know, for half an hour speech at Hong Kong, plus expenses. Speaking engagements, biographies, balls.

MARTIN: I guess I want to invite him to my birthday party, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thank you for telling me.

Mr. IBRAHIM: This really - life is really wonderful after you leave office as a leader in the Western world.

MARTIN: That's true. There's a great deal of appreciation and esteem.

Mr. IBRAHIM: And rightly so. Those people served, and they know a lot, and they are welcome in the balls of the great banks, the great companies because they add insight, wisdom, information, etc. Now, our leaders, where do they go? There's nowhere. We don't have a JPMorgan to pay two million dollars like they pay to our Western leaders, or I don't have Goldman Sachs in Africa. We don't have those guys there. So where our leader go? Nowhere. Nowhere. And that is a terrible situation, unacceptable. Engagement with public life should not end after they leave office. Those people have a lot to give.

You look at your very own Bill Clinton. I think he did more for the good after he left office, maybe, than he did in the office itself.

MARTIN: Well, that's a complicated situation right now, as you know, because he's - you know, his wife is running for president. So that's a whole other scenario. What is it - we had the privilege to speak with the first winner of the Mo Ibrahim prize, the president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, last November after he received the award. And I asked him how he was able to do what so many other heads of state were not. And this is what he told us.

Former President JOAQUIM CHISSANO (Mozambique): Well, each one has got his own character. But I think that there's something, which may be said about me and some of my colleagues, is that we fought for liberation without expecting any reward. The only reward which we were expecting was liberation of our country. And the day after, we started working without looking for how much salary we are getting.

MARTIN: So this made me wonder whether it is - was it perhaps unique historical circumstances that produced a leader like Joaquim Chissano or a Nelson Mandela? Is that a character that you can reproduce?

Mr. IBRAHIM: I really struggled with this, and I don't know if I got to the bottom of it. What makes a good leader? Is it the circumstances? Is it something inbuilt? Is it the genes? Is it - I really don't know. But there are a few of those people around. And Africa is capable of producing decent leaders. What we want is to acknowledge and to reward and support these leaders, so that, after office, they can - like Bill Clinton, starting his global initiative, which was a wonderful thing and became a big platform. I saw Laura Bush there.

MARTIN: The current First Lady.

Mr. IBRAHIM: It became a cause. It's not partisan anymore. It's doing good for the world. And that is wonderful. We really need people to do - I need our guys to do that.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Mo Ibrahim, businessman and philanthropist. Talking about heads of state. As you and I are speaking, incumbent president Robert Mugabe is trying to continue in office after being in power for 28 years. Many people will say that they believe that he has become a dictator. And I'd like to ask, you know, what's happening in Zimbabwe runs counter to everything your award stands for. So, when you see a situation like this, does it frustrate you? Is there some role that you think people like you could play in helping someone who's currently in office, who's behaving in this way, to transform his behavior? Or is it just a thing where one has to wait for that person to leave office or that generation to be gone?

Mr. IBRAHIM: As you mentioned earlier, without going into details, we don't only do the prize, but also we do the index, which we think is probably more important than the prize. We produce this governance index for all African countries. And what we're doing is, we're giving the civil society in Zimbabwe and everywhere detailed information, by numbers, by ranking, about all the achievements, or lack of it, of their governments. We give this - we are not in the business of regime change. We are a foundation. We don't have tanks or airplanes. We cannot go and kick somebody out of office, and it's not our job to do it, actually.

MARTIN: And that would run counter to the values that you've expressed in the foundation, anyway.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Which is that people should be able to choose their leaders.

Mr. IBRAHIM: The people themselves in Zimbabwe, we give them the facts, and we hope that those people, armed with the facts, they go and do the right thing.

MARTIN: So this index isn't really aimed at the leaders themselves, it's sort of shaming them.


MARTIN: It's aimed at their citizens.

Mr. IBRAHIM: We aimed at the civil society because, Michel, everybody talks about good governance. Everyone would agree we need good governance. Then you say, what is good governance? Can we define good governance? Can we measure it? Can we describe it clearly? And we rank and give the numbers to the people so we all know what we're talking about. This is a very powerful tool to enable the civil society to have an informed debate with their governments. Then things happen.

MARTIN: But, speaking of that, the country of your birth, Sudan, ranks near the bottom in governance of the index that you created and support. That must be painful.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Absolutely. For me, it's very painful. And you know, what I noticed is common between Sudan and other countries which came low, is that we measure a total 58 factors under five measure headings. One of them is about security and safety, which is, are we safe? Can we move in the streets? About militias, about armed conflicts, et cetera. Whenever there is armed conflict in a country, that destroys good governance because it not only destroys the ranking in safety, when you have such an armed conflicts, the education system collapses, the health system collapses, the government collapses, the economy collapses. You know, you have all - everything has been affected and nothing is worse.

Our main problem, clearly, is this illegal armed conflicts and civil wars, et cetera. You look at the index, you see a country like Rwanda. In five years it moved up 18 places. Not because the government did anything wonderful, they just stopped the killing.

MARTIN: But, speaking of which, many people in this country are very interested in the situation in Darfur and in the events there, and this conflict is at least five years on. Do you see any hopeful sign of resolution there? And is there anything that global actors could do that they're not now doing to support a resolution there?

Mr. IBRAHIM: I think a few things need to be done. First, we need to really get the Darfur people organizations, together. At the moment, there is something like 16 different groups. How can we have successful negotiations if one side has 16 representatives? That's unacceptable. So we really - that's one engagement we need to do. The second thing is, we hope the international community speak with one voice. At the moment, everybody has an initiative. Look at what happened in Nairobi. When Kofi Annan went to Nairobi, he said something very clear to everybody, and he told me that. He said, listen guys, if I'm going to go there, that's it. Don't send anybody else. One voice, everybody behind me. And that's what we did. American administration said, we are behind you. The British said, we are behind you, and everybody said nobody is going to go to Nairobi except you, and here's a carte blanche. And then he was able to go there and the international community speaking was one voice.

In Darfur, this is not happening, unfortunately. All the people who talked about genocide in Darfur and talked about ethnic cleansing, did not live up to their promises. And let's be frank, Europe and America refused to put their boys on the grounds, and said, we are not able, for whatever reason, Iraq or some, to put our people on the ground. Can we ask the Africans to put their boys on the ground, and we will give them the equipment? The Africans, as usual, very gullible, believed you, and they sent their boys there. We have been waiting for the helicopters now for four years. Those guys need 24 helicopters. You guys, among all those people who are talking about interfering and dealing with Darfur, the genocide, you have 17,000 helicopters, and you cannot give us 24 helicopters. We put our boys to die there and to defend, and, please, you need to walk the talk, also.

And there has been a lot of talk from this administration, from everybody, and nobody produced what they promised to do. Not you, not U.K., not France, not Germany, not Norway, not Swiss, nobody. And then we start talking and, sorry, that doesn't help.

MARTIN: You've been very generous with your time, and I've kept you longer than I said I would. But I did have one more question for you. Just curious about your take on U.S. elections. The U.S. is in the middle of its presidential election season, which is lasting a very long time. So you've had plenty of time to catch up, and you still have plenty of time to catch up if you have not been able to follow it. But what's your take on it?

Mr. IBRAHIM: It is really, really fascinating, and we are all watching the American - the whole population, the whole world is watching the American election. And what we find, also, very refreshing is a black man, a woman, a liberal conservative or low ex-serviceman with - that's a very interesting field, really, very interesting people. And we could not believe that America is ready for a black president or a woman president, and you guys surprising us. You are much more advanced on the world than we though you are. So congratulations to you.

MARTIN: I'm not sure if "thank you" is in order, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I think. Mo Ibrahim is a businessman, philanthropist, and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington studio. So much to talk about. I hope when you stop back in the U.S. you'll come back and see us.

Mr. IBRAHIM: Thank you very much. I'll do.

MARTIN: If you missed the first part of our conversation with Mo Ibrahim, please visit our website at Coming up, words from the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Reverend Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (Leader, American Civil Rights Movement): And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent.

MARTIN: That's coming up next. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.