Childhood & Early Life
Mo Ibrahim was born in 1946 in Sudan. His father was a clerk by profession. The family moved to Egypt when Ibrahim was young.
Completing his preliminary studies, he enrolled at the Alexandria University for a degree in electrical engineering. After earning a Bachelor degree in science, he returned to Sudan where he started working as an engineer in the state-run Sudan Telecom.
In 1974, he moved to England and gained admission at the University of Bradford. After earning his master’s degree in electronics and electrical engineering, he went on to attain PhD degree in mobile communications from University of Birmingham. His pioneering academic work included reuse of radio frequencies. Simultaneously, he taught at the University of Birmingham.
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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-of-its-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.
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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.
Ibrahim founded Celtel International, which aimed at providing mobile communication services in the African continent. Soon after its launch, it became one of the largest companies in Africa offering coverage in more than a dozen countries and serving millions of people. It created a mobile revolution of sorts, increasing the number of users from a meagre 7.5 million to a mammoth 76.5 million.
Ibrahim philanthropic works led him to found the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which is aimed at celebrating excellence in Africa leadership. Annually, it distributes the prestigious and the world’s largest monetary prize, Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to a recipient who fulfils the criteria set by the foundation.
Awards & Achievements
Ibrahim has been bestowed with honorary Doctorate degree in Economics by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
In 2011, he received the Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
He has been the proud recipient of a number of awards including GSM Association's Chairman's Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2007, the BNP Paribas Prize for Philanthropy in 2008 and the Clinton Global Citizen award in 2010
In 2012, he was conferred with two awards: the Millennium Excellence Award for Actions in Africa and the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award. In 2011, he received the Africare Leadership Award and Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize.
In May 2014, he was presented with the Eisenhower Medal for Distinguished Leadership and Service. Following month, he was bestowed with the Foreign Policy Association Medal.