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KWAKU’S INTERVIEW WITH DR. MO IBRAHIM

Sudanese telecoms billionaire, Dr. Mo Ibrahim was Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s guest on “KWAKU One-on-One” on Sunday, November 29 at 3pm on TV3. Dr. Ibrahim is the founder of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awards five million dollars over 10 years to an ex-African leader who leaves an excellent governance record, plus US$200,000 year for life thereafter.

A further US$200,000 a year to charitable causes chosen by the winner may be considered by the Foundation.  The cash prize exceeds that of the Nobel Peace Prize.  The interview with Dr. Ibrahim was taped in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Previous winners are Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Botswana’s Festus Mogae.

The decision this year by the independent prize committee not to name a winner generated controversy all over Africa, but especially in Ghana where the former President John Kufuor had been tipped by some analysts to win.  Former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of S. Africa and Tijan Kabbah of Sierra Leone were all eligible for the award which was established three years ago.  The judging panel includes former UN chief Kofi Annan, ex-President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari and Mohammed el Barradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), all Nobel laureates.
Dr. Ibrahim earned a Ph.D in mobile telecom technology over 30 years ago.  In 1998 he founded MSI-Cellular Investments, later renamed Celtel, and now Zain. He sold Celtel for US$3.4 billion in 2005.

Here are some of the highlights of Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s interview with Dr. Mo Ibrahim on Kwaku One-on-One.

KSA:
Dr Ibrahim, welcome to Kwaku one on one.

MI:
Thank you very much for having me

KSA:
Dr Ibrahim, why wasn’t an award given this year?

MI:
That is the decision by the prize committee, I am not a member of the prize committee and that, and I hope people understand. We’re a foundation about governance and we have to observe what we preach and so if I am founding it (the Foundation), I cannot also be a member of the prize committee. The prize committee has seven eminent members.  It has two Presidents; three Nobel Laureates, it is probably one of the most credible committees of its kind in the world today and this kind of committee should operate in confidence. Deliberations are confidential. I am not allowed into their meetings! They don’t keep minutes and that is the way they operate!

KSA:
Did they tell you the reason?

MI:
No, they are not obliged to tell us anything! The relationship between the Board of the Foundation which I chair and the prize committee is very formal. The day before the press conference, the prize committee meets the board and informs the board about their decision. That’s it! We are not supposed to go to discussions or negotiations because they are eminent people. If you decide to question them, they’ll walk out from the committee.

KSA:
So did you hear at the same time as everyone else did about the decision of the prize committee?

MI:
No, we heard twelve hours before everybody else because we met in the afternoon of Sunday. Monday morning was the press conference where we released the decision to the media.

KSA:
Were you disappointed?

MI:
I can’t say I am.

KSA:
What was your reaction?

MI:
The whole function really, is much more about giving the prize. We’re really about development. The most important project is the index. Everybody has a hang up about the prize. The prize is one of our projects but our efforts actually is building the endings of governance and disseminating. That is more important. When we launched the foundation, we said the there are only fifty three presidents. The number which comes out is very small actually. The committee, of course will set very tough standards for this kind of prize and in some years, we might not offer the prize. That’s the prerogative of the committee.

KSA:
When you have four former leaders; President Kufuor of Ghana, President Tagbo Mbeki of South-Africa, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Hamed Tijan Kabah of Sierra-Leonne and none of them is good enough for the award?

MI:
‘Good’ is relative. I just referred you to the statement issued by the prize committee. I recited that at the Press Conference on Monday. And the statement carefully said that there have been a number of very credible leaders who have done a good job for their countries; that was one statement. However, they decided not to offer it; that was the second sentence. So, there’s great respect for a number of wonderful leaders but it doesn’t follow that the prize has to go to any of them. People need to understand that. A retired leader is eligible for three years so who knows what will happen next year, or the year after.

KSA:
What do you reckon the impact will be, given what you envisaged at the establishment of the foundation and the prize if the prize is not given for a second year running?

MI:
It doesn’t matter. We think that governance is the most important issue facing us. We’re a very rich continent. We have incredible resources and there are not too many people living in Africa. The population is only 940 million. That’s less than two- thirds of India, one country, yet we’re poor. Why are we poor if we have quality resources? We want to raise a debate on governance. That’s the objective of the prize.

KSA:
Obviously, the reason you established this is to encourage excellence in leadership. If the prize is not given for two years running, that’s bad news.

MI:
We never claimed to have perfect governance in Africa. If we did, we would not have to set up the foundation. We want governments to improve because we are not happy about the state of governance. We did not find the exceptional person. That, I assume is the position of the prize committee and I cannot speak on behalf of the prize committee. People should understand.

KSA:
Some of the speculation in Ghana was that Mo Ibrahim was broke. Is Mo broke?

MI:
(Laughs) The financial commitment to the foundation has been legally made and solely independent from my personal financial situation.

KSA:
So it has nothing to do with the fact that the award was not given. Did the global financial meltdown melt you down?

MI:
No, I’m fine.

KSA:
Is the award making the impact you envisaged?

MI:
Absolutely, we had a number of setbacks. We’re far from perfect in Africa. But we’re not that behaviour. Why are we not citing Ghana? You guys had a wonderful election. When I was in the Sates, I was telling my friends that the difference between the two parties was so close; you compare that to what happened in United States (Florida) in the past. I said that we Ghanaians, we Africans handled ours (elections) better than yours.  Why are we not citing Ghana? Why are we only talking about Zimbabwe and Kenya?

KSA:
Because where things are not going right, where there is darkness, you need to shine the light so that we can fix it?

MI:
I agree! But you see to evaluate the continent, we need to see the good and bad, then pass judgement. But to see Africa as only a land of coups, rape, genocide, atrocities, is not fair.

KSA:
In relation to the foundation and its objectives, when things like these happen, it is not good news for the Foundation, because that’s not what you want to see?

MI:
Exactly, but that’s why we’re there. If the state of government in Africa was really wonderful and perfect, there would be no need for us to exist.

KSA:
Do you believe that the arrow is pointing in the positive direction in spite of these reversals?

MI:
Absolutely, I think we’re moving in the right direction. Some of these reversals have to be looked at a little bit carefully. People say Kenya and Zimbabwe are reversal. There is another way to look at it. I see that the people in Zimbabwe and Kenya really queued since dawn to vote. Over 95% of the population stood there in the sun waiting to vote, for hours and hours. This means that our people really believe in democracy. When they feel their votes are not respected, they don’t take it lightly. That is positive development.

KSA:
Did you ever pick up the phone and call some of these leaders… Robert Mugabe, and indeed Omar Al Bashir, the President of your own country?

MI:
Sometimes, but please you have to understand that I’m a citizen; I don’t an official position; I don’t claim an official position. We work with civil societies. The people I meet all the time are civil society people but occasionally we do but I don’t seek that lime light to open up to Presidential Palaces, that’s not my cup of tea.

KSA:
Do you ever or when was the last time you spoke to President Al Bashir?

MI:
Last time was about two (2) years ago

KSA:
That’s a long time giving what is going on. Are you shirking your responsibility in not being a bit more active?

MI:
No! I speak continuously with the people dealing in Darfur and the rest, sort of the Chief Negotiator on behalf of the Government…

KSA:
Why Bashir wouldn’t pick your calls?

MI:
We wrote a letter for example, from the Foundation to have a meeting with the civil society. We wanted to bring the civil society together in Darfur…

KSA:
Why do you talk to people who don’t have weapons? What are poor unarmed people to do against the unjustified might of people with weapons?

MI:
Exactly! Because we are a foundation and don’t speak to armed groups. We only speak to the people, civilians.

KSA:
What power do the unarmed groups have over people who are carrying weapons and killing them?

MI:
We are the numbers, the people, and the power in the end should reside in us. We should not be terrorised by one guy carrying a gun. We are the millions of dispossessed Africans and we should stand up and say ‘that’s what we want’! It’s time to get the democratic will of the people on the table.

KSA:
What do you think about of the indictment of President Al Bashir?

MI:
This is a legal issue; I am not a lawyer; it is up to the government and the ICJ to deal with it.

KSA:
If he were to come to Tanzania, should he be arrested?

MI:
Again, this is a legal mater. It depends on what Tanzania’s commitment to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is…

KSA:
If they have signed, they should hand him over?

MI:
That is the legal requirement of them (if they have signed), so it is up to them to fulfil it.

KSA:
So if they have signed, they should hand him over?

MI:
I am not a lawyer…

KSA:
You don’t have to be a lawyer; but if they have signed, they are party to the ICC. Should they do the simple thing and have him arrested and hand him over?

MI:
These are legal obligations. I think that is one of the reasons why President Bashir didn’t go to Nigeria because there were question marks there, so…

KSA:
I have to ask u this question as somebody who as established an award, what do you think about the Noble Prize Award to President Obama?

MI:
That is very interesting. Let me start by saying the election of Obama to US has been really a very wonderful thing because we did not believe that it could happen in United States in our lifetime. He is a wonderful man; visionary. But I must agree that it was a bit too early. It is usually given for achievement and this time it was given for hope.

KSA:
Isn’t his election in and of itself an achievement; an African American without a hyphen, whose middle name is Yussein, his father was a Muslim, first time Senator, black man?

MI:
Absolutely! I know! Yes but in this case the prize maybe should have been given to the American people; these are the guys who elected him. Well I am sure or I hope he will be able to deliver. People have to remember that American Political Scene is very complex; you have the House, the Congress etc. Barack Obama also came to inherit a bad economy, probably bankrupt i.e. it was in a very bad shape; economic crises, climate changes, then wars in Iraq, wars in Afghanistan, then problems in the Middle-East, then Africa… I mean, how is this guy going to sleep? It is really a though job.

KSA:
So there is sometimes a justification to give an award sometimes for hope?

MI:
I did not say that. You asked me why it was given. I said they gave it for hope!

KSA:
So is there a justification to give an award for hope?

MI:
I don’t think so! When we decide or classify a prize, let us stick to it. When we start making exceptions, then we are changing.

KSA:
Isn’t hope as important as achievement? Isn’t hope the road to achievement?

MI:
It is wonderful but let us has a prize for hope. Let’s not use the prize for achievement to reward hope.

KSA:
Alright! Are you going to establish a prize for hope, “Mo Ibrahim Prize for Hope in African Leadership?” (Laughs)

MI:
(Laughs) I really have done what I can. We have created space for a lot of people to come and do something on the same platform. There are so many African business people, civil societies etc. We can not be everything for everybody.

KSA:
Let me finish from where we started from. If you had to choose one of these four (4) men to serve on your Board or to indeed, leave your grandchildren with: President Kufuor of Ghana, President Tagbo Mbeki of South-Africa, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Hamed Tijan Kabah of Sierra-Leonne, which of these men would you chose?

MI:
Any of them will be fine! They are really wonderful people.

TRANSCRIPTION BY:
FRANK OWUSU-OFORI.

Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

The author Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

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