Mo Ibrahim: “In Africa, it’s possible to be an exceptional leader”
Interview between Le Figaro and Mo Ibrahim, published on 26 April 2019
After making his fortune in the African mobile telecoms network, the Anglo-Sudanese billionaire, born in 1946, created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006, based in London, to promote good governance across the African continent. Ibrahim spoke to Le Figaro in Abidjan during his Foundation’s annual event the Ibrahim Governance Weekend, which was this year dedicated to the topic of African migrations.
Mo Ibrahim, you have devoted your life and your money to governance in Africa for the last 15 years. Has public governance progressed in Africa during this time?
Well, from a general perspective, yes, but there are growing disparities between countries, and areas to pay particular attention to. According to our Ibrahim Index of African Governance, governance in Africa improved for about 70% of the population over the last ten years. Yet, progress has been stalling since 2014. While improvement has accelerated in the last five years in about fifteen countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, the ongoing deterioration observed in other countries is getting worse. And, the most alarming point, which is at the heart of the debate we had about migrations during the Ibrahim Governance Weekend, is that African governments have failed to translate economic growth into improved Sustainable Economic Opportunity for their citizens.
The main issue we must address is demographic growth. Regardless of Africa’s economic growth, and it is almost at its utmost, it will always lag behind population growth if current trends continue. We will see more and more hopeless young people who, in the best scenario, decide to migrate to Europe or at worst, decide to join terrorist networks.
We don’t think that we have a magic wand or a silver bullet so that we can just go and do something and change a country, let alone a continent. We think it is a long, long haul and we cannot do it alone. We need to help, mobilise and work with everyone who is trying to improve governance in Africa. At the forefront of that work, we need to support young people.
You created a prize giving a lot of money to presidents leaving power after their mandate so that they are not incited to steal money during their presidency. Why didn’t it work with Kabila, for instance?
Our prize is not an incentive for people who are able to amass billions of dollars. And it is never our intention to use this as an alternative to bribes or dirty money because you cannot match that. Our intention, really, was three-fold. Number one – there are good leaders who will do the right work.
We need to change our perceptions. The problem is that a criminal – everybody in the world knows about him. A good man, nobody knows about him. Then we end up saying, “Africa’s leaders are all thieves.” No, there are some good people, who are doing a remarkable job for their country. We need to change the perception and bring those guys out of the shadows – there are some good people here. We also need to provide these exceptional leaders with the means to pursue their work when their mandate is over, so that they can put their wisdom and guidance at the service of greater causes.
Finally, what we want to do is to start this conversation with African citizens and particularly young people. Will my president win the Ibrahim Prize? Does he or she deserve it? We need people to start talking about leadership. Who are the good leaders? What is a good leader? Who deserves to win? Who doesn’t deserve it? When people start discussing it, our job is done. People will reach their own conclusions. We want the subject of leadership and governance to be discussed at the dinner table in every African household.
How many criteria do you have to judge a country on good governance?
In our Ibrahim Index of African Governance, we measure each African country using over 100 indicators coming from more than thirty independent sources. Good governance is just like a table – it has four legs: Safety & Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Human Development, Sustainable Economic Opportunity. One is Safety & Rule of Law. Without this, there is no civilised community. Safety is easy to measure – are people free to walk the streets, are girls getting raped every time they go out? How many violent deaths are there in the country? Rule of Law is very tricky to measure because it’s not about just having a set of good books, it’s about good implementation. How do the police behave? Courts – are they politicised or are they independent? If you are a poor person living in a rural area, do you have access to justice? Each indicator has its importance and we constantly work towards improving them.
What should be the French policy in Africa, according to you?
France needs to decouple from the colonial past and start to think of Africa as a partner. This is difficult because that was the relationship so there needs to be an adjustment on both sides. Take the Sahel for instance, I do not believe that France should stay there, nor that its presence in the region will help peace in the long term. Provided they are given the right means, we must let countries deal with their own issues. However, this is not what we often see, or have seen so far. We must not repeat the mistakes of our past.
Just as any partner for Africa, France needs to ask itself the question, “I have legitimate state interests, I want to sell airplanes, I want to sell cars, I want to do business. At the same time, I have moral issues. Do I deal with corrupt governments or not?” This is a tricky question that people need to look at – how I balance immediate economic interests with good governance.
Were you upset about China coming to your continent – because you are from Africa – and saying, “we don’t care about governance.” What is your assessment of China buying Africa?
Again, we need to balance our relationship with China. Because we should be able to trade with the whole world. It’s better for us. The biggest trading partner of China is the United States, so it’s not wrong to trade with China in and of itself. But what we need to do is have transparency. This is our problem with China. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for us to communicate with China because China doesn’t recognise civil society. I always complain, I say, “you are called the People’s Republic of China. Where are the people? There is only the republic.”