Monday, January 08, 2007

Award for African Good Governance

The Globe and Mail did a profile on one of Africa's most successful business leaders, the founder of Celtel, Mo Ibrahim. Beyond his already large contribution to development in Africa through affordable cell phone coverage he's launched two initiatives as follows:

Two things: one, establish a $5-million (U.S.) prize awarded annually to promote good governance by encouraging African leaders to relinquish power once their mandates are complete; and, two, set up a $250-million fund to invest in innovative companies in sub-Saharan Africa.

His belief in investment, rather than foreign aid, as a development tool for sub-Saharan Africa is backed by the private equity fund. He has little time for the blame game and complaints that Africa's problems stem from its colonial heritage and from unfair trade practices imposed by the developed world.

"I believe in investment as a way of helping the development of Africa," he said in the interview. "Aid is useful but is not a remedy. What we need to do is create prosperity, to create jobs. The best way to do that is to invest."
To be honest, I'm surprised this is coming from the Globe and Mail though it was buried on A13. After a bit of searching, there's more from the Kenya Times Newspaper:
The prize at the same time intends to encourage African presidents to give way when their time is up. But not retirement to poverty, jail or death. “We want them to have a life after office” says Mr. Mo Ibrahim the Sudanese-born billionaire who founded the prize and who will fund it from his immense wealth made in the mobile phone business.
A somewhat surprising critique comes from Transparency International:
“It doesn’t read Africa’s problems correctly. Those who keep governments accountable are the ordinary people and that accountability needs to be strengthened. That’s where he should put his money. Or in to the parliaments that could hold leaders accountable,” Mr Lorgat opined.
While I certainly can see their point, I'm not sure I agree. Like the Nobel Prize, the point isn't the money. The point is the recognition that comes from it and the additional pressure from constituents and supporters to reach it. The western world seems to only care about Africa when there's a crisis. This shines a spotlight on examples of good governance to strive for, though unfortunately the bar is currently set fairly low.

Ibrahim is a posterchild for the potential success of part two of his plan - private equity. Considering this is a man who built a fortune with a company that has helped transform development and transparency of sub-saharan Africa, in a way similar to the virtuous cycle of microfinance, such a fund, if successful, would accelerate development, in a similar way cell phone technology has transformed life in developing countries while pay for more and potentially greater innovations.

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