Billionaire cell phone magnate calls for more equitable Africa


Mo Ibrahim speaks at a press conference in London. (AP Photo/File)


by Carley Petesch
Associated Press Writer
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world and more needs to be done here and in Africa to follow the example set by former President Nelson Mandela to build bridges, the founder of an organization that recognizes excellence in African leadership said Saturday.

Mo Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate who was born in Sudan, spoke of the need to build better social cohesion in Africa while giving the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, on Saturday.

Ibrahim said Africa’s youths are being neglected through poor education, women are still being treated unequally and trade across the continent needs to be built up.

“Young people are without jobs, and more importantly without hope,” he said. Half of the African population is under 19 years old, which can be a positive for the future of the continent compared to others like Europe, or countries like China where the demography is the inverse, he said.

Ibrahim used the statistic to point to an overwhelmingly older leadership across Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe, 89, has led for more than 30 years and was just re-elected at the end of July to a new five-year term.

“Maybe, the youth understand the future better than us and have better solutions than us. Is there space for them to lead?” he asked.

Two percent of African students are studying agriculture while 70 percent are living off the land, he said.

“Is our education system matching our business needs? Are we producing the kinds of people our future requires?” Ibrahim asked.

Ibrahim also emphasized the gap between rich and poor in South Africa. “This is the least equitable country in the world,” he said. “After 20 years of independence what exactly is going on here?”

South Africa is struggling with high unemployment, labor unrest, service delivery shortcomings and other social challenges that have dampened the expectations of a better life for black South Africans after the end of apartheid two decades ago.

The African Index of Governance published by Ibrahim’s foundation showed that South Africa was ranked 31 out of 54 countries in the year 2000 and moved up to 22nd place last year. Ibrahim said this was a marked improvement but more needed to be done.

“We look up to you,” he said. “We look with admiration at your wonderful struggle for freedom. We look at your founders … the great man Mandela here and he’s our hero, he’s an African icon.”

South Africa does provide greater leadership roles for women than most countries in Africa or the world, he said. “But in the rest of society we don’t see that respect reflected, we have a cultural issue.” He pointed to the high incidence of rape in the country.

Ibrahim called himself a “commoner” among those who have given the lecture before, including former United States President Bill Clinton, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was awarded a $1 million grant by Ibrahim’s foundation last year for “speaking truth to power.”

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