Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel and head of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, sits down with Deputy Managing Editor Stuart Reid to discuss democracy and governance in Africa.
Don't miss out, subscribe to the Foreign Affairs YouTube Channel to receive all of the the latest updates on Focus Interviews, Live Events, and Behind the Scenes Coverage.
This interview has been edited and condensed. A rush transcript is below.
Stuart Reid: What explains the difference in outcomes between various African countries in terms of democracy?
Mo Ibrahim: We have a problem, actually, with these second term issues and third term issues in a number of countries in Africa. I think really a constitution should be a sacred document, not up for a change like every other day, depending on our whims or whatever. And if people agreed that they wanna have a two term limit of five years or for four years, etcetera, we need to respect that. We don't need just to keep changing the constitution depending on what kind of President we have this year. And we need to remember, what we apply now, is gonna be also applicable years from now. So, we need to go beyond thinking of ourselves into the implication of what we're doing now on future generation, that's really important.
Maybe one thing we should consider is to have a monarchy. We can have somebody like Queen Elizabeth, who can be there for 50, 60, 70 years, but still we can have a democratic government. And maybe there's a kind of deal we can offer to some of our presidents who don't want to leave. If you have somebody like Mugabe who is there for 35 years, or somebody like our friend in Equatorial Guinea, 36 years in power, they say, "Look, I mean, if you wanna stay forever, why don't we offer you a deal here where you can be a monarch, but you don't have the feet in politics, and you would stay in power for the rest of your life. I know it's gonna cost us a little bit of money, but you stay out of politics. Take your hands off the treasury, and let us have a true democratic process." Maybe a kind of deal like that might work, I don't know.
Stuart Reid: Do you think they'd have any reason to accept such a deal?
Mo Ibrahim: Yeah, I do. If they are interested in the glamour of the office, and the helicopters, and limousine cars, maybe they'll like it. Maybe some people will accept the idea. But it's just so harmful to really our national development when you see people put themselves before the country.
Stuart Reid: Is it fair to say that Islamic Fundamentalism is growing in North Africa, and if so, what can be done about that?
Mo Ibrahim: It is a serious problem, and I think it is growing. And I think a cancer like ISIS, need to be dealt with promptly, because that cancer is serious and expanding very fast. And we are all sitting about and talking about, "Oh, but the Russian bombed this. This guy did that." We're not really dealing with the issue and scratching our heads. It's a very complex situation where everybody seems to be fighting everybody.
Stuart Reid: You've signed the giving pledge which is a commitment to give away more than half your wealth to philanthropy. As a philanthropist, what lessons have you learned about how to make sure that every dollar you donate is spent as well as possible?
Mo Ibrahim: We decided then to use our funds, and actually in our projects in Africa. We should be using the index to measure the governance in Africa every year in every country and disseminate that to agitate, to really open a space for civil society to come on board and work with us in Africa, do conferences in Africa, we'll do training programs, scholarships, etcetera, but all focus on the area of development and governance. Rule of law, that kind of things.
So we are really more of an activist than a charitable kind of foundation and it's very difficult to measure our impact because it takes years to see how governance is improved or how leadership in Africa is improved. But we try to measure that by our interaction with the African people and the African civil society and African leaders, because we do a lot of meetings with African leaders. And it seems that we're getting a good hearing at least. So, I hope we are doing something useful.
Stuart Reid: Alright. Mo Ibrahim, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mo Ibrahim: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.