He also received the Trinity Praeses Elit Award in recognition of his outstanding innovation in business and philanthropy. The award was presented by former President of Ireland and former TCD Law Soc Auditor Mary Robinson.
Dr Ibrahim spoke a length about the challenges that Africa faces today as a continent and the issues he faced when developing his telecommunications company, which saw the country grow from having 3 million telephone lines to having 500 million mobile users, more than the United States or China.
“People had a complete misconception of Africa. People think of it as one country, where[as] it is fifty-four. They tar it all with the same brush. They think it is swindlers and thieves and it is impossible to do business,” he said. The people who are conducting business and politics in Africa without corruption are unheard of “because they are boring.”
After selling his telecommunications company Celtel for $3.4 billion in 2005, he created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to encourage better governance in Africa and further challenge the misconception that business in Africa was corrupt.
“You can do business without corruption… We have corrupt African leaders but they are are few. Nobody’s thoughts are about corrupt business leaders. For every corrupt politician there is a dozen corrupt business leaders,” he explained.
In 2007 he set up the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to award democratically elected leaders that pass power constitutionally to their successors and make improvements in security, health and economic development. This provides an initiative for heads of state to operate democratically and allows countries to flourish free from government corruption.
He explained that the Cold War had a hugely negative impact on Africa, saying: “80% of land has not been explored yet, so why are we poor? Why have we gone backwards in the last 40 to 50 years… We are poor because we are mismanaging our assets. Without good governments we are unable to move forward.”
He spoke at length about the positive impact that telecommunications has had on the African people, including allowing more people access to a variety of views on issues, whereas as in his childhood the only TV channels, newspapers and radio stations were government owned.
Dr Ibrahim also discussed his business ideals and why businesses should make charitable contributions to society: “If I want to have a decent company, I need to have decent human beings.”
He continued: “You cannot prosper in a failing society, or a society in civil war. I don’t like when people talk about business doing good things as if it is charitable… Businesses should do these thing because it is selfish, because you can only make money when you have a good society, when you have a prosperous society, when you have a good environment.”
Past recipients of the Praeses Elit Award include Lord Neuburger, President of the UK Supreme Court (2015), and Ertharin Cousin, Head of the United Nations World Food Programme (2015).