Mo Ibrahim, Britain’s most powerful black man

Mo Ibrahim, Britain’s most powerful black man

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Mo Ibrahim was born in 1946 in Sudan, he and his family later moved to Egypt where he remained until moving back to Sudan to work as an engineer, having successfully obtained an electrical engineering Bachelor’s degree from Alexandria University. This was his first experience of the Telecommunications industry.

In 1974 Mo Ibrahim moved to England where he attended the University of Bradford, successfully achieving an electronics and electrical engineering master’s degree. This was not however the end of his studies, as he later moved to the University of Birmingham where he not only taught but also attained a PhD in mobile communications. It was whilst he was at the University of Birmingham that he began his pioneering work involving the reusing of radio frequencies.

A short-lived career in teaching

Having gained some teaching experience whilst studying for his PhD at the University of Birmingham, in the early 1980’s Mo became a professor at the University of Greenwich, then called the Thames Polytechnic, where he taught telecommunication courses to undergraduates.

His academic career was however short lived as in 1983 he left his position to join Cellnet, a subsidiary of British Telecom, where he was employed as their technical director. He continued to work for British Telecom for the next 6 years where he handled their wireless operations, but it 1989 left so that he could establish his own software and consultancy business, called Mobile Systems International (MSI) where he designed mobile networks.

Pan-African mobile phone network

mo_2022749cIn the late 1990’s he identified that Africa was still lacking a reliable mobile phone network so this became a major focus for him. It was also at this time that he created Celtel International, his first venture as an actual operator as opposed to a consultant.

Mo quickly identified that bribery was a significant part of doing business in Africa and from the offset he was adamant that Celtel would be a no-bride company. This was unheard of at the time and made Celtel very unique.

He approach was incredibly successful as he soon became the largest mobile service provider in Africa, successfully achieving coverage in more than twelve countries and leading to a massive increase in the number of mobile phones being used on the African continent. In 1999 there were only 7.5 million users however by 2004 this had leapt up to 76.8 million users.

Mobile Systems International (MSI) and Celtel

In 2000, Mo sold MSI, including its 17 subsidiaries to Marconi for approximately $900 million. At the time of its sale its 800 employees owned roughly 30% of the shares. Five years later, and initially against Mo’s wishes, Celtel was sold for a massive $3.4 billion to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunication company.

The Mo Ibrahim foundation

Following the sale of both MSI and Celtel, Mo began to focus on philanthropic activities, including the promotion of improved accountability and leadership within African companies across the continent. The Mo Ibrahim foundation was founded in London in 2006, and in 2007 the Mo Ibrahim prize, for Achievement in African Leadership, was created. The prize is the world’s biggest individual prize, worth $5 million.
The net worth of Mo Ibrahim is believed to be approximately $1.1 billion and he is considered by many to be the Britain’s most powerful black man.

Images sources : and Global Risk Insights


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