Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ibrahim interview

Bob Geldof is getting good at editing publications. Sir Geldof had earlier edited an issue of a magazine, this week Geldof and Bono were given control of Canada's Globe and Mail. The special issue was used as a preview of the G-8 summit coming to Canada later this year.

As a part of this issue, the Globe and Mail had an interview with Mo Ibrahim, African businessman turned government watchdog. Ibrahim built a mobile phone network in Africa, then sold it billions. He is now using part of the money in a foundation that calls for good governance in Africa. The foundation issues an annual award for good governance but that award had no winner last year.

From the Globe and Mail, writer Gordon Pitts interviews Ibrahim.

Is the idea of good governance progressing in African states?

We see slow improvement.

Why is it happening?

The end of the Cold War was essential for Africa. The superpowers used to have client states, to which they’d say: “It doesn’t matter if you are a dictator or not, as long as you are in my camp – in the scramble for resources or votes in the UN or whatever.” It made for bad company. I think the Cold War was worse for Africa than colonialism.

Now, we are starting to notice the rise of the civil society in Africa. And new technology: There are 450 million mobile phones in Africa now, out of 950 million people, so it has really enabled people to communicate with each other.

Do you agree with those who say aid is the problem, not the solution?

In most part, it is a silly discussion. Whenever there is disaster or famine somewhere, we cannot stand by and watch. On HIV, malaria, Darfur, or Somalia, we need to help our brothers and sisters. So there is not much discussion about humanitarian aid.

And we must really focus on developmental aid. We need to deliver better aid and untied aid. Actually, we need to deliver aid to end aid. Nobody in Africa loves to be a beggar, or a recipient of aid. Everywhere I go in Africa, people say ‘when are we going to stand up on our feet?’

Africa as a continent is rich, but Africans as a people are poor. The answer is governance. We really need to get our act together to improve the quality of life of our people. Developmental aid will speed up this process.

What about just borrowing more capital from banks?

That is just a fantasy. Unfortunately, our malfunctioning banking system doesn’t deal with Africa. They think Africa is too risky. You cannot rely on Goldman Sachs or whoever to really help – those guys just love subprime mortgages and all the other crap.

We should also support projects that help economic integration. Africa is disconnected. Internal African trade is about 8 per cent of the trade total. In Africa, we have 53 little countries and we are intentionally determined not to communicate and trade and move goods between each other. It’s stupid.


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