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Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel

  • Story Highlights
  • Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel speaks in The Boardroom
  • Quit job at BT at age 43 to start his own company
  • Celtel was huge success, operates in 14 African countries
  • Runs his own foundation to encourage African leadership
  • Next Article in World Business »

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Mo Ibrahim is a man who believes in Africa; and the continent has been good to him.

Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel and head of his own foundation speaks in The Boardroom.

Putting his career on the line at the age of 43 -- he quit his job at British Telecom to start his own company.

He also started mobile phone operator Celtel which is in 14 African countries. Cashing in and now rich beyond his wildest dreams, he now has his own foundation.

CNN's Todd Benjamin caught up with him in London and began by asking him about investing in Africa.

Ibrahim: Africa was perceived, it still is to some extent, as a place which is very difficult to do business in. I don't share that view. Africa has 53 countries, Todd. And you find that three or four countries in these 53 are dominating the news.

There is, I think, a problem with image for Africa. Whenever there is a problem with image, whenever there is a gap between reality and perception, there is a good business there. I'm an African. If I don't do it, who else will do it?

Benjamin: With your considerable fortune, you've set aside $400 million for a foundation that focuses on governance in Africa, good governance. And you have an index to measure whether certain criteria are being met, and you have a prize, $5 million, to a leader who exhibits exemplary governance. What do you hope to accomplish with that?

Ibrahim: We want the civil society to own the issue of political governance. It's the most important issue really: governance. Without good governance, Africa will go nowhere.

Second objective, we also want to encourage and support successful African leadership. African leaders work really under severe limitations and constraints. If you think what keeps our prime minister here in England awake at night -- will it be the hip replacement operation queue now is three months instead of two months?

You take one of our African leaders. I have half a million HIV positive. I have problems with malaria, power generation, kids need schools, not enough schools for them, fresh water. So many issues. I really wonder how those guys sleep at night.

So what we want to do is to support those leaders who manage really to face these problems, to take millions of people out of poverty, to build a just society, a democratic society.

Benjamin: You're an immensely wealthy man now -- worth at least a billion dollars, maybe more -- and yet I've read where you've said that money's not important to you.

Ibrahim: I hope you or your audience will believe me. I never set out really to build a financial empire or to be a wealthy man. I just enjoy what I'm doing and money happened. It's a nice bi-product. It was an enabler. And I see the value of money really as an enabler to enable me to do the things I love to do. And I'm so grateful that I've made this money because I'm able to go back to Africa now and do something like the foundation.

Benjamin: For any entrepreneur, passion is the key. You can't be thinking about money. You have to be passionate about what you do.

Ibrahim: Absolutely. Absolutely. You need to love it. You need to breathe it. You need to sleep it. You need to wake it. It is your life and you and your project are one. Look at me. I feel so young. I'm 60 years old but I feel like 20 years old because I love what I do.

Benjamin: What do you want your legacy to be?

Ibrahim: A good African boy. That's all I want, just a good African boy who did not forget his people. E-mail to a friend

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