15 OCTOBER 2011


First the Financial Times. Then The New Yorker. All in praise of an obscure Sudanese engineer who struck millions on cell phones in Africa. Mohammed Ibrahim, who now goes by the name "Moe" is being persistently presented as an enlightened African concerned with Good Governance. Whatever the terminology, good governance -- or honest government -- has been internationally aired for decades, not only in Africa, but around the world. Actually, Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines fell on anti-corruptive popular revolutions. Now comes "Moe" using a list of distinguished international officials like Mary Robinson and Mohammed El-Baradei on his Board. Outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan presided over it, but just left. He has his own foundation to run; also he may have found it awkward to remain when a recommendation to give last year's prize to the President of Ghana was turned down. Moe seems to have discovered the value of Public Relations firms. Stories about him repeatedly focus on two or three "ego-trip" details: a villa in Monte Carlo, a penthouse in Canne's Carlton Hotel, a gathering in the Mauritius, together with a few "has-been" names praising Moe's energetic dynamism. Ellen Sirleaf, possibly angling for the next five million dollar prize, is beyond her self-promoting the "index" and pushing her envelope forward (despite talk about her early collaboration with the indicted former leader of Liberia, Lt. Taylor). Moe has no special interest in human rights or freedom of speech; his indexes stick to generalities of "good governance." Also, having served with British authorities, he expresses disdain for African liberation movements that took over power after independence, blaming them for bad government and poverty. He tells about the poor but seems eager to please the rich and powerful. He brags about his "index" but overlooks the fact that his "index" had placed Bin Ali of Tunis and Mubarak of Egypt among the top of good governance African leaders. He says he wants to be remembered as a "good boy from Africa," but seems to devote so much time, effort and money to gain favour with the "White" Halls of London and New York.

Obviously, that Sudanese expatriate has an ego problem, let alone an identity one.

He is so eager to draw attention that he mobilized highly-regarded media outlets to write about his "prize." He pays millions for three-day meetings on resort islands feted by singing stars while stressing about the need for governments to spend money prudently. He pontificates about the need for action not words, while insisting on granting interviews at the penthouse suite of Cannes Carlton Hotel with a 360 degree view of the Mediterranean and reminding his interviewer of his plush villa in Monte Carlo.

Initially, he found in Kofi Annan a convenient chairman of his "Foundation" -- named, of course, after himself. A "prize-donation" was given to an outgoing President of Mozambique where a combination of diamonds and oil make its government one of the most corrupt; and a second one to another outgoing president who does not even take himself seriously. Eventually, even the amenable Kofi Annan declined. He was swiftly replaced by the ever-ready Salim Salim of Tanzania, who has been running for any job since 1973!

He joined the chorus of deriding Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, but rushed to praise other dictators in Africa like Mubarak in Egypt and Bin Ali in Tunis. He talks about the Third World, but his carefully crafted words seem targeted to gain favour with the First.

Eventually, more of the current or prospective beneficiaries will describe Mohammed Ibrahim as a lucky businessman who thinks he's become a world leader, an engineer who believes he's an economist, and a Sudanese who is determined to declare that he is actually a citizen of Monte Carlo.

Rumblings are already starting amongst the former "faithful" as only one "prize" (that is, money) has been produced recently. More money may have been spent on "image-building" than "good governance." Even those whom he pays $30,000 a year just to attend his seminars in resort spots are getting fed up with his increasingly growing ego. More desertions would follow as the pipe-smoking billionaire spends less money on projects and more on ego-trips.