In the early 1980s, Mo Ibrahim took up the profile of a professor at Thames Polytechnic, which later on became University of Greenwich, teaching students undergraduate telecommunication courses. He left his academic career to take up the position of a technical director of Cellnet in 1983. Cellnet was a subsidiary of the British telecommunication giant, British Telecom (BT) and was responsible for handling the latter’s wireless operations. Having gained enough experience in the field of telecommunication, he left his job at BT in 1989 to set up his own firm, Mobile Systems International (MSI). A consultancy and software company, MSI basically dealt with designing mobile networks. During the late 1990s, he realized the lack of pan-African mobile phone network. Aiming to fill in for the need, he created MSI Cellular Investments, in 1998, which was later on renamed Celtel International. Unlike his other ventures, Celtel was an operator and not a design consultancy. Celtel was a major success, effectively changing the scenario of mobile communication services. It went on to become the largest service provider in Africa, offering coverage in more than a dozen countries. Ever since its emergence, the number of mobile phones in the continent grew from 7.5 million users in 1999 to 76.8 million users by 2004. In 2000, he sold MSI to Macroni for about $900 million. At that time, the company had 17 subsidiaries and a workforce of about 800 people. Its employees held about 30 per cent of the company shares. In 2005, Ibrahim sold Celtel to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Company for a whopping $3.4 billion. Though Ibrahim himself was not keen on making the deal, he bowed down to the pressure of the shareholders.
Mohamed Mo Ibrahim was born in 1946 in Sudan. His father was a clerk by profession. The family moved to Egypt when Ibrahim was young. Completing his preliminary studies, he enrolled at the Alexandria University for a degree in electrical engineering. After earning a Bachelor degree in science, he returned to Sudan where he started working as an engineer in the state-run Sudan Telecom. In 1974, he moved to England and gained admission at the University of Bradford. After earning his master’s degree in electronics and electrical engineering, he went on to attain PhD degree in mobile communications from University of Birmingham. His pioneering academic work included reuse of radio frequencies. Simultaneously, he taught at the University of Birmingham.