Meet Africa’s dollar billionaires

Wednesday April 07 2010

From left: Nassef Sawiris, Naguib Sawiris and Samih Sawiris. Photo/File

The list of the world’s richest people has just been released by America’s Forbes Magazine, which tracks the fortunes of the world’s richest people. This time round, seven Africans make the list.

To make it to the A-List requires coining a billion dollars, or Sh75 billion, in quotable and quantifiable clean investments.

Forbes names Mexican telecoms magnate, Carlos Slim Helu, as the world’s richest person with $53.5 billion (Sh4 trillion) fortune via American Movil, Latin America’s largest mobile phone company, toppling American Bill Gates from the top perch which the co-founder of software giant Microsoft Corporation, has topped the list for 13 out of 15 years.

The 70-year old Helu, is now only half a billion dollars (Sh37.5 billion) richer than Gates, 53, but their combined fortune is equivalent to the wealth of Africa’s 50 poorest states.

Forbes reports that the global financial crisis wiped out 300 members from the dollar-billionaire’s club in 2009, but 164 of them have crawled back on the list, together with 97 freshers.

The Africans who made the cut for 2010 are still the usual suspects from Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria, with one Sudanese who acquired British citizenship.


And although the vagaries of recession have eroded their secured fortunes, Egyptian Nassef Sawiris is Africa’s richest at $5.9 billion (Sh442 billion) through Orascom Construction, the flagship of dad Onsi Sawiris’ Orascom conglomerate.

The 48-year-old university of Chicago BA graduate made his fortune the easiest way to wealth - inheritance - and Nassef,Sawiris’ youngest son, grew it via joint investments with Morgan Stanley into double digit profits in 12 years from 1998 to become the world’s 127th richest person.

Orascom Construction now has interests in the Middle-East and Africa including a 13 per cent stake at Lafarge, the largest shareholders in Bamburi Cement, Kenya’s largest cement concern.

But his fortune has pared from the $11 billion (Sh825 billion) that placed Nassef at 68th richest in the world, in 2008. Neck and neck with Nassef is South Africa’s Nicky Oppenheimer, an alumnus of Oxford University. He is Africa’s second, but the world's 154th richest via his 40 per cent stake in diamond giant, De Beers worth $5 billion (Sh375 billion), a slight southward nod from $5.7 billion (Sh353.4 billion) in 2008 when he was 179th richest.

The 64-year old father of Jonathan Oppenheimer, his only child, inherited De Beers, which controls 40 per cent of the world’s diamond trade.

Nicky also owns Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa’s largest, besides a stake in Anglo America, a mining giant founded by his grandfather Ernest in 1917.

A shrewd grandpa is, indeed, a wealthy investment.

In third slot is the octogenarian Onsi Sawiris. The 80-year old self-made patriarch with a $3.1 billion (Sh232 billion) fortune in construction chairs Orascom, Egypt’s most formidable business dynasty with interests in construction, telecommunication and tourism.

Onsi founded a small contracting firm, which he rebuilt from the scratch after it was nationalised by the Egyptian government
in the ‘60s, but now sits pretty as the 307th richest man in the world.

He is ahead of son Naguib Sawiris, the continent’s fourth richest through inheriting $2.5 billion (Sh187 billion) held in Orascom telecom, one of the largest mobile phone service providers in the Middle-East, Africa and South Asia.

Naguib also owns Italy’s Wind Telecomunicazioni and Greece’s Wind Hellas, perching the 55-year-old at 374 richest - quite a decline from the 60th spot held in 2008, when Naguib was worth $12 billion (Sh900 billion), then five billion shillings less than all companies at the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

Orascom Telecom though, has more than 55 million subscribers to Safaricom’s over 12 million.

From North to South Africa where two businessmen tie in the fifth position. One is Patrice Motsepe, South Africa’s first self -made black dollar billionaire who made his $2.3 billion (Sh172 billion), from mining.

The 48-year-old was number 503 in 2008, but a billion dollar rise in stocks has seen the lawyer move financially further from Soweto where he was born.

The beneficiary of South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment laws built Africa Rainbow Minerals (ARM), a gold mine contracting business that expanded into platinum, nickel, chrome, iron, manganese and coal, making him 421st richest, 82 places up the food chain since 2008.

Motsepe, who spent his school days working behind the counter of his father’s store, is a recipient of the 2002 South Africa Best Entrepreneur Award, and owns Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club —the only club to have claimed three consecutive league titles.

Motsepe ties with fellow countryman, Johann Rupert and family via inheriting and growing Richemont, a publicly traded Swiss luxury goods company, which owns Cartier, Chloe and Dunhill brands. Rupert also owns South Africa’s best vineyards, Rupert&Rothschild, besides a most exclusive golf club.

The 57-year-old, who is married without children, is worth $2.3 billion (Sh172 billion), and is ranked 421st in the world, down from 207th position in 2008.

From South to West Africa where Aliko Dangote was born in Nigeria 50 years ago.

The founder of Dangote Group of Companies with interests in sugar, flour milling, salt processing, cement manufacturing, textiles, real estate, oil, gas and transport has expanded to Senegal, Togo, Ghana and Zambia, where he has invested in cashew nuts, cotton, cocoa and large-scale millet farming.

Dangote heads the Nigeria Stock Exchange, where Dangote Sugar Refinery is the most capitalised company, besides Obajana Cement, Africa’s largest cement manufacturer. Dangote Sugar Refinery in Apapa Port, Lagos, is Africa’s largest, and world’s third largest, with a capacity of 700,000 tons of refined sugar annually, making him worth $2.1 billion (Sh157 billion).

Dangote is Africa’s sixth richest, and 463rd in the world, down from 334 before the recession.

He began his financial ascent at 21 with a soft loan from uncle Sanusi Dantata in 1978.

Had “Mo” Ibrahim not switched citizenship, Sudan could have had its native son in the list, but the founder of
Celtel, now Zain is now a Briton who made his money by founding, then selling Celtel for $3.4 billion (Sh255 billion)
in 2005.

He now spends his time and $2.1 billion (Sh157 billion), investing and running the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that awards prizes to former African presidents who showed exemplary leadership.

Mo is 463rd richest, alongside Dangote. The other is Mohammed Al Amoudi who is Ethiopian, but is now a Saudi citizen. The 63 year-old selfmade oil tycoon is worth $9 billion (Sh675 billion).

Forbes magazine ranks the father of eight, 43rd richest in the world.

The seventh spot takes us back to Egypt and Samih Sawiris in particular.

The 53-year-old runs Orascom’s real estate and hotel division with operations in Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and Egypt.

Samih is the world’s 655th richest from $1.5 billion (Sh112 billion), a dip from $2.9 billion (Sh217 billion) in 2008, when he was ranked 396th.

The only drop-out from the list is South African Donald Gordon who had minted a $2 billion from investments in insurance and shopping malls, placing him at 605th in the world two years ago.

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