The Guardian by David Smith
November 13, 2014
Nigeria has more billionaires than any other country in Africa, including the continent’s wealthiest man and the world’s richest black woman, according to a ranking published this week.
The collective wealth of Nigerians on the rich list compiled by Ventures Africa, a business magazine that “champions African capitalism”, stands at $77.7bn (£49bn), more than double that of South Africans and almost as much as the rest of the continent’s billionaires combined.
This year Nigeria overtook South Africa to become the biggest African economy after a sharp rise in its estimated GDP, partly based on new sectors including telecommunications, manufacturing and the Nollywood film industry.
The two African giants are often seen as arch-rivals and there have been a series of diplomatic flashpoints, most recently when an estimated 81 South Africans were killed by the collapse of a church guesthouse in Lagos in September.
Nigerians’ dominance of the Ventures Africa rich list will do nothing to quell South African anxieties that the country is losing its long-assumed pre-eminence on the continent and missing out on the “Africa rising” phenomenon that has seen spectacular economic growth in many nations over the past decade.
Of 55 billionaires in Africa, Nigeria boasts 23 while South Africa and Egypt each have eight. Their net worth totals $161.7bn, up 12.4% from $143.8bn on Ventures Africa’s first list in 2013. Of five new billionaires added this year, four are Nigerian.
Aliko Dangote, founder of Africa’s biggest industrial conglomerate, Dangote Group, remains the continent’s richest man. His net worth has grown to $25.7bn in 2014, a 21% rise from his $20.2bn valuation in 2013.
Second is his compatriot Mike Adenuga, worth $8bn, owner of the Globacom telecommunications company, which has about 30 million subscribers across west Africa. The highest ranking South African, and third overall, is Johann Rupert, chairman and biggest shareholder of the Swiss-based luxury goods company Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.
Number four on the list is Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria, whose $7.3bn, generated from oil and gas, puts her ahead of America’s Oprah Winfrey as the richest black woman in the world, according to Ventures Africa. “It is widely believed that Alakija’s friendship with Maryam Babangida, the late wife of former Nigerian military dictator general Ibrahim Babangida, played a huge role in her relatively inexpensive acquisition of the oil block back in 1993,” it notes.
Africa’s second wealthiest woman is Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s long-time president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, on $3.5bn. Igho Sanomi of Nigeria ($1.3bn) and Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania ($2bn), both 39, are the continent’s youngest billionaires.
Critiques of the African economic success story argue that the growth is not shared but has in fact widened inequality between tiny elites and the poor majority, with Nigeria a prime example. Almost 40% of Nigerian billionaires’ wealth is tied to the country’s oil and gas industry, says Ventures Africa, but it also claims that Africa’s billionaires provide jobs for almost half a million people on the continent.
The magazine asserts: “One of the most challenging aspects of compiling a list of Africa’s richest is that it is taboo to discuss or celebrate wealth in most African societies. The concept of capitalism, where wealth is openly celebrated and tracked, is quite alien to most African societies. As a result, most ultra-high-net-worth individuals are reluctant to discuss their wealth.”
There are several reasons for this, it suggests. “The number of underprivileged people is so large that it almost seems insensitive to celebrate wealth in absolute terms. Another reason may be to ensure that ‘enemies’ are kept at bay. On a continent where systems and structures are not entirely defined, flaunting wealth may attract the wrong kind of attention from people in government.”
African Ventures said the list was compiled by sourcing financial reports, tracking equity holdings around stock markets and identifying shareholding structures in big privately held companies.