Top 10 billionaires in Africa and how they made their money

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote

In January this year, Forbes released a list of the wealthiest people on the African continent. Altogether, the 20 African tycoons who made the list are worth $68.7 billion, putting them at an average net worth of $3.4 billion per person.

In a per country ranking, Egypt and South Africa have the highest country representatives with five billionaires each, Nigeria follows with four and Morocco with two. The Forbes list had one billionaire each from Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and there were two women in the mix.

In this piece, we highlight the ten wealthiest people in Africa and how they made their money.

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote (Net worth: $10.3 B)

Aliko Dangote’s journey to fortune is not a rag to riches story. He came from a wealthy family that was able to provide financial assistance to start his business. Regardless of this, he deserves credit for carving a niche of greatness for himself by becoming independent and staying away from family business to set up his own. Over the years, Dangote has expanded into new business segments, including telecommunications, real estate and steel manufacturing. Today his holding company, Dangote Group, is the largest conglomerate in West Africa.

At a very early age, Dangote took interest in entrepreneurship. He took a huge loan from his rich grandfather to start his small trade in cement business and later joined his uncle, “Usman”, who had formed solid ties with the military government and got rice importation deals in 1970.

When Murtala Muhammad came into power, his uncle was one of those awarded government contracts to decongest the Nigerian Seaport in Lagos and made a huge fortune from the contract. During the Shagari regime, there was an unprecedented importation of essential commodities and products. As at then, Dangote’s company, known as Alco, was a major importer. He also supplied huge tonnage of cement to government.

When the Shagari government decided to pay more attention to the construction of Abuja, the proposed new federal capital territory, Dangote cement was on point at that time. He incorporated two companies in 1981. These as well as other companies makeup the conglomerate known as the “Dangote group”.

Aliko Dangote also invested in other commodities like salt, sugar, cotton, millet, vegetable oil, cocoa and textile. One of Aliko Dangote’s business strategies for succeeding in the commodity market was to develop a strong distribution network and make the delivery of his goods faster than that of his competitors.

Mike Adenuga
Mike Adenuga

Mike Adenuga (Net worth: $9.2 B)

Adenuga come from humble beginnings. He attended the Ibadan Grammar School, Oyo State where he had his secondary school education. He worked as a taxi driver and security guard to support his education while studying at the Northwestern Alva Oklahoma State University and Pace University in New York.

He built is fortune in mobile telecom and oil production. Adenuga launched Globacom mobile phone network in 2006. The mobile phone network has reached about 30 million subscribers, advancing its operation in West Africa. Thus far, it has been operating in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

The Nigerian magnate’s story to fortune began when he was 26 and had returned to Nigeria after studying in the US. He took over his mother’s sawmill business and distributed lace and other materials. He also sold Coca Cola and made some powerful friends in the Nigerian military. He relied on those relationships to get lucrative state construction contracts. Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, awarded him an oil prospecting license. He used that to build Conoil and became the first Nigerian to strike oil in commercial quantities.

In 1990, he received a drilling license and in 1991, his consolidated oil struck in the shallow waters of South-Western Ondo State, the first indigenous oil company to do so in commercial quantity.

Adenuga was issued a conditional GSM license in 1999. He received the second one when the government held another auction in 2003 by which time the first contract had been revoked. His Telecom company Globacom spread quickly and is doing well in West Africa.

Mike Adenuga controls businesses in the aviation, banking and real estate industries.

Nicholas F. Oppenheimer
Nicholas F. Oppenheimer

Nicholas F. Oppenheimer (Net worth: $7.3 B)

Like Dangote, Nicky was born into a wealthy family. His father, Harry Frederick Oppenheimer was a successful businessman in South Africa and one of the world’s richest men. In 2004, he was voted 60th in the SABC3’s Great South Africans. He was the chairman of Anglo-American Corporation for 25 years and chairman of De Beers for 27 years until he retired and passed on the position to his heir, Nicky.

De Beers is a diamond mining company. During an auction in the year 2016, the rare Oppenheimer Blue diamond, was sold for $57.5 million which set a record for the most expensive diamond sold at an auction. The Oppenheimer family maintained a dominating place in the world’s diamond trade for a really long time.

In 2012, Nicholas Oppenheimer sold his 40% stake in DeBeers to mining corporate ‘Anglo American’ for $5.1 billion. He is also a non-executive director of Anglo-American Corporation.

Nassef Sawiris
Nassef Sawiris

Nassef Sawiris (Net worth: $6.3 B) 

Nassef Sawiris is Egypt’s richest man with a fortune Forbes estimates at $7.2 billion. He runs OCI, one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers. With plants in Texas and Iowa; it trades on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange. He owns 30 percent of OCI, a Geleen, Netherlands-based contractor which was formed out of a demerger from his family’s original business, Orascom Contruction. His holdings include stakes in cement giant Lafarge Holcim and Adidas. Last July, he teamed up with Fortress Investment Group’s Wes Edens to purchase a majority stake in Aston Villa Football Club.

Here is how his story to riches panned out:

His father founded a construction company in 1950. By the time Sawiris was eight years old, it had become one of Egypt’s largest contractors, building roads and waterways along Egypt’s upper Nile region. The business was nationalized in 1961 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and renamed El Nasr Civil Works Company.

After a couple of years, his dad founded a new company called Orascom Construction Industries. Nassef, who left for college in the U.S. returned in 1982 with a degree in economics from the University of Chicago. He rejoined his father and two older brothers at OCI, which by that time had diversified into communications and real estate. By the end of the decade, the company had split into three separate entities: Orascom Telecom, helmed by the oldest brother Naguib; Orascom Hotels and Development, headed by the middle brother Samih; and Orascom Construction, now led by Nassef. As CEO, he focused on expanding the business abroad and into a new sector — cement and building materials — a division he sold to Lafarge in 2008 for $12.8 billion.

That same year, he entered the fertilizer business with the purchase of Egyptian Fertilizer Company. Through the expansion of its own operations and acquisitions, Orascom’s fertilizer operation grew to become the world’s third-largest nitrogen-based fertilizer producer.

In January 2013, a consortium of investors led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, invested $1 billion in Orascom Construction Industries to help the Sawiris family transfer the company’s listing from the Cairo Stock Exchange to NYSE Euronext Amsterdam. The company, renamed OCI, started trading in Amsterdam on Jan. 25, 2013. Two years later, OCI spun off its construction business into a separate company, dual-listed on the Dubai and Cairo stock exchanges.

Johann Rupert
Johann Rupert

Johann Rupert (Net worth: $5.3 B)

According to Bloomberg, Rupert controls the world’s largest luxury watchmaker, Cie. Financiere Richemont, through a family trust. The Bellevue, Switzerland-based company’s brands include Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier. His other holdings include Remgro, a Stellenbosch, South Africa-based investment vehicle with stakes in more than 30 companies.

The majority of Rupert’s fortune is derived from Cie. Financiere Richemont, a publicly-traded luxury goods manufacturer and retailer, and the world’s largest luxury watchmaker, according to Bloomberg Intelligence data.

Parties associated with Johann Rupert and his family investment vehicle, Cie. Financiere Rupert, own 0.5 percent of the luxury company’s Class A shares, which are publicly traded, according to its annual report for the year to March 31, 2018. Through Switzerland-based Compagnie Financiere Rupert, the family owns all Class B shares, which do not trade and have one-tenth the economic value of Class A shares, according to the report.

The billionaire serves as chairman of the family’s investment vehicle. Individual ownership stakes aren’t disclosed.

They have a stake in Remgro, a holding group with investments in more than 30 companies, including FirstRand, Unilever South Africa and RMB Holdings. The family beneficially owns 0.5 percent of Remgro’s publicly traded ordinary shares and controls all of Remgro’s Class B shares through Rembrandt Trust, a trust of which Rupert is a director, according to the company’s 2018 annual report. The two share classes carry equal economic value, according to analysts who cover the company and asked not to be identified.

They own almost 25 percent of Reinet Investments, a company founded in 2008 as a holding entity for Richemont’s stake in British American Tobacco, through beneficial ownership of the South Africa-based Anton Rupert Trust, according to the company’s annual report for the year to March 31, 2018.

Issad Rebrab
Issad Rebrab

Issad Rebrab (Net worth: $3.7 B) 

Rebrab founded Cevital SPA in 1998 and also serves as its Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. He is one of the first Algerians to go into the entrepreneurial world after independence.

In 1968, he created his own office of certified public accountant. One of his clients suggested to him to take shares in his company of metallurgic manufacture. In 1971 with the acquisition of 20 % of the capital of a metallurgic manufacture company, Sotecom, he entered the business world and then created other companies in the sectors of metallurgy and steel industry. Rebrab carried out important investments. Since 2008, he has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of Cevital Group which consists of 19 subsidiaries divided into 4 poles: food processing industry, automotive and services, industry and distribution.

Cevital owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, with the capacity to produce 2 million tons a year. It also owns European companies, including French home appliances maker Groupe Brandt, an Italian steel mill and a German water purification company. Rebrab has plans to build a steel mill in Brazil to produce train tracks and improve transportation logistics for sugar, corn and soy flour exports.

Naguib Sawiris
Naguib Sawiris

Naguib Sawiris (Net worth: $2.9 B) 

The second Sawiris owns stakes in gold mines through his closely held company, La Mancha Resources. The Luxembourg-based entity’s investments include stakes in Evolution Mining and Endeavor Mining. He’s also invested in Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, which has interests across the Middle East and North Africa.

The majority of Sawiris’ fortune is held in cash and closely held assets, most of which come from the sale of his stake in Russian telecommunications company Vimpelcom for almost $4.1 billion in 2011 and 2012. He acquired 20 percent of Vimpelcom in 2010 as part of a deal to sell most of his telecommunications assets, including Italy’s Wind Telecomunicazioni and 51 percent of Cairo-based Orascom Telecom Holding, for $1.5 billion plus the Vimplecom shares.

Sawiris controls most of his investments through Luxembourg-based holding vehicle, Orascom TMT Investments, formerly called Weather Investments II, which he controls with his father, Onsi. Their stakes aren’t disclosed and his share of the company, known as OTMTI, is calculated at 70 percent, based in part on the ownership structure of another asset owned by the Sawiris family: publicly traded fertilizer company, OCI, which is controlled by Onsi and Naguib’s brother, Nassef.

Through OTMTI, Sawiris indirectly owns 36 percent of publicly traded Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding, a Cairo-based company formed from the merger between Vimpelcom and Orascom’s former parent company, Orascom Telecom Holding. He also owns an estimated 70 percent of La Mancha Resources, which he acquired in 2012 for $492 million to invest in gold assets. Through La Mancha, he owns stakes in publicly traded gold miners, Endeavor Mining and Evolution Mining.

Koos Bekker
Koos Bekker

Koos Bekker (Net worth: $2.3 B) 

Bekker serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Radiant Lighting (Pty) Ltd. Mr. Bekker served as the Chief Executive of Naspers since 1997 March 31, 2014. He served as Chief Executive of the MIH Group until 1997. He led the founding team of M-Net in 1985. He has served as Chairman of Naspers since April 17, 2015.

He also serves as a Director of MIH B.V., MIH Mauritius, MultiChoice South Africa Holdings and other companies in the wider group. He serves as a Director of MIH Holdings Ltd., Media24 Ltd and Media24 Holdings (Proprietary) Limited. He was a founding director of MTN. He served on the local organising committee for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup and the Council of the University of Stellenbosch. His qualifications include BA Hons and an honorary doctorate in commerce from Stellenbosch University, an LLB (Wits) and an MBA from Columbia University, New York.

Koos Bekker is revered for transforming South African newspaper publisher Naspers into an ecommerce investor & cable TV powerhouse. He led Naspers to invest in Chinese Internet and media firm Tencent in 2001 — by far the most profitable of the bets he made on companies elsewhere.

Isabel dos Santos
Isabel dos Santos

Isabel dos Santos (Net worth: $2.3 B) 
Being the only woman in the top 10, dos Santos is the richest woman in Africa.

Isabel dos Santos is the oldest daughter of Angola’s longtime former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in fall 2017. According to Forbes, while Isabel’s father was president, she ended up with stakes in Angolan companies including banks and a telecom firm. Her father also made her head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil firm. She owns shares of Portuguese companies, including telecom and cable TV firm Nos SGPS.

In March this year, she secured a fresh mandate as board member of Angola’s biggest telecommunications company.

Mohamed Mansour
Mohamed Mansour

Mohamed Mansour (Net worth: $2.3 B) 

Mohamed Mansour oversees family conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (D.1976) in 1952 and has 60,000 employees.

Mohamed Mansour took over the Mansour Group in 1976. From early 2006 until October 2009, he was appointed as the Minister of Transport in Egypt, one of the largest service ministries employing more than 250,000 people.

Mohamed is the Founder and Chairman of Mansour Automotive Company (General Motors’ distributor in the world outside of China), Mantrac Group and Unatrac (Caterpillar’s distributor) and former Chairman of Crédit Agricole Egypt – the country’s second-largest bank.

He is the Founder and Chairman of the Lead Foundation, a non-profit organisation providing funding to small and micro enterprises for impoverished women in Egypt, which to date has granted 3.5 million loans. He has also served as the Chairman of the Egypt-U.S. Business Council and was the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, as well as the Secretary General of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES). He also served on the George Washington School of Business Advisory Board and the International Advisory Board of the Coca-Cola Company. He is currently serving on the Advisory Board for the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown University and is a member of Harvard Kennedy School Dean’s Council.

Mohamed Mansour gained an engineering degree from North Carolina State University in 1968 and an MBA from Auburn University in 1971, where he taught until 1973.

He served as Egypt’s Minister of Transportation from 2006 to 2009 under the Hosni Mubarak regime. His brothers Yasseen and Youssef, who share ownership in the family group, are also billionaires; his son Loutfy heads private equity arm Man Capital.