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The latest African billionaires
By SSI staff writer
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, March 7, 2008 - Forbes released its annual list of global billionaires by geographical region, with the number of African billionaires substantially increased over last year.
Among the handful of billionaires, four are from Egypt and are from the same family. The richest man in the African continent is Naguib Sawiris, the 53 year-old eldest son of ORASCOM conglomerate founder Onsi Sawiris. He is worth USD 12.5 billion, and his wealth initially came from a family inheritance. He continued to expand his Telecom venture in Europe via his holding company, “Weather Investments.” In addition to ORASCOM, Weather’s assets include Italian phone company “Wind,” leading Greek telecom companies “Wind Hellas” and “Tellas ORASCOM,” and his high-risk operation, Iraqna, the first mobile phone provider in Iraq. Sawiris recently sold his 19% stake in Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Telecommunications. He was educated in Switzerland at the Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute.
Following Naguib is his youngest brother, 46 year-old Nassef Sawaris, whose fortune estimated at $11 billion also stemmed from family wealth. Nassef took over the construction division from his father Onsi in 1998. He successfully cracked the tough French market in late December when blue chip company Lafarge agreed to buy ORASCOM Construction’s cement division for $13 billion. As part of deal, Nassef was granted an 11.4% stake and a seat on the board. He has continued his father’s tradition of pursuing business in high-risk countries: he recently invested $115 million in a North Korean cement plant. He was educated in the US at the University of Chicago.
Next in line is the senior and founding patriarch of ORASCOM, one of Egypt’s largest conglomerates, Mr. Onsi Sawiris, a 78 year-old risk-loving businessman, who at one time was forced to rebuild his construction company from scratch after it was nationalized by the government in the 1960s. He now serves as chairman of ORASCOM Construction. His three sons run construction, telecommunications and tourism divisions. He has a foundation through which he sponsors university scholarships for Egyptian students.
After the Egyptian family comes the Ethio-Saudi tycoon Mohammed Al-Amoudi, whose “empire” extends from Scandinavia to Ethiopia. Born in Ethiopia and now a Saudi citizen, Al-Amoudi made his fortune in construction and real estate before betting on energy. He owns Swedish refinery Preem as well as Svenska Petroleum, which made big plays in Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Angola this year. His net worth now hits USD 9 billion and is growing. He has invested more than $1 billion in Ethiopia, from hotels to gold mines. Last fall, he celebrated the year 2000 in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar by hosting international musicians in his new 20,000 seat concert hall in Addis Ababa. Recently, he announced that he would invest massively in the coming years in Ethiopia in the agri-business areas of palm-oil, rubber, tea, etc.
The southern part of the continent also produced a number of billionaires, topped by South Africa’s diamond conglomerate De Beers owner Nicky Oppenheimer. The 62 year-old, over the past few years, has amassed massive revenues. The firm hived off a piece of its South African operation, welcomed its first black executive, and settled a long-standing price-fixing class suit that prevented it from opening offices in the U.S. In 2006, Nicky sold off a third of his family’s interest in global mining giant Anglo American, founded in 1917 by his grandfather Ernest, to Chinese billionaire Larry Yung. On behalf of De Beers, Oppenheimer courted Russian President Vladimir Putin in fall of 2006; two months later De Beers and Russia’s state-owned Alrosa diamond mining firm signed a joint prospecting deal. De Beers sold $400 million worth of Alrosa diamonds in 2007. Now, Nicky’s net worth is USD $5.7 billion.
Following Nicky is Johann Rupert, who inherited his wealth. He is the jovial yet reclusive head of publicly-traded Swiss luxury group Richemont, which owns Cartier, Chloe, Dunhill and other premium brands. Weathering a U.S. slowdown in luxury spending, with growing demand in key European and Asian markets, he is reportedly negotiating a deal to invest $19 million in Saracens, the English rugby club. With family relatives, he owns two of South Africa’s best-known vineyards, Rupert & Rothschild and LOOmarins. He also owns own of the country’s most exclusive golf clubs. His net worth is USD 3.8 billion.
Two black Africans also made it on the list of Forbes billionaires. The first is Nigeria’s only billionaire, Aliko Dangote, who hit the jackpot when his sugar-production company was listed on the Nigerian stock exchange last year. He began his career as a trader at 21 with a loan from his uncle. He built his Dangote Group into a conglomerate with interests in sugar, flour milling, salt processing, cement manufacturing, textiles, real estate, haulage and oil and gas. Closely linked to Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, his worth hits USD 3.3 billion.
The eighth African billionaire is the middle son of ORASCOM conglomerate founder Onsi Sawiris. Samih Sawiris runs the family’s ORASCOM real estate and hotel division, which owns and operates hotels in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, UAE and Switzerland. He also has plans in the pipeline to develop prime property in Mauritius and Morocco. After record growth in 2006, the hotel group’s Ebitda for the first half of 2007 was up 105%. He recently established ORASCOM Housing Communities in Cairo, dedicated to developing low-income housing. His net worth is USD 2.9 billion. Fluent in German, he has an engineering degree from the Berlin Institute of Technology.
The latest addition to the billionaires list is the Johannesburg mining magnate Patrice Motsepe – South Africa’s first black billionaire. Born in the sprawling black township of Soweto and trained as a lawyer, Motsepe became the first black partner at Johannesburg’s Bowman Gilfillan law firm, before starting a low-level contracting business doing mine work. He bought low-producing gold mine shafts in 1994, and turned them profitable using a lean, mean management style. Since then, he built an $875-million mining conglomerate, African Rainbow Minerals (ARM), with interests in a wide swath of minerals: precious metals (platinum and its cousins), nickel, chrome, iron, manganese and coal. He benefited from South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) laws, which mandate that companies be at least 26% black-owned in order to get a government mining license. He also holds a 5.5% stake in Sanlam, a publicly traded financial services company outside Cape Town. At the age of 46, with hands on hips and wearing a brightly patterned shirt, a smiling Patrice Motsepe stares out from the cover of the latest issue of Forbes magazine.
Of the 1,125 people who made it onto the Forbes list of billionaires, Motsepe ranks number 503, below fellow South Africans Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert, who rank an impressive 173 and 284 respectively.
But while South Africa can proudly proclaim Motsepe as its newest success story, the man himself remains unfazed and unperturbed. His net worth is USD 2.4 billion.
Source: The Sub-Saharan Informer