The Forbes Billionaires’ List: Africa’s Richest People 2021 (Part 1)

Altogether, the 18 billionaires from Africa this year are worth $73.8 billion, slightly more than the $73.4 billion aggregate worth of the 20 billionaires on last year’s list of Africa’s richest people.

In Africa—as elsewhere in the world—the wealthiest have come through the pandemic just fine. The continent’s 18 billionaires are worth an average $4.1 billion, 12% more than a year ago, driven in part by Nigeria’s surging stock market. For the tenth year in a row, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria is the continent’s richest person, worth $12.1 billion, up by $2 billion from last year’s list, with major reference to a roughly 30% rise in the share price of Dangote Cement, by far his most valuable asset. The second richest is Nassef Sawiris of Egypt, whose largest asset is a nearly 6% stake in sportswear maker Adidas. At number three: Nicky Oppenheimer of South Africa, who inherited a stake in diamond firm De Beers and ran the company until 2012, when he sold his family’s 40% stake in De Beers to mining giant AngloAmerican for $5.1 billion.

The biggest gainer this year is another Nigerian cement tycoon, Abdulsamad Rabiu. Remarkably, shares of his BUA Cement PLC, which listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange in January 2020, have doubled in value in the past year. That pushed Rabiu’s fortune up by an extraordinary 77%, to $5.5 billion. One thing to note: Rabiu and his son together own about 97% of the company, giving the company a tiny public float. The Nigerian Stock Exchange requires that either 20% or more of a company’s shares to be floated to the public, or that the floated shares are worth at least 20 billion naira — about $50 million — a paltry sum, to be sure. A spokesman for the Nigerian Stock Exchange told Forbes that BUA Cement meets the second requirement. (Forbes discounts the value of stakes when the public float of a company is less than 5%.)

While some got richer by the billions, two from the 2020 list of Africa’s richest dropped below the $1 billion mark. In fact, the only two women billionaires from Africa have both fallen off the list. Forbes calculates that the fortune of Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria, who owns an oil exploration company, dropped below $1 billion due to lower oil prices. And Isabel dos Santos, who since 2013 has been the richest woman in Africa, was knocked from her perch by a series of court decisions freezing her assets in both Angola and Portugal. In January 2020, the attorney general of Angola charged Dos Santos with embezzlement and money laundering. The Angolan court claimed that actions taken by Dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo (who died in October 2020, reportedly in a scuba diving accident) and one other associate caused the Angolan government losses of at least $1.14 billionForbes has marked Dos Santos’ frozen assets at zero. Through a spokesperson, Dos Santos declined to comment.

The 18 billionaires from Africa hail from seven different countries. South Africa and Egypt each have five billionaires, followed by Nigeria with three and Morocco with two. Altogether they are worth $73.8 billion, slightly more than the $73.4 billion aggregate worth of the 20 billionaires on last year’s list of Africa’s richest people.

1.  Aliko Dangote

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Net worth: $12.1 billion
Rank in 2020: 1
Net worth in 2020: $10.1 billion
Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar
Industry: Manufacturing
Age: 63
Country: Nigeria
Residence: Lagos
Education: Al-Azhar University, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, founded and chairs Dangote Cement, the continent’s largest cement producer. He owns 85% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement through a holding company. Dangote Cement produces 45.6 million metric tons annually and has operations in 10 countries across Africa. Dangote also owns stakes in publicly-traded salt and sugar manufacturing companies. Dangote Refinery has been under construction since 2016 and is expected to be one of the world’s largest oil refineries once complete.

2.  Nassef Sawiris

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Net worth: $8.5 billion
Rank in 2020: 2
Net worth in 2020: $8 billion
Origin of wealth: Construction, chemicals
Industry: Construction and engineering
Age: 59
Country: Egypt
Residence: Cairo
Education: University of Chicago, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Nassef Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Naguib is also a billionaire. Sawiris split Orascom Construction Industries into two entities in 2015: OCI and Orascom Construction. 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. Orascom Construction, an engineering and building firm, trades on the Cairo exchange and Nasdaq Dubai. His holdings include stakes in cement giant Lafarge Holcim and Adidas; he sits on the supervisory board of Adidas.

3.  Nicky Oppenheimer & Family

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Net worth: $8 billion
Rank in 2020: 3
Net worth in 2020: $7.7 billion
Origin of wealth: Diamonds
Industry: metal and mining
Age: 75
Country: South Africa
Residence: Johannesburg
Education: Oxford University Christ Church, Master of Arts/Science, Oxford

Oppenheimer, heir to his family’s fortune, sold his 40% stake in diamond firm De Beers to mining group Anglo American for $5.1 billion in cash in 2012. He was the third generation of his family to run De Beers, and took the company private in 2001. For 85 years until 2012, the Oppenheimer family occupied a controlling spot in the world’s diamond trade. In 2014, Oppenheimer started Fireblade Aviation in Johannesburg, which operates chartered flights with its fleet of three planes and two helicopters. He owns at least 720 square miles of conservation land across South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

4.  Johann Rupert & Family

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Net worth: $7.2 billion
Rank in 2020: 5
Net worth in 2020: $6.5 billion
Origin of wealth: Luxury goods
Industry: Fashion and retail
Age: 70
Country: South Africa
Residence: Cape Town

Johann Rupert is chairman of Swiss luxury goods firm Compagnie Financiere Richemont. The company is best known for the brands Cartier and Montblanc. It was formed in 1998 through a spinoff of assets owned by Rembrandt Group Limited (now Remgro Limited), which his father Anton formed in the 1940s. He owns a 7% stake in diversified investment firm Remgro, which he chairs, as well as 25% of Reinet, an investment holding co. based in Luxembourg. In recent years, Rupert has been a vocal opponent of plans to allow fracking in the Karoo, a region of South Africa where he owns land.

5.  Mike Adenuga

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Net worth: $6.3 billion
Rank in 2020: 3
Net worth in 2020: $7.7 billion
Origin of wealth: Telecom, oil
Industry: Diversified
Age: 67
Country: Nigeria
Residence: Lagos
Education: Pace University, Master of Business Administration

Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, built his fortune in telecom and oil production. His mobile phone network, Globacom, is the third largest operator in Nigeria, with 55 million subscribers. His oil exploration outfit, Conoil Producing, operates six oil blocks in the Niger Delta. Adenuga got an MBA at Pace University in New York, supporting himself as a student by working as a taxi driver. He made his first million at age 26 selling lace and distributing soft drinks.

6.  Abdulsamad Rabiu

Net worth: $5.5 billion
Rank in 2020: 8
Net worth in 2020: $3.1 billion
Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar
Industry: Diversified
Age: 60
Country: Nigeria
Residence: Lagos

Abdulsamad Rabiu is the founder of BUA Group, a Nigerian conglomerate active in cement production, sugar refining and real estate. In early January 2020, Rabiu merged his privately-owned Obu Cement company with listed firm Cement Co. of Northern Nigeria, which he controlled. The combined firm, called BUA Cement Plc, trades on the Nigerian Stock Exchange; Rabiu owns 98.5% of it. Rabiu, the son of a businessman, inherited land from his father. He set up his own business in 1988 importing iron, steel and chemicals.

7.  Issad Rebrab & Family

Net worth: $4.8 billion
Rank in 2020: 6
Net worth: $4.4 billion
Origin of wealth:
Industry: Food and beverage
Age: 77
Country: Algeria
Residence: Algiers

Issad Rebrab is the founder and CEO of Cevital, Algeria’s biggest privately-held company. Cevital owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, with the capacity to produce 2 million tons a year. Cevital owns European companies, including French home appliances maker Groupe Brandt, an Italian steel mill and a German water purification company. After serving eight months in jail on charges of corruption, Rebrab was released on January 1, 2020. He denies any wrongdoing.

8.  Naguib Sawiris

Net worth: $3.2 billion
Rank in 2020: 9
Net worth in 2020: $3 billion
Origin of wealth: Telecom
Industry: Telecom
Age: 66
Country: Egypt
Residence: Cairo
Education: Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Master of Science; Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Naguib Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Nassef is also a billionaire. He built a fortune in telecom, selling Orascom Telecom in 2011 to Russian telecom firm VimpelCom (now Veon) in a multibillion-dollar transaction. He is chairman of Orascom TMT Investments, which has stakes in an asset manager in Egypt and Italian internet company Italiaonline, among others. Through his Media Globe Holdings, Sawiris owns 88% of pan-European pay TV and video news network Euronews. He also developed a luxury resort called Silversands on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

9.  Patrice Motsepe

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Net worth: $3 billion
Rank in 2020: 10
Net worth in 2020: $2.6 billion
Origin of wealth: Mining
Industry: Metals and mining
Age: 58
Country: South Africa
Residence: Johannesburg

Patrice Motsepe, the founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, became a billionaire in 2008 – the first black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he launched a new private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital, focused on investing in Africa. Motsepe also has a stake in Sanlam, a listed financial services firm, and is the president and owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club. In 1994, he became the first black partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan in Johannesburg, and then started a contracting business doing mine scut work. In 1997, he bought low-producing gold mine shafts and later turned them profitable.

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