Pan-African magazine: Africa has 55 billionaires

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A pan-African magazine says Africa has many more billionaires than previously reported, 55 of them worth more than $143 billion including a Nigerian said to be the richest black woman in the world.

“Move over, Oprah!” Ventures Africa says in its latest edition published this week.

Editor-in-chief Uzodinma Iweala said Tuesday the magazine’s estimates are “on the conservative side.”

The report predictably identifies Nigerian manufacturer Aliko Dangote as the richest African worth $20.2 billion, among 20 Nigerians listed.

Africa Ventures put the average net worth of Africa’s billionaires at $2.6 billion and their average age at 65. The oldest billionaires are Kenyan industrialist Manu Chandaria and Egyptian property tycoon Mohammed Al-Fayed, both aged 84. The youngest billionaires are Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania and Nigerian oil trader Igho Sanomi, both 38 years old.

Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt had the highest numbers of the richest Africans, with nine in South Africa and eight in Egypt. It said Algeria, Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland only have one billionaire each. It identified billionaires in only 10 of Africa’s 53 countries.

The magazine’s survey surprised by identifying oil tycoon Folorunsho Alakija as the richest black woman in the world, saying that she is worth $7.3 billion.

Forbes magazine in its respected list had estimated Alakija’s fortune at $600 million and Oprah Winfrey’s worth at $2.9 billion.

The Forbes list of Africa’s 40 Richest has only 16 billionaires including two Nigerians.

Last month, Forbes published a story describing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ daughter, Isabel, as Africa’s only female billionaire worth about $3 billion.

“I think being more rigorous and being closer to the ground makes it easier to figure out on a continent where information is not as readily available and things are not as transparent,” Iweala explained in a telephone interview.

He said the Lagos-based magazine, which boasts it “champions African capitalism by celebrating African success, free enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit,” regularly collects information about rich Africans and dedicated three months to research spread across the continent.

Iweala said he was excited to find several Africans who have become wealthy through manufacturing and financial services showing “we’re moving away from a continent that is just resource-based.”

He found Africa’s billionaires “very bullish on Africa: They believe this is the environment to make fortunes and to make changes ... they are not taking their money and running” abroad.

And he found Africa’s richest people are becoming more transparent about their wealth and more formal in returning wealth to the community: “As people have more and more money we’re seeing more and more foundations putting money back, and in a more structured way.”

Alakija’s Rose of Sharon Foundation helps support widows and orphans all over Nigeria, for instance.

According to Ventures Africa, the 61-year-old Alakija studied fashion design in London in the 1980s and returned home to set up Supreme Stitches, which became an exclusive label catering to a wealthy clientele including Mariam Babangida, wife of former Nigerian military dictator Ibrahim Babangida. In 1993, the Babangida regime gave Alakija a license to explore for oil in a block that has become one of the most prolific in the oil-rich country, producing some 200,000 barrels a day, according to the magazine.

It credited Alakija for holding on to her license and entering into a joint venture with an international oil exploration company at a time when many Nigerians given licenses, mainly military generals, sold them off to international oil firms.

Alakija fought a court case for more than a decade when a civilian government forcefully awarded itself a 50 percent interest in her company, after the field was confirmed in 2000 to hold reserves in excess of 1 billion barrels. A court last year voided the government’s acquisition and returned the stake to Alakija’s Famfa Oil, which she runs as a family business with her husband and four sons.

Ventures Africa said the value of Alakija’s 60 percent stake in the block, based on recent sales in Nigeria, is between $6.44 billion and $8.3 billion.