Africa has about two dozen dollar billionaires. Is their wealth more a sign of growing economies or of sweetheart support from governments?
LYAL WHITE Senior Director, Johannesburg Business s School, South Africa YES
They say “a rising tide lifts all boats.” An improving economy will benefit all participants, even if a few appear to have risen to a new stratosphere. The emergence of African billionaires is one of the talking points resulting from Africa’s recent growth spurt between 2002 and 2012 – much the same as China’s rise a decade before. These new billionaires, or entrepreneurs, are a critical force behind the rising tide that draws much-needed reinvestment and economic growth to Africa. By placing the continent and its industries at the centre of global value chains, African billionaires are helping to diversify economies well beyond resource extraction. African billionaires carry enormous political and commercial influence. They are able to drive development through shared value or what some have coined ‘Africapitalism’. Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Ashish Thakkar and James Mwangi are widely known for their disruptive influence in traditional industries, relentless competitiveness and entrepreneurial flair, not to mention their commitment to development by building true African industry. These leaders represent the opportunity to rise to billionaire status within the African context. They inspire hope for the next tier of African entrepreneurs driving the future.
ROLAKE AKINKUGBE-FILANI Head of Energy & Natural Resources, Fbnquest Merchant Bank, Nigeria NO
I understand the need for depictions of the African story from multiple perspectives since we’re so over the images of poverty stricken, emaciated Africans. That Africa’s richest elite now feature on global wealth indexes in itself is not a bad thing – it’s actually great PR. The issue is whether the growth that has enabled this wealth has translated into socio-economic dividends for Africa’s majority. Hardly. According to the UN Development Programme, 10 of the world’s 19 most unequal countries are African. It is not even as if Africa has a swarm of billionaires. Despite the fact that many are philanthropic, the combination of their goodwill dollars and private sector dollars will not be enough to lift the poorest out of poverty at the continent’s average growth rate of just under 3% today, even though the industries that some of them build help to create thousands of jobs. If progress implies the type of development that is sustainable and inclusive, a tiny exclusive class of billionaires cannot be our yardstick for gauging Africa’s future prospects. Not all boats are lifted in a rising tide. My country Nigeria is a case in point: In 2018 it became the country with the largest number of extreme poor (87 million) globally but it is also home to Africa’s richest man. The irony.