Nigerian has the Richest Black Man in the World
Profile of Aliko Dangote- Sub-Saharan Africa’s First Billionaire
Alhaji Aliko Dangote
Worth $3.3 billion in 2008, Dangote was the richest black African to appear on Forbes’ Billionaire list and beat Oprah Winfrey to become the world’s richest black person.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote has been a major player in Nigerian commerce since the 1970s and his business empire controls the import and export of a variety of products in west Africa.
This led to speculation that he was the wealthiest African in the world, but he said, “I think I have to be rated by Forbes magazine first before I can be [called] the richest man in Africa.”
Dangote got his wish in 2008 when he debuted as the first Nigerian on the annual Forbes’ Billionaires list with a $3.3 billion fortune, and became the richest black person on the planet taking the title from media mogul Oprah Winfrey ($2.5 billion).
He was ranked No. 334 in the world (No. 1 was America’s Warren Buffet with $62 billion), and although Egypt (The Sawiris family: $32 billion) and South Africa (The Oppenheimer family: $5.7 billion) had richer men, Aliko is the first African billionaire of fully Black African ancestry to be listed.
Aliko Dangote’s Background
Dangote was born in the northern Nigerian state of Kano on April 10, 1957 into a wealthy Hausa-Muslim family. His mother Mariya Dantata was the grand-daughter of businessman Alhassan Dantata, and his father Mohammed Dangote was Dantata’s business associate.
Dangote had an early interest in business “I can remember when I was in primary school, I would go and buy cartons of sweets and I would start selling them just to make money. I was so interested in business, even at that time.” He attended the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt before working for his uncle Sanusi Dantata who eventually gave him a business loan at the age of 21.
Dangote started trading commodities and building materials in Kano in 1977. He moved to Lagos that summer and, encouraged by the success of his business ventures so far, incorporated two companies in 1981.
World’s Richest Men
These and the 13 that followed now make up the multi-billion dollar conglomerate known as Dangote Group with operations mainly in Nigeria, but also Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo, South Africa and Ethiopia.
Today DG dominates the sugar market in Nigeria and Dangote Sugar Refinery is the main supplier (70% of the market) to the country’s soft drinks companies, breweries and confectioners. It is the largest refinery in Africa and the third largest in the world producing 800,000 tonnes of sugar annually.
DG also owns salt factories and flour mills and is a major importer of rice, fish, pasta, cement and fertilizer. The company also exports cotton, cashew nuts, cocoa, sesame seed and ginger to several countries.
DG also has major investments in real estate, banking, transport, textiles, oil and gas. It employs over 18,000 people and is the largest industrial conglomerate in West Africa.
Forbes Billionaires List
Sub-Saharan Africans were usually absent from Forbes magazine’s annual compilation of the world’s 1,000+ billionaires. Past African presidents like Congo’s Mobutu and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha probably became billionaires after pocketing their country’s wealth, but Forbes did not confirm or legitimise their money.
Dangote was the first verifiable Black African billionaire, with Patrice Motsepe of South Africa also on the list with $2.4 billion from his mining company. Forbes reportedly wanted to feature Dangote on the cover of the 2008 magazine but he politely declined.
He said he was grateful to God for the achievement: “The signs are very good for Nigeria. Next year, I expect at least five Nigerians to be on the list.”
But that was not to be as the 2009 list showed the effects of the global recession with many billionaires making huge loses or dropping off the list altogether. Aliko’s wealth fell to $2.5 billion owing to a 70% fall in share prices, but he moved up the world ranking to No. 261. The 2009 list also featured another Nigerian, oil magnate Femi Otedola with $1.2 billion.
Dangote’s Political Alliances and Controversies
Nigerians are generally proud of Dangote’ achievements, but many insist that his business acquisitions were unfairly gained due to his links with Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, and that his virtual monopoly over much of Nigeria’s commodities is stifling competition.
Dangote reportedly donated N200 million to fund Obasanjo’s 2003 re-election campaign, and was one of the major players in getting current president Umaru Yar’Adua elected.
“I am close to people in government because I am one of the big businessmen in Nigeria” he said. “If we don’t have the right people there then all the money I have is useless.” (“Nigerian Wealth Fails to Trickle Down, BBC News, 19 April, 2007)
The recent increase in cement prices, an industry dominated by DG, forced the government to allow cement imports in the hope that the competition would lower prices, much to the annoyance of DG. Dangote’s unanimous election as president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange further led to accusations of unfair business practice as two of his businesses are listed on the exchange.
The Future of DG and Nigeria
Dangote is branching into telecommunications and has started the building of 14,000 kilometres of fibre optic cables to supply the whole of Nigeria, and he was honoured in January 2009 as the leading provider of employment in the Nigerian construction industry.
“[Nigerians] can be even bigger than me, ” he said “you just have to believe that yes, there is a future in this country of ours and I can tell you right now, I don’t believe we have even started doing anything in Nigeria because the opportunities are so enormous. I don’t even know where to start.
“Let me tell you this and I want to really emphasize it…nothing is going to help Nigeria like Nigerians bringing back their money. If you give me $5 billion today, I will invest everything here in Nigeria. Let us put our heads together and work.”