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Nigeria may be Africa’s biggest economy, but most of the continent’s wealthy don’t live there

AP/Sunday Alamba
Plenty to smile about when you are the richest man in Africa.
By Omar Mohammed
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

South Africa’s economy may play second fiddle to Nigeria these days, but the “rainbow nation” still boasts the richest individuals on the continent.

In Forbes magazine’s latest list of Africa’s 50 richest, South Africans take up 16 spots compared to Nigeria’s 10. Overall, Africa’s 50 richest are worth a total of $95.6 billion. This is almost as much as the combined GDPs of Kenya and Tanzania, two of the biggest economies in East Africa.

But Nigerians can at least claim one of their own as the richest man on the continent. Aliko Dangote, the 58 year old chairman and chief executive of the Dangote Group, the manufacturing conglomerate, is worth a princely sum of $16.6 billion. That’s $10 billion more than the second guy on the list, South Africa’s Nicky Oppenheimer, whose family owned the diamond mining firm and trader DeBeers.

Dangote’s cement business, the central part of his empire, operates in 15 countries across the continent and recently announced plans to expand into Asia. He has also expressed interest in diversifying into sports, intimating that he may want to buy the English Premier League football club Arsenal.

Of the 50 people on the list, almost half are worth at least a billion dollars and nearly all of them are men. The two women on the list are Angola’s Isabel dos Santos and Nigeria’s Folorunsho Alakija.

Aliko Dangote (Nigeria)
Cement, sugar and flour
Nicky Oppenheimer (South Africa)
Christoffel Wiese (South Africa)
Johann Rupert (South Africa)
Luxury goods
King Mohammed VI (Morocco)
Nassef Sawiris (Egypt)
Construction and chemical business
Mike Adenuga (Nigeria)
Telecom and oil
Isabel dos Santos (Angola)
Telecom, banking and oil
Issad Rebrab (Algeria)
Naguib Sawaris (Egypt)
 Source: Forbes

Dos Santos’ net worth of $3.4 billion makes her the richest woman in Africa. How she has acquired her wealth is controversial, however. She is the daughter of Angola’s long-term president José Eduardo and critics have accused her of leveraging her position to enrich herself. Most of her money comes from investments in oil, banking and telecom companies in Angola and Portugal.

In October, an investment by dos Santos in an electrical equipment firm in Portugal led European parliament members to call for an investigation of the deal, alleging that Angolan state funds were used to finance it (pdf). Dos Santos has long denied using her position to benefit herself. “Most rumors you’ve heard are not true,” she told the Financial Times (paywall) once.

All in all, it has been a difficult year for Africa’s wealthy. The economic headwinds experienced by the continent epitomized in falling commodity prices, weakening currencies and declining investment from China have hit Africa’s rich hard. Dangote, for example, lost $5 billion in net worth since 2014, Forbes reports.

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