RICH PICKINGS: Africa's burgeoning billionaires

Africa's latest rich list doesn't reflect Gina Rinehart's claim that African mining is surging. But it does give a fascinating insight into how money is made in Africa.

Gina Rinehart didn’t specifically mention Africa as she launched her new book Northern Australia and Then Some last week, but it’s a continent never far from her thoughts.

A key tenant of Rinehart’s push to make Northern Australia an "economic zone” with lower taxes and less regulation is to improve the Australia’s mining sector’s competitiveness with Africa.

In a now infamous speech to the Sydney Mining Club in early September, Rinehart made her position clear.

"Business as usual will not do, not when West African competitors can offer our biggest customers an average capital cost for a tonne of iron ore that's $100 under the price offered by an emerging producer in the Pilbara," she said.

"Furthermore, Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day. Such statistics make me worry for this country's future."

Rinehart was roundly criticised for her comments on Africa, but she’s unlikely to have changed her thinking given the slew of mining projects that have been delayed in Australia due to rising costs and falling commodity prices.

But the release of a new African rich list gives us a chance to test in some small way Rinehart’s theory on the rise of Africa.

If African mining is surging as she suggests, then surely a miner should have a strong presence on the new Forbes list of Africa’s 40 richest people?

Well, not quite. There are just three mining entrepreneurs in the top 20 of the list, and one has just sold his family’s entire mining interests. Across the entire list, only four members draw their wealth from oil, despite the region’s obvious natural resources.

While the rise of Rinehart’s African mining billionaires might be some way off, the list still provides a fascinating picture of how money and where money is made in Africa.

It’s a list of contrasts, and not just because of the low number of mining entrepreneurs in a continent rich with natural resources.

While the poverty throughout Africa would suggest a raft of rags-to-riches stories, the top end of the list tells the story of a group of men – there are just two women in the list of 40 – who have been born into relative privilege.

It’s also worth noting that the level of wealth in Africa is far lower than in even in Australia. The total wealth on the list in Africa was $72.9 billion, well below the wealth of the richest 40 in Australia, which Forbes measured at $84.9 billion in February.

The minimum amount needed to get on the African list was $400 million; in Australia it was $645 million.

And Gina Rinehart makes an interesting point of comparison too. At Forbes’ valuation of $18 billion, she’s worth almost as much as the top two men on the African list combined.

Let’s take a look at the top five from the African list:

– Aliko Dangote, $12 billion

Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote was born in 1957 into a wealthy family of established entrepreneurs and quickly picked up the family passion – by primary school he was bulk-buying lollies to resell to the local kids. The cornerstone of his empire is cement – his company Dangote Cement, is the largest cement maker in Africa with operations in 14 counties across the continent. But Dangote Group also spreads across a number of key commodities, including sugar, flour and salt. A key player in Nigerian politics, Dangote is also well known for donating millions to health and education charities.

– Nicky Oppenheimer, $6.4 billion

For generations the Oppenheimer name has been associated with one of the most famous mining groups in the world – the diamond minor De Beers. But no more. In November 2011, Nicky Oppenheimer – the grandson of Ernest Oppenheimer, who took control of De Beers in 1927 – sold his family’s 40 per cent stake in De Beers to mining giant Anglo American for $5.1 billion. Oppenheimer is a somewhat controversial figure in Africa. In 2005, he described the campaign by Sir Bob Geldof and Tony Blair to push for the mass forgiveness of African debt as "misguided” and claimed Africans were suffering from "donation fatigue”. However, he is well known for philanthropic efforts, particularly around conservation – he owns the largest private game reserve in South Africa.

– Johann Rupert, $5.7 billion

That Africa is home to the man behind the world’s second biggest luxury company is perhaps one of the biggest ironies of the African rich list. Johann Rupert is the founder and major shareholder of Richemont, the Swiss-based group that owns brands including Cartier, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill and Net-a-Porter. The group has come through the GFC relatively well, with the explosive growth of the Asian luxury market offsetting the slide of the European market. In addition to Richemont, Rupert owns stakes in Remgro (an investment company spread across financial services, food, manufacturing and technology) and Reinet (another investment vehicle that holds a large stake in British American Tobacco).

– Nassef Sawiris, $5.5 billion

Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris is another member of the African list born into money. His father Onsi started Orascom Construction Industries in 1950 and Nassef, the youngest of Onsi’s three sons, is now in charge. The company’s interests are centred around cement production, but also include fertiliser, construction services and other construction materials such as steel, chemicals and paint. Nassef is currently looking beyond Egypt, with plans to build a $1.4 billion fertiliser plant in Iowa’s corn belt and a push to invest in Telecom Italia. He is also involved in Egypt’s volatile political situation as one of the founders of the Free Egyptian Party. A Christian, Nassef wants "Egypt to stay as a non-religious state - where state, religion and church are separated.” He said last year. "I am quite fanatic about my Scotch in the evening. I don't like anybody telling me that I can't drink. I don't like anyone telling me how my wife should be dressed."

– Mike Adenuga, $4.6 billion

Nigeria’s second richest man, Mike Adenuga, is something of a rarity in the countries large oil sector in that he is one of few locals to make serious money out of the black gold. Adenguna owns Conoil, which has production capacity of 100,000 barrels a day, and more recently has built a large mobile phone business through his group Globacom. Adenuga travelled to America in his teens to study for a business degree and returned to Nigeria to inherit a small sawmill started by his father. He eventually diversified into commodities trading – particularly importing lace, according to reports – before his relationships with the military helped him win a large contract to build army barracks. He has retained strong ties to successive governments and is seen as a key political operative.

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