The richest people in Africa could easily be former and current presidents and rulers of African countries. But donâ€™t expect to find them on our FORBES rich list.
During a recent trip to Nairobi I had a lunch meeting with an old friend and former college classmate who now works as an analyst in one of Kenyaâ€™s most reputable Investment banks. I had set up this meeting with him because I sought his expertise in analyzing the fortunes of some of the richest people in the country.
Very soon, FORBES will be publishing its debut list of the 40 Richest Africans, and my editor had sent me over to the beautiful East African country to do some research on the wealthiest citizens there.
My friend and I discussed at length, recounting the success stories of some of the countryâ€™s most recognizable and successful businessmen and ascribing figures to the value of their key holdings and assets. It was a fruitful and robust conversation, and I enjoyed every bit of it. But at some point, my friend diverted abruptly from our line of discussion and said something which really struck a chord in me. With a cheeky grin playing on his lips, he said: â€œMfonobong, weâ€™re just beating around the bush; you and I both know that in reality the richest people in Africa are our leaders â€“ both the past and the present.â€
His observation might not be entirely accurate, but there is some truth to his statement, and itâ€™s much more than just an iota. Forbes has only estimated the net worth of one of these former dicatators, but others have done some fruitful digging.
Theoretically, Sani Abacha, Nigeriaâ€™s former military ruler, was a billionaire â€“ and not in naira, but in dollars. Upon his death in 1998, the Nigerian government uncovered over $3 billion linked to the sadistic despot held in personal and proxy bank accounts in tax havens as diverse as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Jersey and Liechtenstein. Following a series of negotiations between the Nigerian government and the Abacha family, Abachaâ€™s first son, Mohammed eventually returned $1.2 billion to the Nigerian government in 2002.
Another theoretical billionaire was Mobutu Sese Seko, the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over his 30-year reign as ruler of the resource-rich Central African country, Sese Seko amassed a personal fortune estimated by various sources (including Transparency International) at somewhere between $1 billion and $5 billion. Experts believe virtually all of it was illicitly acquired from the nationâ€™s coffers and stashed away in Swiss banks. While his reign lasted, Sese Seko earned an international notoriety as a poster boy for the excesses of typical African despots. He owned a string of exotic Mercedes cars and divided his time between plush palatial residences in Paris and Lausanne, Switzerland. He also developed a special taste for pink Champagne and flew in fresh cakes from Paris for his consumption.
But one of the wealthiest, albeit lesser-talked about African leaders to emerge from Africa is Nigeriaâ€™s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. The gap-toothed military general and self-acclaimed â€œEvil geniusâ€ is unofficially one of the richest men in Nigeria and in Africa.
The 70 year-old former military ruler governed Nigeria from 1985 to 1993 and is widely believed to have laundered some $12 billion earned from an oil windfall during the 1992 Gulf War. To date, Babangida has not provided any reasonable account for the money â€“all of which disappeared mysteriously. Since incredibly wealthy and influential Nigerians are typically above the law, Babangida walks around as a free man today. At the moment, Babangidaâ€™s wealth is invested through several proxies in a string of businesses owned or managed by wealthy Nigerian businessmen. One of the more popular Nigerians who has consistently been fingered as a front man for Babangidaâ€™s financial interests is billionaire Mike Adenuga who debuted on the FORBES Worldâ€™s Billionaires list in March. For a little more insight on Babangidaâ€™s wealth, read the article, â€œOn the trail of Babangidasâ€™ billionsâ€ available here.