Africa’s Wealthiest Man Buys Into Zimbabwe

Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote

Nigerian billionaire, Aliko Dangote, has announced plans to invest in several enterprises in Zimbabwe, including a USD400-million cement production plant, mining and power generation projects.

Writing in Mail & Guardian Africa online, Elias Mambo speculates that Dangote, whose net worth of USD14.3 billion is more than the GDP of Zimbabwe, has ‘arm twisted’ the Zimbabwean government to get exemption from indigenisation laws, which require a majority local shareholding; and furthermore to obtain guarantees for the security of his investments.

The interpretation, supported by commentary from various Zimbabwean ministers, is that Dangote is planning for a time after the ageing Mugabe either passes away or leaves office, and is betting that this will be relatively soon. He is also betting that whoever takes over will be amenable to foreign investment.

Zimbabwe has signed investment agreements with Russia and China recently, but Dangote is the biggest deal currently on the table. Daily Maverick’s Simon Allison asks if this will be enough to create a turnaround in a country that has become something of an African basket-case. Sceptics in Zimbabwe, like political commentator Blessing Vava, say it is just ‘politicking’ on the part of the government. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai points out that the country needs a lot more — something in the region of USD15 billion to effect a turnaround.

But who exactly is Aliko Dangote? Surprisingly, he didn’t make his fortune from oil, but rather cement, flour and sugar. Due to political turmoil in Nigeria, his net worth declined by USD5 billion last year, but that didn’t affect his status as Nigeria’s, and Africa’s, wealthiest man. Currently, Dangote Cement produces 30 million metric tonnes of cement a year, and the company has expressed plans to double this by 2018. Other countries the cement giant is expanding into include Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania.

Dangote has a greater vision: he wants to improve Nigeria’s image in the world. One of the ways he is planning to do this is by buying FA Cup Champions, Arsenal. He compares himself with Roman Abramovich, who bought Chelsea FC, saying it would be better for the country for him to invest in an internationally recognised football team, rather than all the football clubs in Nigeria.

Investment in Africa, by Africans, must be a good thing. Here’s hoping these ventures provide much needed jobs and export products, which can only be good for the continent.