Ten African entrepreneurs that will shape the continent’s bright future

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SWITZERLAND, MAY 13, (TODAY’SECHO) – Analysts have often called Africa the next frontier due to its perception as a place for the future rather than the present. Though overflowing with natural resources, lack of visionary leadership has kept Africa backward for a long time. However, in the past decade, Africa seems to be undergoing an economic revolution as young Africans rise above the challenges in their environment to create opportunities through enterprise.

“Something new is happening in Africa. Once upon a time, talk of investment in the continent’s countries was dismissed as idealism. Now global investors are turning their eyes–and their funds–to a new investment frontier. Is this short-term euphoria,” Javier Santiso, Chief Development Economist and Deputy Director OECD Development Centre said in March 2019.

With a population of over 1.3 billion, and a nominal GDP of over $2 trillion, Africa is expected to see a stronger growth in 2019 with an expansion of 3.7 percent from its current 3.5 percent. A couple of African countries have emerged from the dark shadows of the past and are poised for rapid economic development while others are fast emerging as centres of enterprise and development. Besides South Africa, countries to watch out for in 2019 include Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Congo DRC, and Angola.

As the continent evolves, certain enterprising individuals have been positioned to play significant roles in the emerging scenario. The list is inexhaustive as there are many people doing amazing things. However, we have settled for ten of them. Today’s Echo’s list is a blend of some of the current richest people in Africa and some others who may not be so wealthy but are likely to play a vital role in Africa’s development.

  1. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu: Ethiopia

With growing economic prosperity, Africa’s increasingly sophisticated population will demand for more fancy shoes to wear.

Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the founder of SoleRebels, Africa’s fastest growing footwear company.

Forbes has described SoleRebels as a thriving eco-sensitive footwear brand that pundits hail as Africa’s answer to brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas. SoleRebels produces footwear locally that often features a strong infusion of ancient Ethiopian culture with subtle undertones of modern, western design influences.

SoleRebels has flourished, growing to one hundred employees, with distribution to thirty countries worldwide, including Austria, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the UK.

2. Mo Ibrahim: Sudan

Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British billionaire businessman. He is the founder of telecommunications outfit, Celtel, one of the largest telecoms’ companies in Africa. As at the time it was sold, Celtel had over 24 million mobile phone subscribers in 14 African countries.

However, Mo Ibrahim is now more widely known for his work on projecting the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa through the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF), which he founded after selling Celtel in 2005.

The MIF Prize is probably the most prestigious award on political leadership in Africa. It awards a $5 million initial payment, and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of state who deliver security, health, education and economic development to their constituents and democratically transfer power to their successors. The recognition and prestige that come from the MIF prize will be an important driving force for good governance in the emerging Africa.

3. Ludwick Marishane: South Africa

29-year-old South African entrepreneur, Ludwick Marishane is probably the youngest on this list but that doesn’t make his importance to Africa less strategic.

With a growing population and many cramped up in slums without adequate access to clean water for bathing, Africa will definitely need Marishane’s invention to make millions of people clean. The youngster invented the world’s first waterless bath; a gel that can clean you up without water. Just rub it all over your body and you are good to go.

From growing up in rural Limpopo, South Africa, Marishane understood well that many Africans lacked clean water, and that a clean bath was a rare luxury for many. It is said that Marishane got the idea for his invention, Drybath, from observing his friends who were too lazy to bath.

4. Strive Masiyiwa: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean Telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa is worth $2 billion according to Forbes and is the richest man in the country. He is also founder and executive chairman of diversified international Telecommunications, Media and Technology group Econet Wireless.

Besides his stake in Econet, Masiyiwa owns stakes in several businesses across East and Southern Africa. One of his companies, Liquid Telecom, provides fibre optic and satellite services to telecom firms across Africa. He also owns stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa. This is exactly what makes him so influential, and pivotal to Africa’s development.

Besides his influence in the business world, Masiyiwa also has an extensive philanthropic network across Africa. Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi founded the Higherlife Foundation, which supports orphaned and poor children in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi and Lesotho.

Through his family foundation, the serial investor has provided scholarships to over 100,000 young Africans over the past 20 years. He also supports over 40,000 orphans with educational initiatives.

5. Naushad Merali: Kenya

Naushad Merali is a Kenyan businessman of Arab descent. He is a serial investor and industrialist but is mainly known as the founder of the Sameer Group, a conglomerate of 15 Kenyan companies that range from financial services to agriculture and even information technology. Three of these companies appear on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. He is known as a smart investor well versed in boardroom games and complex transactions.

Merali owned 40 per cent of Airtel (then KenCell Communications), with French firm Vivendi owning 60 per cent in 2000. It is said that he later convinced Vivendi to sell him their 60% stake and ended up selling his own stakes to Indian-based Bharti Airtel.

Two of Merali’s former firms, Kenya Data Networks and Swift Global are in the process of being merged into Great Britain’s Liquid Telecoms as of February 2013

With his strategic position in the business landscape of Kenya and the East African region, Merali is a key person for investments in Africa.

6. Patrice Motsepe: South Africa

Patrice Motsepe is a South African businesswoman, and the founder of one of Africa’s largest mining companies. Motsepe is from a very powerful South African family and is highly connected by birth and marriage. His sister, Tshepo Motsepe-Ramaphosa is the First Lady of South Africa. His other sister, Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe, is one of the richest women in South Africa and wife to Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s Minister of Presidency.

Besides his African Rainbow Minerals, Motsepe also has investments in other sectors of the economy. He is also a non-executive director of South African Bank, ABSA.

Motsepe is currently the interim chairman of the Black Business Council and is a founding member and former president of one of South Africa’s most influential business advocacy and lobby groups; Business Unity SA.

Motsepe’s wealth, business assets and influence on the South African government places him in a strategic position in Africa’s most vibrant economy.

7. Patrick Ngowi: Tanzania

With climate change high on the global agenda today, an African pacesetter in renewable energy will definitely be an important player in the continent’s next phase.

34-year-old Tanzanian, Patrick Ngowi is a public speaker, climate reality advocate, and entrepreneur who is famous for his renewable energy solutions.

According to the International Finance Corporation, Africa, with its rapidly growing and urbanizing population, is an important but largely untapped market for sustainable energy solutions.

Ngowi’s Helvetica solar supplies, installs and maintains solar systems. The company sells everything solar from photovoltaic panels and water heaters to battery banks, generators and back-up units.

Patrick Ngowi was selected and recognized by former United Nations Secretary General – Ban ki-moon; at the United Nations General Assembly in 2016, as 1 of 10 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) Global Pioneers

8. John Obaro: Nigeria

As Africa embarks on a journey of self-evolution, IT becomes vital in facilitating ground-breaking solutions through Financial Technology, Electronic Governance and other applications.

 John Obaro is the founder and Managing Director of SystemSpecs; a 28-year-old Nigerian FinTech company that has pioneered an effective electronic financial management system for Africa’s most populous country and largest economy.

The Treasury Single Account (TSA), adopted by the Nigerian government in 2015, unifies all government revenue into a single bank account. A software called Remita, which was produced by SystemSpecs is powering the entire process, including the disbursement of government funds. Moreover, Remita also processes payments and facilitates transactions for private users.

The success of Remita has made it a sought-after technology solution, especially as the TSA is being adopted across Africa. John Obaro’s SystemSpecs is currently being consulted on prospective deployment of Remita and its derivative technology solutions in other African countries.

9. Benedict Peters: Nigeria

Nigerian-born Benedict Peters oversees one of the most diversified business empires in Africa, spanning various industries including mining, oil and gas, power, agriculture and charity.

His business empire continues to expand rapidly, extending to different countries across Africa and beyond with emerging international presence in several African countries as well as offices in Europe.

Aiteo, the integrated oil and gas conglomerate he founded 20 years ago is Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil producer.

Besides oil exploration, Benedict Peters is involved in other businesses revolving around mining and energy across Africa and is also venturing into power. Benedict Peters is also the founder of Joseph Agro industries, and Agro-allied group formed in 2014, with an objective to invest in farming and food processing in Africa.

In October 2018, Forbes named him Africa’s Oil and Gas Leader. In January 2019, the Foreign Investment Network awarded him the African Icon of the Year.

Beyond Energy, Agriculture and Solid Minerals, Benedict Peters has contributed immensely to the development of football in Africa. He is currently the biggest financier of the sport in his home country Nigeria and sponsors the annual CAF Awards.

Benedict Peters is vital in the next phase of Africa’s evolution, not just as a critical energy supplier and champion of local content, but also as a critical player in the development of Sports on the continent.

10. Fred Swaniker: Ghana

Ghanaian educational consultant and leadership expert, Fred Swaniker is the only entrepreneur out of six Africans on Time’s list of 100 most influential people in 2019. He is the founder of Africa’s largest leadership training organization; the African Leadership Academy. He is also the founder of the African Leadership University, with campuses across the continent.

Swaniker is important to the next phase of Africa because he is a pace setter on one thing vital to attaining a prosperous Africa; Leadership.

Stanford-trained Swaniker believes that the missing ingredient on the continent is good leadership. To help solve this problem, his African Leadership Academy aims to develop 6,000 transformative leaders for Africa over a 50-year period.

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