The West African region is home to some of the most renowned entrepreneurs and business moguls in the world. They include household names like Aliko Dangote, Abdul Samad Rabiu, and Mike Adenuga. From humble beginnings, they have established and built multi-nation firms that employ hundreds of people across different sectors.
Here are seven of the most successful West African entrepreneurs to know about:
Aliko Dangote is a Nigerian business mogul with a net worth of $12.7 billion, according to Forbes while Bloomberg puts his net worth at $19.0 billion. He makes his money largely from Dangote Cement, one of Africa’s most successful and recognizable brands. His cement factory has the capacity to produce 48.6 million metric tons annually and has operations in 10 countries across Africa.
In addition to his cement factory, Dangote is also into the production of sugar and until recently, fertilizer and oil refinery. He recently opened a refinery, considered one of the largest in the world. What is more, he is also into the assembling of cars under the name Dangote Peugeot Automobiles Nigeria Limited (DPAN). The assembling of the vehicles started with the Land Trek, 3008, 5008, and the new 508.
Mike Adenuga comes from humble beginnings. He attended the Ibadan Grammar School, Oyo State where he had his secondary school education. He worked as a taxi driver and security guard to support his education while studying at Northwestern Alva Oklahoma State University and Pace University in New York.
He built his fortune in mobile telecom and oil production. Adenuga launched Globacom mobile phone network in 2006. The mobile phone network reached about 30 million subscribers, advancing its operation in West Africa. It began operating in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.
The Nigerian magnate’s story of fortune began when he was 26 and had returned to Nigeria after studying in the U.S. He took over his mother’s sawmill business and distributed lace and other materials. He also sold Coca-Cola and made some powerful friends in the Nigerian military.
He relied on those relationships to get lucrative state construction contracts. Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, awarded him an oil prospecting license. He used that to build Conoil and became the first Nigerian to strike oil in commercial quantities.
Abdul Samad Rabiu
Abdul Samad Rabiu has a net worth of $7.6 billion, according to Forbes Africa. He is the founder of BUA Group, which is mainly into cement production, sugar refining, and real estate. His first business line was in iron, steel, and chemical imports.
Rabiu established his flagship company, BUA International Limited, in 1988 with the intent of going into commodity trading. The business initially imported rice, edible oil, flour, iron, and steel. After some years, BUA gained Nigerian Oil Mills Limited, the largest edible oil processing enterprise. He also launched two flour-milling plants in 2005.
Rabiu commissioned the second-largest sugar refinery in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, breaking the eight-year monopoly in the Nigerian sugar industry. Years later, the company went on to build a $900 million cement plant in Edo State in 2009, which was completed by 2015.
In the name of BUA Foundation, Rabiu built a 7,000-square-meter pediatric ward at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, as well as a Center for Islamic Studies at Bayero University also in Kano, among others.
Ibrahim Mahama is a business mogul in Ghana. He founded Engineers & Planners (E&P) following his return from England. Upon his return, he found an opportunity in a sector largely ignored by Ghanaians — the supply of mining and construction equipment.
He decided to go into renting heavy-duty equipment to contractors. His breakthrough came when he won a sub-contract to supply Razel-Bec (formerly Messrs Razel) with trucks for the construction of the Sankara Interchange Project, he told Emy Africa Magazine.
Today, E&P is the largest wholly indigenous mining and construction contracting company in West Africa and one of the largest on the continent. Aside from his investment in the mining sector, he is also into cement production. He recently commissioned Dzata Cement. He also co-founded the Joyce Tamakloe Cancer Foundation to raise funds for hospitals to help fight cancer.
Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian entrepreneur with a reported net worth of $1 billion as of 2020, according to Forbes estimates. She is regarded as Nigeria’s richest woman, as well as the richest woman in Africa. In 2017, she was the second richest woman in Africa with a net worth of $1.73 billion after Isabel dos Santos, as per Forbes. However, following the fall in the net worth of dos Santos over corruption allegations, Alakija hit the top spot as Africa’s richest woman. Her wealth is built on the back of Nigeria’s oil industry.
Alakija started her career in office administration after training in Britain as a secretary. She later went into banking, where she remained until she decided to venture into entrepreneurship. She worked for Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos for a year and a half before joining the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria.
Koffi Djondo lives a quiet life unlike most of his business peers. He is hardly known beyond the shores of Togo but his influence in the business world goes beyond Togo. For several decades, he has been pushing for a United Africa where the means of economic production will be owned by Africans and for Africans.
On the quiet, he has built a business empire that has not only created thousands of jobs for many in Africa but also ties into the pan-African agenda. Djondo co-founded the first pan-African bank known as Ecobank in 1985 with his business partners.
Since then, the bank has grown by leaps and bounds with a presence in 35 sub-Saharan African countries and employs over 18,000 Africans. In 2013, the company made a record profit of $2.3 billion. Besides Africa, Ecobank also has offices from London to Beijing.
Djondo was born in a small Togolese village on July 4, 1934. His success tells the story of someone who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The business mogul will surely laugh over such a luxurious view of his childhood.
He was raised by strict parents who eventually got divorced. As an only child, he developed a sense of self-reliance that he took into his studies.
Richelieu Dennis is a Liberian entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He is the founder of Essence Ventures LLC, which acquired Essence, the premier black women’s lifestyle magazine, from Time Inc.
He is also the co-founder of the personal-care products company Sundial Brands, which he started with his mother Mary, and college roommate, Nyema Tubman in 1991. Dennis was born and raised in Liberia where he lived with his parents. His father died when he was 8 and he moved with his mother to her native country Sierra Leone together with his sister. Both countries faced growing tensions at the time and Dennis gained a scholarship to the United States where he attended the Babson College in Massachusetts.
He graduated in 1991 when his home country and Sierra Leone were both facing civil war. His mother joined him after escaping the first civil war which lasted between 1989 and 1997.