Forbes magazine has released its fourth annual list of Africa’s richest people, setting the stage for renewed controversy over how it is compiled.
It reveals that, unlike its neighbours Uganda and Tanzania, Kenya has no dollar billionaires despite being the biggest economy in East Africa and the ninth largest on the continent.
Only two Kenyans make the list, Bidco Oil’s Bhimji Depar Shah ($700 million) and Sameer Group’s Naushad Merali ($550 million).
Bhimji is the father of Bidco Oil CEO Vimal Shah, who was listed last year with a family net worth $1.6 billion.
Forbes says “new information” has led them to attribute the wealth to Bhimji and family, not Vimal. The publisher, however, does not explain why the estimate of the family’s wealth has changed since last year.
It is not clear whether the reduction is because wealth held by Vimal and his younger brother Tarun has been considered separate from Bhimji and family or whether there was an error in making the estimate last year.
The Bidco chief executive’s reaction to being named Kenya’s richest man last year was to dismiss it as untrue.
“That is completely useless information,” he said, adding that he was not consulted before the list was prepared. “There is not a grain of truth in it and it is not worth a single penny from anyone. People are so desperate for money that they just package a string of falsehoods for purposes of selling it to others.”
This year’s list retains Nigeria’s commodities magnate Aliko Dangote as the richest man on the continent for the fourth year running, with an estimated net worth of $21.6 billion, up from $20.8 billion last year.
Other newcomers include King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Algeria’s Ali Wakrim and family, Egypt’s Ahmed Ezz and Nigerians Tony Elumelu and Orji Uzor Kalu.
The minimum threshold to make the top 50 rose to $510 million, Forbes Africa editor Chris Bishop said in a CNBC Africa broadcast Wednesday afternoon.
The list purports to rank the continent’s 50 richest resident citizens by offering conservative estimates of directly held wealth. Africans who live abroad, like Egyptian business magnate Mohamed al Fayed and Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire Mohamed Ibrahim are not included in the list.
Past rankings have, however, been hotly disputed with various individuals claiming to either have more or less wealth than estimated by Forbes researchers.
Last year’s list saw 50 tycoons from ten countries ranked, with the number of billionaires in Africa having surged to 27, up from 16 in 2012. The true net worth of one newcomer, Nigeria’s telecoms and oil tycoon Michael Adenuga, was later the subject of hot debate with claims it was higher than the $2 billion estimated. This year he is estimated to be worth $4.6 billion.
The only Kenyans on the 2013 list were Bidco Oil’s Vimal Shah and family (net worth $1.6 billion) and Sameer Group’s Naushad Merali (then $430 million).
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was included on the inaugural list in 2011, was dropped the following year and is no longer included because he is not seen as the custodian of the Kenyatta family’s wealth, then estimated at more than $500 million.
This is the same reason that has kept Comcraft Group’s Manu Chandaria and his family (estimated to have a net worth of $1.7 billion) off the list.
An exemption to the dispersed wealth rule is made for people whose immediate family’s wealth “can be traced to one living individual”.
Also on the 2011 list and bumped off in 2012 — by richer Africans, though — was industrialist Chris Kirubi (whose net worth was put at $300 million).
In 2003, Forbes counted only two billionaires in Africa: Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert, both of South Africa. A decade later, East Africa alone has two, Uganda’s real estate mogul Sudhir Ruparelia ($1.1 billion) and Tanzanian telecoms tycoon Rostam Azizi ($1 billion).
The other East Africans on the richest list — apart from Kenyans Bhimji and Merali — are three Tanzanians: property king Mohammed Dewji ($800 million); manufacturer Said Salim Bakhresa ($575 million) and media and mining magnate Reginald Mengi ($560 million).