Two Kenyans have a net worth greater than the combined wealth of 16.5 million fellow citizens, highlighting the massive gap in fortunes between the country’s haves and the have-nots.
Oxfam International, a global charity organisation that fights inequality, lists Sameer Naushad Merali and Bhimji Depar Shah as Kenya’s top tycoons with fortunes of $790 million (Sh89.6 billion) and $750 million (Sh85 billion) respectively, with industrialist families dominating the ranking of wealthy Kenyans.
Mr Sameer Merali is the heir to the late businessman Naushad Merali, who passed away in July last year. The late Merali built his wealth from diverse investments including telecommunications, manufacturing, agriculture, banking and real estate.
Mr Shah is the founder of Bidco Group of Companies, a household consumer goods manufacturer.
"The two richest people have more wealth than 16.5 million Kenyans," said Oxfam.
Also ranked in the top five are textile manufacturer Jaswinder Singh Bedi at $680 million (Sh77.1 billion) and Mahendra Rambhai Patel ($430 million/Sh48.7 billion), whose family owns Ramco Group, a conglomerate with interests in print, hardware, manufacturing, office supply and property sectors.
Oxfam lists President Uhuru Kenyatta as the fourth wealthiest Kenyan with a fortune of $530 million (Sh60 billion), but added that this is likely associated with the wider Kenyatta family, as was the case in the past when Forbes said Mr Kenyatta was worth $500 million.
The Kenyatta family retains interests in a wide range of sectors, including banking, milk processing, transport, media, and hospitality and land.
Oxfam's figures are based on data from Wealth-X, an organisation that tracks the records of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The charity said the data was up to date as at November 30, 2021.
"Between 2016 and 2021, the number of individuals with wealth over $50 million increased from 80 to 120. Their combined wealth increased from $12.73 billion to $17.4 billion, an increase of 36.8 percent, adjusted for inflation," said Oxfam of Kenya’s wealth study report. The report is expected to be officially released this morning.
It adds, however, that there are no dollar billionaires in Kenya, in contrast with other large African economies, such as South Africa (five), Nigeria (three), Morocco (two) and one in Zimbabwe.
A majority of Africa’s billionaires have their fortunes linked to commodities and natural resources, which Kenya does not have in abundance.
The Oxfam report says there are 19 dollar billionaires in Africa with a combined net worth of $73.4 billion (Sh8.3 trillion), having grown their fortune by $8 billion (Sh904 billion) since the onset of the Covid pandemic in March 2020.
The wealthiest person in Africa remains Nigerian Aliko Dangote at $13.5 billion (Sh1.5 trillion), drawn from interests such as cement manufacturing, sugar and salt milling, mining, logistics and energy.
He is followed by Egypt’s Nassef Sawiris at $8.2 billion, owner of Orascom Construction, and other interests in fertiliser, sportswear and cement sectors. South African Nicky Oppenheimer is the third wealthiest African at $7.9 billion, largely made from the sale of his family’s stake in the De Beers diamond mining company in 2012.
Kenya has 1,755 individuals whose indvidual net worth exceeds $5 million (Sh567 million), with their combined wealth totalling $37.1 billion (Sh4.2 trillion), equivalent to 41 percent of the country’s GDP.
This concentration of wealth among a few individuals exposes Kenya’s status as one of the most unequal societies in the world, with a 2020 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey showing that more than 24 million Kenyans are living in poverty.
The country, therefore, has a much lower threshold of what it takes to be considered among the top one percent in terms of wealth.
In its wealth report for 2021, Knight Frank put this threshold for Kenyans at just $20,000 (Sh2.27 million), nine times lower than the $180,000 (Sh20.4 million) needed to join the top one percent in South Africa and 3.5 times lower than Nigeria’s $70,000 (Sh7.9 million).
The study describes wealth as the net assets of a person, including property, cash, equities, and business interests less liabilities such as loans.
While in other parts of the world inclusion in the top one percent is usually a sign that one can afford a comfortable middle call lifestyle with access to quality education, healthcare and transport, in Nairobi a net worth of Sh2.2 million would hardly cover the cost of buying land and putting up a small house in the outskirts of the city.
This amount would also be at risk of being wiped out by a single bill in one of the city’s top hospitals, and would not cover the cost of a year’s fees in a top international school.
The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people has partly been attributed to the previous centralised system of government, which guided sharing of resources since Independence.