More billionaires in Africa than we thought? Big Deal

The real question should be "why aren't there more?"

An African business magazine has just revealed that there are 55 billionaires in Africa. Ventures magazine realised the findings with great acclamation, prompting incredulity from its title "Many more African billionaires than previously thought".

While you might be surprised to hear that there are billionaires in a continent of famine and floods, coups and corruption, don’t be. Though the famine, floods, coups and corruption are all real, the over-reporting of them with respect to other African issues leaves us with the "African stereotype".  In actual fact, with exploits of Chinese investment, truckloads of aid and buckets of oil, diamonds and gold, the real question should be: Why are there not more billionaires in Africa?

To put this into perspective, Russia, a country of similar size to the continent, which also suffers corruption, though perhaps not coups, has 92 billionaires according to WealthInsight.

"The problem with Africa..." begins many a conversation of the continent, but in terms of wealth, the problem is exodus. Many of Africa’s wealthy, it seems, would rather live in Europe. Of the Ventures top 10 lists, at least two live in Europe, perhaps more. The real story, then, is not how many billionaires there are in Africa, but how many African billionaires there are out of Africa.

To answer this question, start looking in Paris, where French prosecutors are investigating assets held by rulers and their entourages of at least half a dozen tin-pot republics. 11 supercars (including a conspicuous white convertible Rolls Royce coupé) were seized from the son of President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who faces corruption charges in the US. 39 properties in Paris and the south of France are now known to belong to family and associates of the late president Omar Bongo of Gabon. And finally, 112 French bank accounts have been traced back to President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo (Brazzaville). 

While supercars and villas symbolise wealthy African’s penchant to show off, they are a minority. What is more worrying are the amount of transactions between African states and offshore centres. Africa is booming and investors know it – foreign direct investment (FDI) has more than doubled in the past 10 years – but with offshore centres negotiating investor protection the tax reward is minimised. Offshore financing may be fast becoming a taboo in Europe, but in Africa it’s by-the-by. Dubai, Singapore, The Seychelles and Mauritius are the offshore equivalents to Africa as Guernsey and Jersey are to us.

Any criticism of wealth not "trickling down" to the poor, as highlighted in a recent Afrobarometer survey, should therefore target those taking money out of the continent, rather than those within.

That there are 55 billionaires in Africa is no surprise, the quantity of billionaires is a good barometer of wider wealth. But if there are "Many more African billionaires than previously thought", it’s not in Africa, it’s out of Africa.

Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496