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10 African billionaires who made their fortune in telecom

by Omokolade Ajayi
Strive Masiyiwa

These 10 African billionaires built their fortunes by making shrewd bets on telecom — everything from the good old ringy-dingy to fiber and cable.

Mike Adenuga

Nationality: Nigerian

Company: Globacom

Mike Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, is the founder of Globacom Limited, Nigeria’s second largest mobile telecom company with more than 25 million subscribers. Globacom offers international and voice calling, SMS, high-speed Internet, ADSL for homes, and fixed landline services, as well as provides telecom solutions.

Naguib Sawiris

Nationality: Egypt

Company: OTMT Investments 

Naguib Sawiris is the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding, which became the leading regional telecommunications player until its merger with Vimpelcom in 2011. He is the executive chairman of Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding and chairman of the investment holding company OTMT Investments, which holds positions in ICT, finance, and infrastructure.

Strive Masiyiwa

Nationality: Zimbabwean

Company: Econet Group

Strive Masiyiwa founded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in 1998 and built it into the country’s largest mobile phone company. He owns a little over 50 percent of the publicly-traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is one part of his larger Econet Group. The group owns stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa.

Mohammed Ibrahim

Nationality: Sudanese

Company: Celtel

Sudanese-born telecom tycoon Mo Ibrahim is one of the richest Africans in the world. Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim founded Celtel International in 1998, one of the earliest mobile phone companies serving Africa and the Middle East. He sold the company to Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Company for more than $3 billion in 2005.

Alieu Conteh

Nationality: Gambia

Company: Vodacom Congo

Alieu Conteh founded Congo’s first mobile telecommunications company, Congolese Wireless Network (CWN), in 1999 with just 4,000 subscribers. Two years later, he sold 51 percent of CWN to Vodacom South Africa, and the company was rebranded as Vodacom Congo. Today, Vodacom Congo now has more than 13 million subscribers, and Conteh owns 49 percent of the company.

Yerim Sow

Nationality: Senegalese

Company: MTN Cote D’Ivoire

Yerim Sow, one of Senegal’s wealthiest men, has been active in telecom in Francophone West Africa since 1994, working in Senegal and Ivory Coast on the pager market – precursors of mobile phones. In 1996, he acquired a stake in Loteny Telecom, holder of the first mobile operator license in Ivory Coast, in partnership with the pan-African operator Telecel International. In late 2005, Sow sold a controlling interest in Loteny Telecom to the MTN Group.  He now owns a seven-percent equity position in MTN Cote D’Ivoire. In 2017, Yerim Sow partnered with French billionaire Xavier Niel and the Hiridjee family of Madagascar to acquire the Senegal operations of Millicom. The company now operates under the name “Free” in Senegal and is the second largest mobile network in the country.

Hassanein Hiridjee

Nationality: Malagasy

Company: Telma

Hassanein Hiridjee is the CEO of Axian Group, a Malagasy conglomerate that owns Telma, the third largest mobile network in Madagascar, with more than 2 million customers. Axian also owns one-third of “Free,” the second largest mobile network in Senegal.

Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf

Nationality: Somali

Company: Hormuud

Telecom tycoon Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf is a co-founder and major shareholder of Hormuud Telecom, the largest mobile telecommunications company in Somalia, with more than 3 million active users. The company provides mobile, fixed line, Internet and satellite mobile services.

Rostam Aziz

Nationality: Tanzanian

Company: Vodacom Tanzania

The Tanzanian billionaire facilitated the entry of South African telecom giant Vodacom into Tanzania, and he held up to 35 percent of Vodacom Tanzania at a point. In May 2014, he sold 17.2 percent of his stake in the mobile phone company back to Vodacom Group of South Africa for an estimated $250 million. He sold the last tranche of his shares in 2018. Rostam Aziz made a return to the telecom business in 2022 when he partnered with Malagasy billionaire Hassanein Hiridjee to acquire Milicom’s operations in Tanzania.

Abdirizak Ido

Nationality: Somalia

Company: Nationlink

Abdirizak Ido, a telecom magnate, is the founder and controlling shareholder of Nationlink Telecom, one of Somalia’s largest telecommunications companies. In 1997, Ido, whose primary location is Dubai, founded Nationlink. The company has more than 800,000 subscribers in the country and offers mobile, fixed line, Internet and satellite mobile services.

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