Where art thou oh African Philanthropist?
‘In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35 NIV)
Last Night as I skimmed through the OECD Credit Reporting System (CRS), I noticed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation actually features on the dataset as a key donor reporting well over $2.9 billion worth of foreign aid to developing nations and $0.75 billion worth of commitments to Sub-Sahara Africa between 2009 and 2010. Well it is common knowledge that private entities and foundations financed by the world’s rich and renowned philanthropists today contribute a significant proportion of development assistance channelled to countries commonly referred to in aid parlance as the Highly Indebted Poor Countries. The list doesn’t end with the Gates foundation, a lot more other generous rich men and women have extended their generosity and committed significant proportions of their wealth to supporting organizations and initiatives that work to reduce human suffering, restore human dignity, alleviate and mitigate the effects of poverty.
But that’s not the reason I woke up early this morning to do this post: certainly not. I came across this list of the richest men and women of the African continent published by the Forbes magazine and I was honestly flabbergasted! Men, don’t we have rich people down here! I mean men and women who have earned their wealth out of legitimate mercantile ventures (I elect to down play the plethora of others, probably way richer than the ones on Forbes, whose wealth is of dubious cradles). I mean the likes of Aliko Dangote ($11.2 billion), Nigeria; Mohamed Al Amoudi ($12.5 billion), Ethiopia/Saudi; Mike Adenuga ($4.3 billion), Nigeria; Nassef and Naquib Sawiri (over $8.2 billion), Egypt; Patrice Motsepe ($2.7 billion), South Africa Miloud Chaabi ($2.9 billion), Morocco and so on. These guys are billionaires in their own right, making it in this continent of perceived squalor, ineptitude and misery.
The question that lurked in my mind as I read through this list was why Africa’s richest have failed the philanthropy test? Why haven’t these honourable men of the African soil found it prudent and befitting to share a small steady proportion of this share of the African cake with the desperate folks engulfed in poverty and deprivation in Sub Sahara? How comes other men and women elsewhere have felt the pinch, the pain and suffering of fellow Africans a lot more than we do us African Moguls, billionaires? How comes it doesn’t disturb you honourable vanguards of my decent that people miles away from the villages of Pampaida, N/Nigera; Malehice, Mozambique; Marsabit, Kenya; Mai Chaka, Ethiopia; Candele, Angola, come all the way to feed our starving folks, treat our sickling children, clothe our women and shelter our families. How shameful?
Do a small quick math – take Aliko Dangote for example, ranked 76th richest being on earth, with an empire worth over $11 billion USD in 2011. This is four times the total GDP of the republic of Burundi, 30% that of Kenya, twice Nigeria’s 2011 federal budget and 55 times Nigeria’s health sector budget in the same year. Dangote’s pre-tax turnover in 2010 was well over $100 million dollars: just slightly about 8% of this profit margin is equivalent to the $0.8 billion required for the Nigeria Federal government to beat the target of committing at least 15% of total government revenue for health sector spending set in Abuja by Africa heads of states in 2000. Likewise Mohamed Al Amoudi is ranked 63rd wealthiest man (also richest black man). His business empire worth $12.5 billion in 2011 was 15% total GDP of the five East African countries and equivalent to South Sudan’s average GDP between 2008 and 2010.
I am by no means claiming even vaguely that there haven’t been philanthropic gestures from noble individuals around Africa; NO. In fact there have been anecdotes of evidence showing significant contributions (albeit irregular, unpredictable and devoid of focus) to health, education and cultural sectors, most visibly sport. Dangote through the Dangote Foundation has reportedly supported education and health service delivery systems and provided humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters and post-election and religious crises in Nigeria, Al Amoudi likewise has supported breast cancer research and HIV/AIDS interventions, notably the International Conference on AIDS and STIs (ICASA). However, I am posing these questions because I thought well to do Africans could logically identify a lot more with the poverty in Africa than anyone else; and I thought as well that they could be a lot more challenged and incentivised to give than those from other continents. I believe what is forthcoming from Africa’s tycoons is far too little considering the proportion of Africa’s resources that sustains their wealth. And whenever they give, that which is forthcoming has invariably been unpredictable, not properly organised and never harmonised with state structures and systems that factor in aid in country resource baskets and expenditures.
Free market privileges notwithstanding, I think it has reached the point where the same manner of activism and a commensurate measure of pressure that has been put on rich countries and capitalists to support poverty and developmental initiatives needs to assume the direction of Africa’s home grown tycoons. Their wealth reflects continued consumption of significant chunks of Africa’s resources and they must thus do the honourable thing ... start GIVING: giving a little more, transparently and regularly. Motsepe’s mines are obviously depleting a considerable amount of South Africa’s mineral deposits; Dangote’s cement empire is definitely exhausting West Africa’s rich limestone fields, Al Amoudi’s oil ventures sure have their share of destruction on Africa’s environment and natural resources, Adenuga’s telecom business has so far cashed in on West Africa’s purchasing population and Uhuru Kenyatta is of course holding on to humongous tracks of land that multitudes of Kenyans could do with. If anything, isn’t that what legacy is all about, playing a part in making the world a better place for all of us.
The big names in global philanthropy, the likes of J.D Rockefeller Jnr, Bill Gates, George Soros and other consistent foundations that continue to deliver funding for development projects in Africa like the Levi Strauss, Hewllet, Ford foundations have well structured and organized modalities for delivering portions of their wealth as development assistance. This is well aligned with state structures and could be streamlined to compliment and supplement government budgets and developmental objectives. That is obviously lacking in Africa; the few who have attempted to institutionalise their giving are unpredictable, irregular and lack the transparency that is requisite for aid effectiveness. Most of the resource flows from Africa’s moguls have been expended in financing sport and culture related ventures and pursuing political expediency. Al Amoudi for example has handsomely sponsored the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA), Dangote hugely funding former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo’s political campaigns as well as incumbent Goodluck Jonathan who even awarded him one of Nigeria’s highest ranks of nobility; Mike Adenuga’s Glocom has equally funded music competitions across West Africa. Otherwise, a lot of news about these billionaires is normally about their luxurious indulgences that ridicule the continent. The $45 million bombardier XRS private jet that Dangote got himself on his 53rd birthday in 2011 for example was equivalent to 80% of all aid disbursements for education sector spending in South Sudan in the same year.
My message to the Forbes 10 African Billionaires to watch - messrs: