“There is something of Fitzcarraldo about the way Aliko Dangote has set about bringing industry to sub-Saharan Africa. In Werner Herzog’s film, the protagonist, Fitzcarraldo, engineers the seemingly impossible passage of a 300-tonne ship from one tributary of the Amazon, over a hill, to another.
He is in pursuit of a cargo of rubber to finance construction of an opera house. While the would-be rubber baron fails on the first front, he succeeds on the second, after a fashion, overcoming the setbacks thrown up by hostile terrain to stage an unlikely opera in the jungle. Dangote’s aspirations maybe less operatic. One of his main ones is to become the richest man in the world. “It’s an ambition. Yes, of course,” he says.
But Nigeria’s foremost multi-billionaire has at times defied odds as vertiginous as Fitzcarraldo to transform his commodities trading empire into one of Africa’s leading industrial conglomerates.
He stands out among Nigeria’s elite class of super-wealthy for having done so, not by flipping contracts and securing concessions in the oil industry – which brings in the vast bulk of export earnings – but by securing a dominant share of trade in much humbler fare. In some of the most difficult operating environments for manufacturing in the world, he has built sugar refineries, flour, pasta, salt and other food processing plants.”
“Today, at the age of 56, and having only recently begun the journey beyond national and regional prominence to the global stage, Dangote is by far the most successful black African businessman in history. His net assets, as tracked by the likes of Forbes, have shot from a value of $3.3bn in 2007 to $22bn this year (several billion more according to the man himself).”
Text by William Wallis, for the FT Magazine.