Masiyiwa loses US$1.1 billion fortune

Masiyiwa Strive

All it took was a new currency in Zimbabwe to wipe out half of Strive Masiyiwa’s net worth.

Zimbabwe’s only billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa, built a fortune primarily in telecom. He owns large stakes in two companies that trade on Zimbabwe’s stock exchange.

But his country’s decision in June to ban all foreign currencies and use only the Zimbabwe dollar accelerated inflation and sent the value of the newly instituted dollar plummeting.

That, in turn, caused Masiyiwa’s stakes in those companies—telecom firm Econet Wireless Zimbabwe and mobile banking firm Cassava Smartech—to tumble in U.S. dollar terms.

The result: Masiyiwa’s fortune has fallen to $1.1 billion, down from $2.3 billion a year ago, making him the biggest loser in percentage terms among Africa’s 20 billionaires.

“Confidence evaporated from the market,” says Econet Global Limited CEO Hardy Pemhiwa.

Isabel dos Santos, Strive Masiyiwa and Aliko Dangote IMAGE: Forbes

Such are the challenges of running a business in a country with an unstable economy—and a long history of strife. “Considering what has happened with the Zimbabwe dollar, which lost 95% of its value, (Masiyiwa) is doing better than most,” says John Robertson, an independent economic consultant in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Of Africa’s 54 nations, only 8 countries have billionaires: Egypt and South Africa are tied with five billionaires each, followed by Nigeria with four and Morocco with two. Forbes found one billionaire each from Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

That’s the same as last year but a better representation than nine years ago, when only four African nations were home to ten-figure fortunes.

One fortune that didn’t change much but could plummet in the next year is that belonging to one of just two women billionaires in Africa: Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angola’s former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

In late December an Angolan court issued an order to freeze the assets that Isabel dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, own in Angola. Those include her stake in telecom firm Unitel and stakes in two Angolan banks; Forbes estimates those assets are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

A statement issued by Isabel dos Santos said the judgment contained “a number of untruths” and that she would fight the decision “by using all the instruments of Angolan and international law at my disposal.”

For now Forbes estimates her fortune has declined $100 million to an estimated $2.2 billion, but depending on the outcome of a pending legal case, she could fall much lower in the ranks.  – Source: Forbes Margazine