Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, who has raised more than $1bn to ensure the growth of his group Econet, has ranked first in our exclusive Africa Digital ranking.
By Olivier Marbot
Strive Masiyiwa, who celebrated his 60th birthday on 29 January, is a philanthropist and member of the task force set up by the African Union (AU) to fight against Covid-19 as well as on the boards of several multinationals including Unilever and Bank of America. He is also the only billionaire from Zimbabwe. Masiyiwa has above all, for more than 30 years, been one of the main entrepreneurs leading the continent’s digital transformation.
Famous for ending the state monopoly in Zimbabwe’s telecoms sector in the 1980s and having gone through the ranks of the guerrillas as well as the lecture halls of the University of Wales, the now London-based engineering graduate has shown, since his early days in business, an uncommon flair and capacity to bounce back.
Masiyiwa quickly built an ecosystem around his Econet Group that extended beyond Zimbabwe’s borders and invested massively in South Africa. He then increased its partnerships, spreading subsidiaries from Botswana to Lesotho, from Rwanda to Nigeria and Burundi, and then to other continents. Masiyiwa continued to believe in the idea of not sticking to one specialisation, of being and staying – as much as possible – one step ahead.
Therefore, the Econet Group launched itself into satellite, terrestrial and submarine cables, subscription television (under the name of Kwese TV, its biggest failure to date) and – more recently – data centres, which it describes as “a revolution that will mark a new era for the technology sector”.
Masiyiwa’s journey has not been one without mistakes, and that is what makes it exciting. He won his legal battle with the Zimbabwean authorities over opening up telecommunications to competition, but he paid a high price for it as he had to leave the country, where his relations with the political authorities remain tense.
In 2019 especially, the Harare authorities’ decision to ban the use of foreign currencies on their soil and to authorise only the Zimbabwean dollar seems to have brought him to his knees. Between market mistrust and inflation, the local currency lost 95% of its value and the businessman, whose assets are still listed in Zimbabwe, saw his wealth plummet. In a few months, his fortune fell from $2.3bn to $1.1bn.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis have come at the worst possible time for the Econet Group and its boss. However, it managed to bounce back in spectacular fashion during 2020.
Its subsidiary Liquid Telecom, renamed Liquid Intelligent Technologies, managed a few weeks ago to raise $840m on the markets to restructure its debt and continue its development.
Source: The Africa report