How Aliko Dangote Became Africa’s Richest Person

Today, Africa is unfortunately known as the poorest continent in the world by far. From the trillion-dollar bills found in Zimbabwe to the 85% of Africans who live on less than $5.50 per day, it’s no question the Africans have had it tough. However, there are a lucky few Africans, who have been able to accumulate extraordinary amounts of wealth.

One of these lucky Africans is Aliko Dangote who is currently worth $11.9 billion. So, here’s how Aliko Dangote became Africa’s richest person. Well, taking a look back, we have to go quite a bit back in time as Aliko’s wealth stretches back centuries starting with his great-grandfather, Alhassan Dantata.

How Aliko Dangote Became Africa's Richest Person
Alhassan Dantata

Alhassan was born in 1877 in the Nigeriantown of Bebeji. Though he had several siblings, life wasn’t too bad as his parents were prosperous traders and caravan leaders. His father, Madugu Abdullahi, was also the son of a successful merchant named Baba Talatin. And Baba Tualatin was also the son of a successful merchant. So, we have a long lineage of successful merchants, but everything would turn upside down early on in Alhassan’s life. When Alhassan was 8 years old, his father Abdullahi would pass away and his mother would leave behind the children and move to Ghana. As a result, Alhassan would find himself living with an old slave woman named Tata. Tata raised Alhassan and his siblings and she became their mother. Alhassan’s last name Dantata is derived from the name of this woman. In the Hausa language, Dantata means the son of Tata. Though Tata was a loving woman and took care of the children as if they were her own, as you would guess, she didn’t have any money. So, the kids had to earn their money to support themselves. Some of them begged for food and clothes while others chose to work for low wages. Alhassan was one of the few who chose to work, but just as he started to consistently make enough money to support himself as a teenager, the Kano civil war rolled around. Alhassan and his siblings would be captured and sold as slaves during the Civil War. Fortunately, the war didn’t last too long and Alhassan would be able to purchase his freedom after tensions settled down. With basically no money left once again though, Alhassan would travel to Ghana hoping that his biological mother could help him. To his disappointment though, his mother would take Alhassan to a mallam, who is a teacher, and she told him that he could stay with the mallam until he was ready to return to Bebeji. Realizing that he was truly on his own, Alhassan would do anything and everything possible to earn a bit of money. On Thursdays and Fridays, he worked for money, and during the rest of the days, he begged for food. Most of his earnings, though, went to his mallam. To break out of stagnation, Alhassan eventually move back to Bebeji and decided to follow in the footsteps of his father. Starting in 1906 at the age of 29, Alhassan began trading various European goods including beads, necklaces, and various cloths. Alhassan conducted most of the trades in the city of Kano, but he decided to continue living in Bebeji at first. Eventually, though, Alhassan would relocate to Kano.

After 6 years of trading, Alhassan would finally break out of poverty and move up to the middle class. In 1912, Europeans became interested in groundnuts, and they contacted a bunch of well-known merchants in Kano to provide them with groundnuts. At the time, Alhassan wasn’t nearly notable enough to be contacted by the Europeans, but he quickly realized the great opportunity of exporting groundnuts. You see, many merchants in Africa had become extremely wealthy selling cocoa beans to the Europeans, and Alhassan believed that he could succeed in a similar manner using groundnuts. But first, he had to get noticed by a major European exporter. Now that Alhassan had his basic needs taken care of, this was much easier. Between 1912 and 1918, Alhassan would vigorously build up his reputation in Kano and he would save up every penny he made. He was extremely frugal. He also worked on his English skills to make it easier to trade with Europeans. And just as he hoped, in 1918, the Royal NigerCompany owned by the British reached out to Alhassan in hopes of trading groundnuts. Alhassan would instantly accept the offer and he would quickly get to work on establishing his dominance in the trade. Though Alhassan was unwilling to spend any money on himself, he didn’t think twice when it came to investing in his relationship with the Niger Company. While all of his fellow merchants used pack animals to transport the goods, Alhassan used the money he saved up over the past 12 years to ship his groundnuts on steamships. This earned him a lot of respect from the Europeans and over the next few years, many of them formed partnerships with Alhassan. These European connections allowed Alhassanto to quickly scale up his other trading goods as well including kola nuts, grains, precious stones, and many more. As his trading grew, Alhassan started to hire employees, and some of them even lived with him. All of this European exposure allowed Alhassanto to quickly jump from being another successful merchant to being the richest businessman in Kano by 1922. At this point, the hardest part of his journey was behind him. He had broken out of poverty, established a name for himself, and now he was the richest person in Kano. All he had to do was maintain and grow his business. And this is exactly what Alhassan did for the rest of his life. In 1940, Alhassan would attempt to open his exporting company. This way, he didn’t have to rely on the Royal Niger Company which was now known as the United Africa Company. However, his application to become an exporter would be declined and Alhassan would be forced to continue working as a middleman for European companies. This wasn’t a bad gig by any means though, so Alhassan just focused on growing what he had, and by the time he died in 1955, he would grow to be the richest man in all of West Africa. It’s crazy to think that he started off begging for food.

How Aliko Dangote Became Africa's Richest Person

Anyway, moving forward, we have children and grandchildren. Alhassan had raised his kids and grandchildren with great appreciation for wealth, hard work, and success. So, they didn’t just go out and burn all of Alhassan’s wealth. They did a great job in maintaining the business and expanding into more sectors including rice and oats. With that being said though, none of them were that ambitious, and they didn’t do much to take the business to the next level. That is until Aliko Dangote.

What did Aliko Dangote do to become the richest person in Africa?

How Aliko Dangote Became Africa's Richest Person
Aliko Dangote.

Aliko Dangote was born in Kano on April 10, 1957. Given that Alhassan had passed away 2 years before that, Alhassan’s son or Aliko’s grandfather Sanusi Dantata was running the business. Aliko’s father passed away early on, so Aliko was primarily raised by his grandfather Sanusi. This gave Aliko a unique view into the daily operations of the business and made him interested in growing his own business. Aliko would attend Al-Azhar University which is widely known as being the most prestigious university in the Islamic world. Aliko earned a bachelor’s in business in 1977, and he would return to Nigeria with a business idea ready to go. He planned to follow his great-grandfather’s footsteps and expand to soft commodities. Instead of selling the commodities to Europeans though, Aliko wanted to import commodities into Africa and sell them to local consumers. His first two targets were rice from Thailand and sugar from Brazil. To get his business started up, he borrowed some money from his family. Some reports suggest that he borrowed the money from his uncle while others suggest that the money was from his grandfather. Either way, he got a $2500 loan from one of his family members and he promised to pay them back within three years. Now, that’s no small loan of a million dollars, but adjusting for inflation, it’s equivalent to $11,200 today. So not a small amount per se. Given his family’s reputation, it wasn’t too difficult for Aliko to secure some international suppliers and start selling rice and sugar locally. According to Aliko, the business was a cash cow, and he profited as much as $10,000 per day. That’s the same as $44,800 today. Aliko paid back his family member within 3months, and he was off to the races. Over the next two decades, Aliko expanded from just selling rice and sugar to also selling pasta, salt, and flour. By expanding his reach in Africa and his line of products, Aliko grew his fortune to hundreds of millions of dollars. But, he wouldn’t reach the elusive billion-dollar mark till he embarked on his great grandfather’s final vision. Up until 1997, Aliko was simply a middleman funneling commodities into Africa. But in 1997, Aliko decided to venture into production and stop being the middleman. He already had a large customer base and plenty of money though, so the transition wouldn’t be too difficult and Aliko would quickly grow to be one of the only billionaires in Nigeria. At this point, the Nigerian government would trust him enough to award him a cement factory. To this day, we don’t know the details behind why they awarded him the factory. Maybe the factory was failing and they wanted him to stage recovery or maybe it was a thank-you gift for driving down sugar prices. I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, Alikowas awarded a cement factory and he would leverage the factory to expand into cement production as well. According to Aliko, the key to his success has been his tendency to reinvest the majority of his profits back into the business. Most African businessmen like to keep most of their money in cash for some reason. All of this reinvesting seems to have worked out for Aliko as all of his businesses boast extremely impressive stats today. The Dangote sugar refinery, for instance, is the third-largest in the world producing a whopping 800,000 tonnes of sugar annually. Considering this, it’s not surprising that Liko Dangote has been Africa’s richest person since 2012. Since reaching the pinnacle of success in the business world, Aliko has shifted to focusing on advancing Nigeria as a whole. In 2009, for instance, Aliko focused on providing fast internet service to Nigerians by installing 14,000 kilometers of fiber optic. His latest project is to reduce and potentially even eliminate Nigeria’s dependence on oil imports. Currently, Nigeria imports $7 billion worth of fuel every year even though Nigeria is the biggest oil producer in Africa. Aliko is investing $15 billion, which is more than his net worth, into building one of the world’s biggest oil refineries in Africa. Hopefully, the oil refinery will come to fruition and help Nigeria become more oil independent. But, that’s what Aliko Dangote is working on today and how he became the richest person in Africa.

What do you guys think about the story of Aliko and especially his great-grandfather Alhassan? Comment that down below. Also, drop a like if you would like to see Africa catch up to the Western world. And of course, consider joining our discord community to suggest future blog ideas and consider subscribing to see more questions logically answered.

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