It proved a hellish journey to see Pascal Dozie at his Lagos office on a Tuesday afternoon. The nightmare ride across the city, through dense traffic, bumped along to the parp of angry horns and the lurch of battered vehicles. Everyone seemed to veer towards each other in the fight for inches. It is hot and everyone is bothered.
To make matters worse, the pink-shirted traffic police stepped in to slow the lumbering vehicles even more by pulling over cars—including ours—with what looks like trumped-up charges. At one point, the traffic cop and our driver are hurling rapid fire insults at each other inches from my nose. Bizarrely, the traffic cop—who was far from pretty in pink—kept walking away, as if the fight was over, before turning on his heel to launch another finger-jabbing tirade. I felt like a monk in Gomorrah.
“They just want money,” our driver scowled as we drove off.
Then we arrived at the gate of Dozie’s business to find the rain had left a puddle wide enough to breed fish in. The wet welcome ended a torrid hour on the road with a metaphor of which writers dream. The failings of Nigeria, that Dozie wants to put right, lead right up to his door.
“Lagos is the only place in the world where you can utilize all the faculties God gave to man,” chuckles Dozie as we stand in his plush, air-conditioned office.
This is the office from which Dozie commands his investment and finance empire, which has made him one of the richest men in Nigeria. He is a gentleman, in the literal sense of the world, who loves Mozart and Bach, a man who is close to his roots and his family of five sons and 10 grandchildren.
“We didn’t see my father that often when we were growing up but when he came home to see us it was really quality time. We would sit outside for hours while he told us stories and sang us the songs of his ancestors,” says Uzoma Dozie, one of his sons, with a smile.
The polished office contrasts starkly with the dog-eat-dog poverty and chaos a stone’s throw away in the streets of Lagos. After half a century of business, as his own boss, Dozie could be forgiven for shutting out the problems of Nigeria behind his tall gates and high walls—but he says he can’t. He believes crumbling infrastructure and corruption are Nigeria’s heaviest shackles and hopes entrepreneurs will help shrug them off.
“Many people see Nigeria as an entrepreneur’s gold mine—the opportunities abound. Every single disadvantage you see—the traffic and the infrastructure—is an opportunity, but you can only change once the government goes hands-off,” he says.
I counter this with the words I heard Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni utter a few years back, in Kigali, that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to keep government out of business. Of course, Dozie disagrees.
“In Nigeria, we have been moving towards this for a long time. If the government had not been hands-off they would not have a number of major cellphone companies in the country. Some of them got their operating licences on the same day. This hands-off approach has helped us leapfrog communications technology,” says Dozie.
“We won’t get anywhere until we, in Nigeria, can say anything can be done in 24 hours.”
The other big concern for Dozie is corruption. The multi-millionaire says he has been campaigning against it since the dark days of military dictatorship under Sani Abacha.
“This is the only country in the world where people ask what business are you in and you say politics.”
“The clock is ticking, as massive strikes in January showed Nigerians,” says Dozie.
“Nigerians are waking up and the civil society in the country is coming alive. Nigeria is a country that is skewed towards the youth.
The Blackberry generation is using their Twitter and Facebook and you should see the things they are writing. In January, this country was besieged by angry youth when the government removed the fuel subsidy. Nobody could go to work. It is no longer business as usual and things are changing. Look at the number of probes into corruption, before it would have been covered up, but now it is no longer easy to cover corruption.”
Outspoken and salty, Dozie has reaped a fortune through his work and wits on a long and difficult journey from Owerri in Imo State. This is where he was born, the son of a country court interpreter, on April 9, 1939.
“We did not have many modern facilities, but we had the village set up. If you were hungry someone would feed you. If your neighbor caught you doing something wrong they would punish you. When your parents found out they would talk to the neighbor to make sure they had given you a proper spanking. Modernity has changed all of this.”
Along with a generation of idealistic Africans, from newly independent nations, Dozie headed for Europe to drink from the fountain of knowledge.
Dozie went to the London School of Economics where he rubbed shoulders with Mick Jagger, the louche singer who was soon to drop out of college to form the Rolling Stones. Legend has it that Jagger stood up during an economics lecture and shouted: “Eureka!” before walking out to a life of rock and roll.
In reality, it was less dramatic. Jagger studied Economics, British Government, Economic History and Political History, earning mediocre grades. He hedged his bets, by studying in the library, before leaving in 1963 when the Rolling Stones cut their first record.
“We thought he was different. We were very conservative and he had long hair. Me, as an African, coming from Nigeria, I couldn’t believe he was leaving what he was doing to go off and play music, it was against the grain to me,” says Dozie.
Dozie wasn’t the only one to wonder.
“My father was furious with me,” Jagger told a journalist decades later.
“But I really didn’t like being at college. It wasn’t like it was Oxford and it had been the most wonderful time of my life. It was really a dull, boring course I was stuck on.”
Unlike Jagger, Dozie earned his degree in economics and followed it up with a Masters in administration from City University in London in 1963. He went to work in London and consulted in Croydon where he worked at the National Economic Development Office.
Dozie wanted to go home, but his people, including his two brothers in the army, were fighting the Biafran War against Nigerian forces in the cause of secession for the Igbo people. It was a bloody war waged between 1967 and 1970 that cost 30,000 Igbo lives and those of an estimated one million civilians.
“It was a very traumatic period for us. Bombs were going off everywhere and you didn’t know what was the truth. People were being shunted from one place to another and at times I didn’t even know where my own mother was,” he says.
It meant Dozie had to take a job in Uganda until the war was over. When peace came, he moved home in September 1971, at the request of his mother, who was by then in poor health.
In Lagos, Dozie set up his own consultancy, the African Development Consulting Group. He never worked for anyone else again. In the early years, he was fortunate enough to gather consultancies for the big guns like Nestlé and Pfizer. In his spare time, he wrote about economics for the respected publication Business International.
In the 1980s, the road to real riches opened up thanks to a simple idea. Dozie had noticed traders from the remote villages in the east of the country, where he grew up, faced the problem of carrying huge bundles of cash when they trekked to Lagos on business.
“Sometimes they would be waylaid by rogues on the road,” he says.
Dozie pioneered electronic transfers in Nigeria so traders could transfer their cash to Lagos instead of having to carry it. It saw the creation of Diamond Bank, which opened its doors in 1991.
“The first customer was my wife,” laughs Dozie.
The bank started from a third floor office in Victoria Island with 20 people and $5 million.
“The assumption was we were going to come by money easily—it wasn’t easy.”
The problem was most companies, at that time, would not deal with a bank less than three years old. So the small staff at Diamond Bank went out to persuade everyone, from traders to car dealers, to part with their money to generate cash through deposits.
“In my view he is brilliant, driven and a great manager of talent—qualities which helped him in establishing Diamond Bank, especially through the 5 year period, from 1985 to 1990, when nothing was happening, and the early years from 1990 when he says they had it really tough,” says Akintola Akinbamidele of Renaissance Capital in Lagos.
The bank blossomed into a $240 million concern, but this was merely one step on a difficult path. In 2005, disaster struck when a new law that said all banks had to hold a minimum of 25 billion naira ($158.3 million) in share capital. Diamond Bank had a mere 6.4 billion naira ($ 40.5 million) in share capital—so it had to list to raise more, which led to a severe dilution of the family stake.
In the years leading up to this, Dozie had been busy with a deal that was to make his name and a large chunk of his fortune.
A South African cellphone company, MTN, approached Dozie with the idea of setting up a cellphone network in the vast Nigerian market. The South Africans wanted to pump millions into a 60% stake in MTN Nigeria, with Nigerians owning 40%. Dozie set off with high hopes to London and the United States to raise capital among the big money men and Nigerian expatriates. When he got there, it was as if he was trying to sell sand in the desert. Many people saw the struggles of the government telecoms company, NITEL, with its wobbly and sparse landlines. Investors said that if the state couldn’t set up a cellphone network in Nigeria, no one could.
“It was very disappointing. You have a good project and you are turned down. You start to question yourself and start to question your head,” he says.
Dozie could raise merely enough for a 20% stake in the new company. Through debt funding, MTN poured in millions to make up the difference. It was a huge risk, at the time, but MTN prospered and the rest is history. To this day, Dozie is chairman of a solid MTN Nigeria.
“Most of the people I asked to invest now regret not investing—I even regret it myself. They would have enjoyed returns of 20 times their money.”
More than a decade on, Dozie sits atop a family-owned investment company, Kunoch, worth $50 million, which pours money into everything from power generation to gas processing, oil exploration, real estate and banking. One of its investments is in a pilot project that could revolutionize the way power is provided in Nigeria—a country that needs electricity like a thirsty man needs water. The country’s economic progress is slowed by the fact that it produces a few thousand MW for tens of millions of Nigerians—around a tenth of what South Africa produces for a third of Nigeria’s population. Not for nothing do Nigerians call the state power company, PHCN, Please Hold Candles Near.
Dozie is investing in a pioneering independent power project, the Aba Power Project, in the south east of the country near Port Harcourt and not too far from the border with Cameroon. It will generate a minimum of 188 MW, from gas turbines, with plans to expand. In a region which has 20% of the power it needs, it will be like manna from heaven. The company running the project was founded by the former Nigerian minister of power, Bart Nnaji, who resigned in August over a conflict of interest. He was meant to sell his six power generating companies and 11 distribution companies.
It is part of the infrastructure that Dozie believes could be the salvation of his country. Travelers to Nigeria will be cheered to hear that this grand old man of Nigerian business has the crumbling Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos on his agenda.
“It erodes the image of the country. When you come through our airport you say, ‘Is this the Nigeria I have flown to see?’” he says.
Dozie reckons the government will concession the airport to private business in a bid to spruce it up. Others, close to the aviation industry in Lagos, believe the government will be loath to relinquish any control over the airport as it is the only one in the country that brings revenue into state coffers.
“I will give it a long shot… it will happen in the next five years,” says Dozie.
What about corruption? Even the pink-shirted traffic police on the way were a heavy hint that it permeates Nigerian life right down to the streets.
“It is very solvable. When we start seeing politics as a sacrifice, when it is a self-sacrificing exercise from those who want to serve… We need strong institutions with integrity and political parties with a well-known ideology.”
A stable political environment could clear the way for the virile entrepreneurs of Africa.
“I think they are counting on the political will of African leaders to smooth logistics, the factors of production and the movement of people. There are a lot of bottlenecks that need to be removed. People like Aliko Dangote have done us well and created a lot of employment. For me, what is lacking here is that we don’t have that critical mass in the genuine middle class, which is the bulwark of democracy. Once this happens we could start absorbing more young people into employment and our creative forces will be unleashed,” says Dozie.
“We all worry about food, shelter and health and until those things are made accessible to all people we will never change… Be patient don’t expect miracles to happen.”
In this yearning for a new Nigeria, Dozie draws on one of the entrepreneurs he admired, the late Steve Jobs.
“I loved his never quit spirit, he lost his position in the company, but did not despair,” he says.
A new Nigeria may have been a tall order, even for Steve Jobs. It is an ideal worth cherishing, but it does help if you believe in the sound of generators disappearing from Lagos forever, taking 15 minutes from the city to the airport, or fairies.
Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing
As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed.
Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.
Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.
Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.
A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.
We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.
As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”
With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.
Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.
In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.
For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.
Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.
– Unathi Shologu
Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa
Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.
In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.
On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.
In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.
“I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra.
That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.
The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.
The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”
He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.
“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.
“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”
Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.
It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.
But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”
And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.
“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.
The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.
Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.
“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”
Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.
Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died
The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.
It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.
READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo
She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.
That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.
She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.
One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.
Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.
-Jill De Villiers
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