Science is pumping in billions searching for solutions that will help humans live longer – and better – and one day even indefinitely.
If you are under 50 years old and reading this article, treat it as a crystal ball – and it will tell you that chances are you may live for another 100 years.
There are species of sharks, whales and turtles that live for hundreds of years. Likewise, researchers are trying to figure out how to make you live longer, if not forever.
“If we are made from the same ‘stuff’ then what’s stopping us from achieving the same,” asks John Sanei, a futurist and entrepreneur based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
For decades, scientists have been trying to do so. But before we go to the future, we must dwell on the past, and the present.
In 1770, Africans had an average life expectancy of a mere 26 years. With newer ways to cure deadly diseases such as small pox and polio, life expectancy gradually increased. Exactly two centuries later, Africans were living to almost 47 years. In 2001, the average life expectancy of Africans rose to 51 years, in 2005 to 53 years, in 2010 to 57 years and in 2015 to 60 years.
Even with such numbers, Africans are still dying sooner than most people in First World countries where life expectancy is in the 80s.
Dr Susan Coetzer spent 14 years studying to be a geriatrician, a specialty focusing on healthcare of the elderly, at the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg in South Africa. She says the costs and access to healthcare are the biggest barriers. In Africa, according to Coetzer, poverty and lower education levels link to both frailty and cognitive diseases lowering life expectancy.
“Other risks are because of lifestyle-related problems like diabetes, hypertension and obesity. The HIV epidemic has also decreased life expectancy in the past, but with the availability of treatment, this has improved and we will certainly see more HIV-infected older people in the future,” she says.
As the universe often works, what has an advantage also has a disadvantage. Old age often comes with various accompanying diseases that require constant supervision and medication. The more old people Africa has, the more money it needs to pay for their upkeep.
“Older patients are at a higher risk of becoming frail and frail patients have been proven to cost more – in terms of hospitalization, medication and other needs and of course, the additional care. Even most of the developed countries are battling to budget for the increased financial impact,” says Coetzer.
It is true. In October last year, South Africa had 17.5 million social grant recipients and 3.7 million of them were the aged. There are also few specialists to give proper care to the elderly.
“There are less than 20 geriatric specialists in South Africa serving a population of more than seven million people older than 60 years,” says Coetzer.
The good news is we are in an era where scientists are developing the technology to prevent aging and the diseases associated with it.
If they succeed, you could work and live long without experiencing most symptoms of old age.
For this, it will take an understanding of our genes and aging itself.
According to Dr Samantha Baron, a research and development scientist at Optiphi Skin Care in South Africa who is an expert in genetics and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the primary cause of aging is damage to structures within the cells.
“Damage within the cell can be induced by oxidative stress, glycation, telomere shortening, mutations and epigenetic contributions. The progression of this damage is what leads to eventual cell death and what we know as the general cause of aging,” she says.
It means every time you celebrate your birthday, the probability of death increases. The older you get the more you become prone to diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis — all associated with age.
Dr Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, and co-founder of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Research Foundation tells FORBES AFRICA these can be avoided. Instead of solving death, he looks at extending life.
“Aging can absolutely not be ‘cured’ but it absolutely can, although not yet, of course, be eliminated by medical interventions that are not cures…
“We already feel comfortable with spending lots of money trying to make Alzheimer’s history, so if we stop pretending that it is somehow separate from ‘aging itself’, we will have taken a huge step towards wanting to make that history too,” he says.
De Grey believes we can increase our lifespan by periodic, comprehensive repair and maintenance of the human body.
“We want to restore the molecular and cellular structure and composition of the body to something like how it is in early adulthood. That means things like using stem cells to replace cells that the body does not naturally replace on its own by cell division when they die, or introducing new enzymes to break down waste products that the body does not naturally break down,” he says.
Baron agrees. She says if scientists could delay cell death by reprogramming cells, increasing cellular lifespan and increasing the efficiency in damage repair mechanisms, they could potentially prevent the onset of diseases associated with aging.
“If true cellular regeneration can be accomplished, then these diseases can be treated and the damage reversed.”
Humans are already able to manipulate the longevity of organisms.
A number of researchers in the United States (US) identified a drug that delays several age-related symptoms in mice. It has sparked massive debate and research in the world of science.
“With an experiment that replicated stem cell-like conditions, Salk Institute researchers made human skin cells in a dish look and behave young again, and mice with premature aging disease were rejuvenated with a 30% increase in lifespan. The Salk Institute expects to see this work in human trials in less than 10 years,” says Sanei.
A growing interest in this field also led to biologists at Osaka University in Japan to discover a new way to nurture and grow the tissues that make up the human eyeball. Using a small sample of adult skin, they are able to grow retinas, corneas and the eye’s lens.
Another team of researchers in the US injected stem cells into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man. Three months later, he showed dramatic improvement in sensation and movement of both arms.
Longevity Escape Velocity
According to Sanei, in the next 10 to 12 years, we will hit ‘longevity escape velocity’ — the point at which, for every year that you’re alive, science is able to extend your life for more than a year.
According to Oliver Medvedik, a Director at the Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Research and VP of the longevity-focused non-profit Lifespan.io, interventions are being developed that “reprogram” the chemical signature of the genome, referred to as the epigenome, to a more youthful state.
“The epigenome is largely responsible for determining what the status of each of your cells is. As an adult, you typically don’t want this status to change, but as we age, it does change for the worse,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
There is also a new class of drugs being developed known as ‘senolytics’ that specifically target and destroy cells that are too far gone and are causing secondary damage in the body. These aged cells are referred to as ‘senescent’.
“Tremendous progress has also been made in learning exactly how to reprogram the epigenome of cells so that they become new adult stem cells. These can then be reintroduced into the body to potentially promote the rejuvenation of tissues and organs, after perhaps senescent cells have been cleared,” says Medvedik.
The low-hanging fruits are small molecules that may help slow down aspects of the aging process and allow us to live healthier and longer.
“One such candidate molecule has been known for many years as a Type 2 diabetes treatment, metformin, and is now being set for clinical trials,” says Medvedik.
Scientists are also debating how long humans can possibly live in the future. Some say we will live up to 150, others say 200, and some go as far as a 1,000 years.
Baron says that at this point in time, this is mere speculation.
“It is too premature to accept a maximum lifespan of humans. Eventually, science may lead to the first 200-year-old. I would have to say that living to a 1,000 years old is highly improbable.”
Similar to De Grey and Medvedik, she says to increase lifespan, research needs to focus on improving DNA repair mechanisms, making it more efficient. This would slow down the progression of accumulated damage within the cells and consequently aging. The cells will be able to maintain homeostasis for longer.
Alternatively, she suggests the focus to be on reversing the signs of damage through cell regeneration where the healthy and younger state of the cell is obtained.
“Presently, all we can do is try to minimize the damage we provoke on to our cells by controlling our environmental factors (i.e. eat healthy, exercise, don’t smoke etc) as well as understanding our genetic predispositions. For example, at Optiphi, we offer a comprehensive DNA skin test to decipher your genetic predispositions to certain aging characteristics. Results from this test allow one to approach skin aging from a holistic point of view,” she says.
According to Baron, from an aesthetic point of view, the future market will benefit more from cell regeneration through reprogramming.
“This way you reprogram your own cells to their younger state and maintain the youthfulness of your skin. From a medical stand-point, regeneration of whole organs is definitely the future of regenerative science and exciting advances are happening in this field,” she says.
And indeed, success will mean high profits for those who invest.
Investing in the immortality industry
The rich and famous are ploughing billions into research as they try to solve the issues of ‘growing old’.
“The main wealthy people investing in this space are the techno-visionaries like Peter Thiel, Vitalik Buterin and Michael Greve but increasingly there are also people like Jim Mellon whose expertise is not in tech investing. The field is growing fast,” says De Grey.
Those with money are really keen on this next new frontier.
According to Bay Area News, Scott Smith, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based investment bank, Viant Capital, said “the Venture Capital community has finally woken up to the fact that, next to millennials, this is the largest market in the world and it’s grossly underserved”.
The last 24 months has seen a huge uptick from the investment community.
Google’s Calico, founded in 2013, has more than $2.5 billion in funding. It paved the way for other startups and foundations like Apollo Ventures, Oisin Biotechnologies, Longevity Fund, Kizoo Technology Ventures, Methuselah Fund and Jim Mellon’s Juvenescence.
If investments trickling in are anything to go by, there is a lot of money to be made in the industry. For example, UNITY Biotechnology reported cash and investments of $198 million as of June 30 compared to $92.2 million in December.
“The increase in cash reflects net proceeds of $59.9 million from UNITY’s Series C convertible preferred stock financing, and $75.9 million from UNITY’s initial public offering. We ended this quarter in a strong financial position as a result of our recent financings. We are well-resourced to move towards our goal of extending human healthspan,” says Keith Leonard, the Chairman and CEO of UNITY in a press statement.
The company is already in first-stage human trials.
“We treated the first patient in our Phase 1 clinical trial evaluating UBX0101 in moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. This is an important step in assessing the role that eliminating senescent cells may play in the treatment of diseases of aging such as osteoarthritis, and we expect to share initial results in the first quarter of next year,” says Leonard.
Big business realizes there is need for startups working in this space.
Ichor Therapeutics, a biotechnology company in New York that develops therapeutic interventions for age-associated diseases, is one of them. It has created Grapeseed.Bio, a life science strategic fund and accelerator program where life science entrepreneurs receive up to $100,000 in seed funding, technical training, full access to Ichor’s research laboratory and mentorship in exchange for equity.
“Direct funding vehicles like Grants for Growth and the TC Growth Fund, combined with mentors and a physical facility at the Tech Garden, have cultivated many promising companies in the software and tech sectors. We want to do the same in the life sciences,” says Kelsey Moody, CEO at Ichor Therapeutics and Managing Partner of Grapeseed.Bio.
The $331 billion anti-aging market
In South Africa, Mic Mann, a futurist, through his advertising and marketing agency Mann Made, co-organizes the SingularityU South Africa Summit. This year, in October, the summit is bringing to Johannesburg speakers like De Grey from all over the world to also discuss aging, longevity and a “future-proof Africa” to make sure we embrace this wave of technology coming our way.
Tickets for the whole two-day event cost between R14,850 ($1,012) and R18,150 ($1,239) and he says they are almost sold out. That’s steep prices for a country where there are more people on social grants than are employed.
“There is massive interest. We have about 100 tickets left. We are going for 1,800 people this year. Last year, we sold out at 1,300 people,” says Mann.
According to Mann, there are many investors getting into the immortality industry.
“I think there will always be a debate or drive of humanity on how we will solve the issue. Firstly, we will become amortal [pursuing a lifestyle that defies the process of aging], but we could still fall off a car or train and die. Eventually, we will become immortal and able to put our conscience in another being or hard drive,” he says.
According to the global anti-aging market research report by Orbis Research, a leading market research company, the anti-aging market is expected to reach $331.41 billion by 2021.
“The industry is exploding in size. I have seen a 1,000 percent increase in the last 18 months in investment in life extension research and technology. Everybody realizes that if life extension can fulfil its promise, many new billionaires will be made,” says Sanei.
According to Sanei, the worldwide pharmaceutical market surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2016. In 2018, the top 10 pharmaceutical companies alone are projected to generate over $355 billion in revenue.
The problem is, according to Sanei, it currently costs more than $2.5 billion, sometimes up to $12 billion, and takes over 10 years to bring a new drug to market.
“Nine out of 10 drugs entering phase one clinical trials will never reach patients. As the population ages, we don’t have time to rely on this slow costly production rate. Some 12 percent of the world population will be 65 or older by 2030, and diseases of aging like Alzheimer’s will pose increasingly greater challenges to society,” he says.
Although there are billions being poured into the longevity economy, many ventures have not made money.
“Very little revenue was made in the last few years…However, most life extension and longevity companies are not trying to get quick products to the market. They are searching for the holy grail of medicine: a pill or a therapy to overcome aging. This product, if successful, could generate hundreds of billions of dollars. A few billion people may end up using it eventually,” says Zoltan Istvan, a politician and former journalist who narrowly escaped death and is now trying to prove we can live longer.
While working as a journalist in Vietnam for the National Geographic channel, he almost stepped on a landmine in the jungle. It was such a nerve-racking experience he dedicated the rest of his life to overcoming death.
“It’s hard to pin down what the industry is actually worth, since so many new medicines and robotic parts are not for sale yet and are in development. But I would venture to say that some of the life extension founders and CEOs may eventually become some of the first trillionaires on the planet. If they are successful, they will be able to sell their products to virtually every person on the planet, since almost everybody wants to live longer,” Istvan tells FORBES AFRICA.
According to him, there are only a few reliable medical regenerative products on the market today.
“A few pills are coming in the one-two year pipelines that are FDA-approved and will help people live longer. But there’s an expectation that within five to seven years, an enormous amount of products will hit the market. The problem is which products are ‘snake oil’ products that aren’t FDA approved, and which are really useful for making people live longer. This will take a discerning consumer to know the difference,” he says.
Istvan loves life. His father died last year due to old age.
“Some life extensionists are afraid of death. Not me. I just love life, and since I don’t believe in an afterlife, it’s imperative I make the life I have here on earth last as long as possible — hopefully forever. Death is terrible. It’s forever. I’m haunted by it. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m haunted by my life disappearing forever — of there being no more existence of me,” he says. Istvan predicts we will gain a free year for every year we live past 2020.
“That is how fast the technology of anti-aging is developing. But at some point of this J-curve chart of life extension and living longer, humans hit a point — probably in 25 years or so — when technology and radical science simply overcome all our biological issues, and then we will live indefinitely or at least hundreds of years.”
He says hospitals may have to shut their doors.
“Medical care will go the way of the dinosaurs. At some point in the next 25 years, humans will have such good medicine and science, that pharma companies, hospitals, and doctors will begin to realize they are no longer needed. It won’t happen overnight, but by the end of this century, there will be 90% less hospitals,” he says.
It would mean life extension would have arrived. Right now, we think of medicine in terms of managing disease and how old we are. But in the future, according to Istvan, we will think in terms of getting rid of all disease and physical discomfort forever.
De Grey disagrees.
He says the only difference from the hospitals now will be that most of what hospitals will give you will be preventative.
“All it will shift is the way we think about that fictitious concept that we currently call ‘aging’ itself. We will understand that there is no such thing …,” says De Grey.
What about Africa’s existing problems?
Some argue that in Africa, however, private healthcare is expensive and government hospitals are struggling to treat people, let alone fund aging research.
De Grey, however, says there is still far too much early-life mortality in Africa, more than in the rest of the world – but as of 2015, not a single country in the whole world, including Africa, had a life-expectancy below 50.
“Therefore, Africa is catching up, which, of course, means that it is on course to have the same age-related health crisis that the industrialized world already has. Thus, it is highly timely that African nations should start to pull their weight in this space.”
Baron says should the lifespan of people increase, we will have bigger problems such as the ever-increasing population, further decline in food and water sources, and large economic transformations that will need to happen.
“[These] problems are already of major concern today and should be addressed before we consider further burdening our already limited resources,” she says.
Istvan sees it another way.
He says if people think they will live hundreds of years, they may not have children or even get married in the first 100 years of their lives.
“This of course will help with the overpopulation issue, and have significant structural ramification for society and human culture.”
There is another challenge. Life extension is most likely to broaden inequality. We may have a world where the super-rich can cheat death while the poor continue to die.
“The problem, of course, is that only the rich Africans will benefit at first. And this will be a hard fact to swallow for those people that live in poverty in Africa,” says Istvan.
De Grey however argues that such treatments will be for free.
“Keeping people healthy pays for itself so spectacularly fast that it would be economically suicidal for any country not to make the necessary investment to ensure that access is not limited by ability to pay. Today’s high-tech medicine for the elderly is not an informative precedent at all, because it doesn’t work – it doesn’t keep people healthy,” he says.
Istvan however further argues that it’s unlikely that a single pill will make people immortal. He says it’s likely to come in a combination of treatments and bionic organ replacements.
“It’s likely to take years of genetic treatments, shots or IV drugs, and organ replacement surgeries. At first, when this starts happening in 10 or 20 years, it will probably cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars, if not millions,” he says.
Longevity would mean a world where the global economy will surge, as people will be able to work much longer and stay younger much longer. Permanent retirement may be a thing of the past and people may be able to do multiple careers over hundreds of years.
Longevity’s impact on savings
If you live into your 100s and are as strong as you were in your 30s or 40s, you will still be a part of the working population.
“Extending the human lifespan by 30 years and postponing the current retirement age would generate a massive global GDP boost,” predicts Sanei.
Currently, people retire at about 60 years old. If people continue to live far longer, this will be at the peak of their earning capability.
According to Alexander Forbes, a financial services group headquartered in Sandton, the richest square mile in Africa, retirement savings in South Africa currently amount to R4.4 trillion ($300 billion).
“[It’s] an accumulation of assets that could only have been reached because of policymakers’ insistence that if an employer does offer a retirement fund (or funds) to employees, it is mandatory for all employees to participate in the fund,” it says in its Benefits Barometer report in 2017.
This number is expected to grow as people continue to live longer. South Africa has 4.4 million people over 60 and 2.9 million over 65. According to the report, by 2050, the total population over 60 is projected to be over 6.4 million.
Sanlam, a financial services group based in South Africa, says longevity is a blessing and burden. For its centenary celebrations, the group is focusing on answering longevity questions. Through its advert, the company uses a 10-year-old ambassador to ask questions like, ‘if the person who will live to 200 has already been born, would they stay younger for longer or get older later? How long will they study for? At what age will they retire? How many jobs will they have? Will they choose the same partner for life? How many kids will they have? Will anything come with a lifetime guarantee? How would you plan for a financial future?’
“As a future thinking organization, we wanted to look into the future. We believe in long-term planning. Already, South Africans can’t retire comfortably. Only 6% South Africans retire comfortably so we had to make sure people think about the future,” says Sanlam’s marketing chief, Mariska Oosthuizen, to FORBES AFRICA.
Mikel Moyo, co-founder of Mphato & Associates, a tax consultancy firm in South Africa, says traditional financial planning speaks to retiring at age 65. Living longer means longer working lives.
“It’s is a scary thought,” says Moyo.
“Try speaking to a 30-year-old about retirement planning. The typical response is ‘65 years is 35 years away, why do I need to save now’. What people do not understand is they only have 12 pay cheques per year. This means they only have 12 opportunities to live the life they want to live, to pay for all their obligations and save for retirement. They do not have that perspective. So the rational prediction is that if people currently think 30 years after retirement is long, what happens when it’s an extra 100 years?” According to Moyo, we don’t communicate well about finances as Africans.
“We need to be able to talk about money and speak out against every bad behavior if we are to survive. If we are to live longer, we have to understand ourselves.”
Anne Cabot-Alletzhauser, Head of the Research Institute at Alexander Forbes, says longevity means the financial industry has to break away from the notion that you have to retire at a certain age.
“One of the biggest mistakes we have made in South Africa is that we would retire people at the age of 60 or 62 to make way for youth to rise up to senior positions much faster. But in fact, research shows you that you will get better productivity by having people with more experience…You can get transformation without retiring people with experience,” she says.
According to the Alexander Forbes report, there has been a rise in the number of elderly who are bread winners. Between 1996 and 2011, this number increased from 1.7 million to about 2.9 million households.
“Elderly people also appear to be continuing to work later in life. This could be because of economic pressure to continue generating an income, or it may be a reflection of a global trend: educated individuals are beginning to see that they still have value to offer professionally, even if they have hit some arbitrary cut-off date.”
She adds that people make assumptions that as you get older, you become an economic burden to the country.
“We need to change our attitude towards healthcare because the healthcare you give to someone past the age of 60 is completely different to the one you give to someone younger…If you get it right, you significantly reduce the cost of healthcare which is one of the biggest fears of what is going to happen if longevity increases.”
She says the biggest challenge for financial planning is post retirement because you have no idea of what is going to happen to your health.
According to her, quality-care of the elderly exists in the communities, not retirement homes.
“We have had a nice situation whereby adults take care of their children and the children grow up and take care of the elderly,” she says.
The problem is, according to Cabot-Alletzhauser, the financial services industry uses first-world solutions to try solving third-world problems.
“I have a real problem with the financial services industry. It is touted to be first-world quality, and indeed it is, but it solves first-world problems…The insights it has applies maybe to the top 5% of the population.”
She says retirement savings is not a priority for South Africans.
“Most South Africans work, take their income home and take care of their siblings and even grandparents. That’s our modern reality…We don’t have a stable middle class in South Africa. People enter the middle class by virtue of what their income is but they don’t stay there because they immediately get into credit problems…We aren’t focusing on how we create stability during the journey and jumped to retirement,” she says.
Instead of saving for retirement, Cabot-Alletzhauser, says she would support investing in property.
“If they have a house, when they retire, they can rent some of the rooms and make an income…There is a mistaken notion that you are going to retire at 60 and then live to 120. People will keep working if they are to live to 120. I am 69 and I am still capable of working and will continue working.”
Preserving and reviving dead people?
Finland-based entrepreneur Filip Poutintsev first heard about the concept of aging when he was three years old.
“I was playing with my grandfather and suddenly asked him ‘why are you so old?’. His reply was very straight forward: ‘we all get old’. After hearing that, I started crying hysterically, as at that point I realized for the first time that I too will get old,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
At about age 12, his teacher told him about cryonics – deep-freezing the bodies of people who have just died, in the hope that scientific advances may allow them to be revived in the future.
“For me, that was like a light at the end of the tunnel. There was finally hope that I may not have to die.”
His curiosity about life and aging grew. He decided he wanted to be frozen after death but was appalled by the limited research in the industry. It compelled him to actively engage.
“I remember reading a few years ago an article about immortality that stated that if we spent as much money on life extension research as we spend on whitening our teeth, we would already be immortal. This was kind of a wakeup call for me. I realized deep inside that if I do nothing and just wait I might not make it to the time biological immortality is possible,” he says.
He founded the Immortality Foundation, which tries to create visibility and attention for anti-aging, longevity and life extension research.
“You see aging is a physical process, and the aging of humans is not different than the aging of a car, it’s just more difficult to fix.”
Breakthrough doesn’t mean everyone with access will live long. Poutintsev says once we eliminate death caused by aging and age-related diseases such as cancer, the biggest cause of death will be accidents, as our bodies will still be vulnerable to physical damage.
“If you want to live to 1,000 years, you need to be very careful not to die in traffic accidents for example. Actually, if we look at modern day statistics on death, we can calculate that even if we will become biologically immortal, our chance to live for 1,000 years is only 60%, due to all sorts of accidents,” he says.
The study of cryonics is growing rapidly.
“The process of cryopreservation involves cooling a legally-dead person to liquid nitrogen temperature where all physical decay essentially stops – with the goal of preserving tissues, organs and especially the brain with its associated memories and personality as perfectly as possible,” says the Cryonics Institute on its website.
A person held in this state is called a cryopreserved patient.
“We do not consider the legal definition of ‘death’ as a permanently irreversible state. We believe that the incredible advances being made today in biology, medicine, computers, nanotechnology and much more, inevitably point to a future where advanced science will be able to revive these patients and restore them to health and even renewed youth.”
There are more than hundreds of cryopreserved patients across the world, says the institute. And it’s costly.
A minimum whole-body suspension costs $28,000 at the Cryonics Institute. Other companies charge more.
For example, the same procedure reportedly costs $200,000 at Alcor4, $155,000 at the American Cryonics Society, $36,000 at KrioRus and $150,000 at Trans Time.
Just as vaccines, surgeries, sterilization and antibiotics ushered in a new age of longevity, new technologies like robotics will expand it further.
“Humans are slowly becoming cyborgs with artificial hips, dentures, and soon will replace all their organs with better performing bionic ones. So it’s quite possible that overpopulation won’t really affect the world, as humans will be machines, and can do things like interplanetary travel as well as only use sunlight to run their bodies, and not food or water or oxygen,” says the futurist Istvan.
There is also an impact for the geriatrics industry.
“I hope that in geriatrics, we will still maintain the ‘human’ part of interacting with patients, instead of everyone just ‘plugging in’ like a robot, says Coetzer.
Sanei agrees. He says most people he speaks to say they never want to become a cyborg but we will naturally become robot-like.
“Let’s go back to the beginning when humans developed the earliest technologies – fire and stone tools. These tools gave people new capabilities, and became extensions of our physical bodies. As we move into the future, we are not even going to notice becoming part-machine, because it’s going to be a sensible thing to do at each point in the journey,” says Sanei.
Tech billionaires like Google co-founder Sergey Brin are already working on combating aging in the longevity labs of the west. African entrepreneurs have begun to see the merit of such research. One of them is 41-year-old Dr Danny Meyersfeld.
“I love research and being in the lab but there comes a point where you need a clean break from academia otherwise you will be there for the rest of your life,” he says.
We meet him at his offices in Illovo in Sandton. He has invited us to see the DNA-testing in his lab. Meyersfeld is the founder of DNAlysis Biotechnology.
Here, his team conducts different tests – for weight management, disease management, sports performance, skin health, skin-aging and cognitive health.
Dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, he tells us how he started the business in 2008.
“I had a PhD in Molecular Biology and I didn’t know what to do with it…At the time, we wanted to bring biotech advancement to the South African healthcare environment and to bridge the knowledge gap that exists between academia and the consumer. There is a wealth of knowledge and research that sits in publications and academia that never gets to the people. If research is not done to make a difference to the average human, then what’s the point,” says Meyersfeld.
His idea wasn’t easy to sell.
“For the South African market, I think we were about five years too early for these types of tests. We were this lone voice trying to sell a product but also trying to educate and create a market for something that hadn’t existed before,” he says.
The advantage was having examples from the US and European market. They were able to learn from the mistakes of those companies to find the right model.
“But the challenge was still a lack of awareness of these types of technologies especially with healthcare practitioners because that’s where our market was. We didn’t want to go straight to the consumer; we wanted to work with dieticians and doctors so genetics can be a daily part of their work.”
According to Meyersfeld, longevity is possible but it’s more about being healthy and understanding your DNA.
“I would rather live to 90 and maintain my health than live to 120 and suffer for the last 20 years,” he says.
Anti-aging in the beauty business
Dr Reza Mia is the Chief Operating Officer at Anti-Aging Art, a medical aesthetic and wellness center focusing on minimally invasive anti-aging and cosmetic treatments.
“People kept coming to me and saying, ‘aren’t you a doctor, don’t you do botox, don’t you do fillers and I went and did the courses to satisfy that need. Slowly, they kept coming and bringing their brothers, sisters, friends until it became a full-time job,” says Mia.
According to Mia, the industry is growing.
“In South Africa, because it started a bit late, it’s growing faster than the rest of the world. We are normally fully-booked but we try to add doctors to take care of that demand.”
The company says it serves 500 to 600 clients every month. They are 60% women and 40% men, ranging from teenagers to people over 80. Patients pay R3,000 ($205) on average per visit.
“Mostly, people want to fix tiny problems like frown lines and sagging faces. A lot of the time, it’s small things that make them self-conscious, like sweating too much on the face and underarms. Sometimes, they just want maintenance work all over the body,” says Mia.
She says one of the challenges is a lack of the right regulations.
“We see a lot of practices opening up not owned by doctors and they obviously don’t know about the ethics…It’s hurting the industry because people are seeing other people looking unnatural and they think that’s what fillers do.”
Mia wants to expand the business, through franchising, to Tanzania and Dubai in the near future.
The quest for immortality may be very much in the future, but these futurists, doctors and scientists believe that with technology, we are irresistibly closer to finding a cure for aging than we have ever been before.
Never say die.
African Of The Year
The President of the African Development Bank believes passionately that poverty has no place in Africa. Restless about creating opportunities for the continent and promoting food security through agricultural innovation, this is a man on a mission.
Immaculate in his trademark bow tie and bespoke suit, Dr Akinwumi Adesina sits down at a shady outdoor table as a welcome breeze stirs the hot Johannesburg afternoon, and wind-chimes tinkle in the air. This, after an hour under the harsh studio lights for the cover shoot for this article, where he charmed the FORBES AFRICA team with his ready smile and ease in front of the camera.
In four years at the helm of the African Development Bank (AfDB), he has seen many achievements that would leave most people agape at their scope – 16 million people connected to electricity, 70 million received access to agricultural technologies for food security, nine million gained access to finance, 55 million now have access to improved transport, and 31 million have been given access to improved water and sanitation.
And yet, it is not enough.
“We have to go bigger than that,” he says, “I believe Africa needs to move forward, but faster than it has.”
A greater rate of development is made possible by the biggest capital increase in the bank’s 55-year history. At the end of October 2019, AfDB’s 80 shareholder countries approved a $115 billion capital increase, an increase of 125%, from $93 billion to $208 billion.
This capital increase was two years in the making. Two years of hard work and intensive discussions. “And I just feel that there’s wind behind our sails. I feel relieved, I feel happy. Happy not only for myself, but happy for Africa and happy for the bank,” he says.
“We are going to deploy a lot of these resources to accelerate what we have been doing. You know we have a High Five strategy for the continent, which is to light up and power Africa, to feed Africa, to industrialize Africa, to integrate Africa, and to improve the quality of life of the people of Africa.
“So I see a very different Africa in the next couple of years coming,” he continues. “I think you will see huge, huge impact for the bank and of course finally, we’ll be able to help attract a lot more investments to the continent because the private sector is the engine of growth. I see the bank being able to take greater risks on behalf of the private sector in Africa. I am very confident in the future of Africa. Extremely confident.
“Africa’s opportunities for investment are literally limitless. All we have to do is to make sure that we continue to improve the business and investment environment.” In November, less than a week after this interview, African and international investors put their money behind Adesina’s dream for a transformed, economically-vibrant Africa.
On the conclusion of the second Africa Investment Forum (AIF), held in the Gauteng province of South Africa, 56 boardroom deals valued at $67.6 billion resulted in secured investor interest of $40.1 billion in 52 deals. That’s a 44% increase in deals tabled in comparison to 2018’s 61 tabled transactions valued at $46.9 billion and 49 deals worth $38.7 billion in secured investment interest. All of this in less than 72 hours.
“Those nations that have wealth are the ones that export value-added products. The ones that are poor are the ones that export raw materials and I think Africa is done exporting rae materials. Africa cannot be used to poverty; it needs wealth.
Smiling broadly, the President of AfDB commented at the session, Unveiling the Boardroom Deals: “Transactions, transactions, transactions. Deals, deals, deals!”
Africa’s sun has been rising steadily. Today, six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. Rwanda is growing at 7.7%, Ethiopia at 7.4%, Ghana at 7.2%, and Mauritania and Cote d’Ivoire at almost 7%.
“So the economies of Africa are doing very well and what’s even more amazing is that 37 countries are growing at three to five percent or above. Today, as we speak, 20 African countries are growing at above five percent globally. And that is amazing. You cannot ignore Africa,” Adesina elaborates.
While foreign direct investment (FDI) for the rest of the world grew at -13%, and the FDI for developed countries grew at -23%, FDI in Africa grew by roughly 11%, from $41 billion to $46 billion in 2018.
Says Adesina: “So that tells you how fast Africa is growing. And more exciting for me is the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement which now opens up Africa with a market of $3.3 trillion.
“Take, for example, the moment we start supporting people to invest across borders and you make it easier for people to travel, guess what? Investment will begin to expand. If I want to take, for example, between 2013 and last year, and even this year, the intra-Africa investment, that is African investors investing in other African countries, rose to $108 billion total. And you look at that and ask yourself what are the countries where most of those investments are coming from; almost 40% of that is from South Africa into other countries. The other countries are Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya.”
Adesina advises to look beyond trading in the same things through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): “So as opposed to sending raw materials that dominate Africa’s exports to Europe or to America, or to China, if we start trading among ourselves, we should not be trading in raw materials, we should be trading in high value-added products.
“And so, we at the African Development Bank will support the development and the emergence of original, globally competitive value chains, whether it is agriculture, whether it is the pharmaceutical industry, whether it is in other areas of ICT where Africa can be competitive and so at the end of the day, it is about added value to everything that Africa has, because as I always say, the secret of the wealth of nations is very clear.
“Those nations that have wealth are the ones that export value-added products. The ones that are poor are the ones that export raw materials and I think Africa is done exporting raw materials. Africa cannot be used to poverty; it needs wealth,” Adesina says.
In order to take advantage of the collective market of $3.3 trillion the AfCFTA is opening up, it is important to invest in basic enabling conditions.
“First and foremost, you have to co-ordinate, so the African Development Bank has provided almost $5 million to the African Union Commission to establish the Secretariat – the African Continental Free Trade Secretariat in Ghana and we’re delighted that it’s in Ghana. Second, is that we invested heavily in infrastructure to enable that, so whether it is transnational highways, whether it is digital infrastructure, financial inclusion, we’re investing in integrating our capital markets all across Africa so you can actually mobilize domestic savings in that.”
READ MORE: Africa’s Mr Development
Part of the requirements is to ensure that people can move more easily across borders without it taking too much time.
“We are very excited at how many countries have made it easier for Africans to invest in other African countries. For example, today, as an African, you can go into African countries; [for] 25% of them, you won’t even need a visa; 21% of them you can get visas on arrival. And the rest of them, you will need a visa. So, we still have quite a big way to go, but a lot of progress is being made,” Adesina says.
Also part of enabling conditions is infrastructure.
“Nations progress to the extent of their investment in infrastructure. Whether it is roads, ports, rail, airports or digital infrastructure. It’s like trying to walk as a person and not having a backbone. That’s what infrastructure really is and that’s why the African Development Bank is investing heavily on infrastructure – for countries, but also for regional infrastructure.”
There are 16 landlocked countries in Africa that need interconnectors to gain access to a port. In the southern African region, the AfDB has invested heavily in the Nacala Port Corridor, which opens up opportunities for Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and even South Africa to access Mozambique’s Nacala Port.
Another investment has been over $360 million to double the capacity of the Walvis Bay Port in Namibia so that it can serve other countries.
Adesina continues: “We are investing right now in energy transport infrastructure, for example, I just came in from Zambia this morning, talking to President Edgar Lungu. And we’re investing in the interconnected power that will link Zambia to Zimbabwe to Botswana and Namibia.
“In West Africa, we just completed in January this year, a landmark historic investment linking Senegal and Gambia through the Senegambia Bridge. They never had a bridge connecting them. They were just neighbors.”
Akinwumi Adesina was adjudged ‘African of the Year’ at the 2019 All Africa Business Leaders Awards held in association with CNBC Africa
The AfDB is also working on a rail project that will link Tanzania to Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.
Looking at the infrastructure financing gap, Adesina describes it as “a lot”.
“Africa today has an infrastructure financing gap of anything between $68 billion to $108 billion a year. But I’m not scared of that. It’s whether you look at it as a cup half empty or half full; $68 billion to $108 billion a year means there is a business opportunity of $68 billion to $108 billion. And that’s why the Africa Investment Forum is critical for that.”
While governments have an important role to play in funding the infrastructure gap, the private sector’s contribution is crucial through Public Private Partnerships.
Adesina also believes that Africa should mobilize more domestic savings to invest in infrastructure. “If you look at Africa today, the institutional investors like the pension funds, the sovereign wealth funds, and insurance pool of funds we have is about $1.8 trillion. But all of that is being invested outside Africa in money-market instruments that are earning a negative real rate of return today.
“So you tell me, what sense does it make if I have a sovereign wealth fund that has become the fund of another sovereign, except for money? You invest in money market instruments when you have no power, you have no water, you have no roads, you have no rail. That’s not a smart investment. Or a pension fund of an African country invested in money market instruments outside. Let’s even assume that you make money from that. What are you going to do? You’re going to turn around and offer annuity payments that will give people regular income for the rest of their retirement life, right?
“Well, I’m sorry, it means they will be returning to their communities, to their cities without good water, without good health services, without good transport, without good energy. No. That will be miserable retirement. And so what I want to see is Africa’s pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other institutional investors investing their money to help to close that $68 billion to $108 billion investment gap.”
He remembers his mother telling him as a child, that if you go down to a market, and you do not promote your own product, who will stop at your stall to buy your wares?
“So charity must begin at home. I want Africa’s institutional investors investing in Africa, in roads, in rail, and we as a bank are there to support them to reduce the risk of their investments in Africa. I want an Africa that is able to attract capital, to close this gap. I’m not afraid of the difference in the financing gap. I think we can close it.”
Crucial in improving the lives of millions of Africans is the acceleration of Africa’s agricultural transformation.
Agriculture has been an important part of Adesina’s life.
He grew up as the son of a farm laborer. His family was “desperately poor”.
“And it was through the generosity of somebody who took my dad out of the farm, that my father was able to get an education at an older age. So, without that, you won’t be talking to me today. I would probably be lost in the village selling something by the side of the road. And so when it then came down to what I was going to do, I was very good at school, and my father told me that education is the leveler; if we make the children of poor people stand at the same pedestal as those of rich people.”
His father had a choice of three study paths mapped for the young Adesina: medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine. Three times his father filled in the application forms, three times the answer came back – Adesina’s grades fell just short of acceptance in medical school. But agriculture was recommended.
“I wore my bow ties all the time, and some people never even thought I was a minister of agriculture.
“And the third time, my father said, ‘God must really want you to do agriculture’. And so, that was how I got into agriculture,” he relates.
When he completed a PhD in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University in the United States (US), he wrote to his father, signing the letter as “Doctor”.
“And so from that time, he always called me ‘doctor’. Now, he has gone, bless his soul, he’s passed away. But when our first son was graduating in the United States from medical school, my dad was 92, so I took him to the United States to witness the event. He was there. And so, we were taking photographs and my father said ‘doctor!’, so I turned, I said, ‘yes, dad’. He said, ‘no, I don’t mean you, I mean the REAL doctor’. So I told my father, ‘even the real doctors will tell you, take your medication three times a day, only after food’. Which means agriculture is more important than medicine,” says Adesina, with laughter that is warm and infectious. “So we used to have fun with it!”
Being awarded the Rockefeller Foundation Social Science Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 1988, launched his international career in agricultural development.
Dr Raj Shah, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, writes in the foreword to Adesina’s authorized biography, Against All Odds: “I have learned a tremendous amount from Akin over the years, but what I think of most is his ability to speak to rural farmers, heads of state, philanthropists and investors with the same genuine, thoughtful and respectful consideration. His ability to be open, honest, and clear with everyone he meets is key to his impact and success as a leader.”
Between 2011 and 2015, Adesina was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
During this time, he fought corruption and introduced revolutionary changes in the agriculture sector. This led to increased agricultural production, a drop in food imports and declining rates of poverty.
Asked about those years, he replies: “Well, you know, I come from a perspective as a minister, that Nigeria’s biggest comparative advantage was not oil and gas, because oil and gas was not something that was going to create a lot of jobs. And I knew that agriculture was what we had huge comparative advantage in. So what I decided to do was to do a lot of work to first change the perception of the sector.
“I wore my bow ties all the time, and some people never even thought I was a minister of agriculture, you know, ‘what kind of minister of agriculture these days is wearing bow ties’, and I said ‘because you think agriculture is for poor people’. You know, guess what? The biggest and richest people in the world in Europe and the United States are farmers. They’re in agriculture.
“So I did a lot of work to change the perception so that people would recognize that agriculture is cool, it’s sexy, it’s a money-making business.”
By his side during his time as Minister of Agriculture, was Grace Oluyemisi, his wife of 35 years and the “rock of the family”.
“I can tell you, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Grace. We are not only best friends, but we are also intellectual partners. When I was minister in Nigeria, I would debate policies with Grace at home,” Adesina says. She had qualified to do a PhD at the same time he did, but opted to dedicate her time to raising a family. The couple have two sons, both of who work in the US.
The elder is the medical doctor Rotimi, whose wife Alexandra will soon qualify as a medical doctor, and the younger is Segun, who is married to Emily and is the father of Adesina’s first granddaughter, Noemi, born in January 2019.
While raising the family, Grace also studied Economics at the University of London, and was awarded first a Bachelor’s in Economics – with the best result in England and Wales – and then a Master’s degree in Financial Management.
“So we have a lot of debates and I used to tell my colleagues, ministers in Nigeria at the time, that by the time I brought any policy document to the Federal Executive Council, it has passed ‘the Grace test’. If it can pass the Grace test, it can pass anybody’s test. That’s how rigorous she is. Even now at the bank, it’s the same. She debates with me a lot,” Adesina says.
As agriculture minister, he introduced farmers to modern, digital technology on mobile phones. This “helped to end 40 years of corruption in the seed and fertilizer sector in Nigeria”.
“We gave farmers subsidies via their mobile phones, they’d go to the private sector, and buy the inputs of the traders in their villages, there was no middle man; cut them all off. And we reached 15 million farmers in about four years, which was just incredible.”
That was the Electronic Wallet System, or e-wallet system, which is now being used in many African countries, and as far as Afghanistan.
“I’m very proud of that work,” he says.
“But the other thing that we did was to get the private sector to come into the agriculture sector. Over a four-year period, we succeeded in attracting about $5.6 billion of private sector investments into agriculture, from investing in rice to investing in cotton production or sugar production, or fertilizer manufacturing. I am most proud of that because we managed to really change everything in the agriculture sector, made it a real dynamic sector. And so I was pretty happy and felt it was a great honor to be asked to serve and I think I worked all the time, I didn’t have any life.”
This statement could of course not be left floating in the air.
I had to ask him how he managed to keep up with the blistering pace he sets himself.
“I think it’s my moral compass. This is not a job for me. This is a mission. I believe passionately that poverty has no basis in Africa and I believe we must do everything we can to create opportunities very quickly and I am very restless when it comes to creating opportunities for the continent. So that keeps me going.”
He reminisces about how his father sent him to a village school to complete his high school studies. The young Adesina was not impressed. But his father sat him down and explained, saying: “I sent you to a village school because I wanted you to see even more of the reality of poverty, because you never know what God might make you in life. If God ever makes you anybody important in life, you will know exactly what to do. So it is that passion, that drive, that commitment, that motivates me.
“I am relentless in looking for solutions and I don’t think life is about me, it’s about God provided you an opportunity to be an instrument to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people. And nothing is more important than that,” he explains.
This mission also drives him to not only give of his time, but his own money to assist young people to build their careers. Together with his wife, Grace, he established the World Hunger Fighters Foundation.
He explains: “One of our goals is to develop a new generation of young people that will be global leaders in fighting global hunger and malnutrition, but by doing that through agriculture as a business because I really believe in that. You know I have never seen anybody who wants to be poor. People are poor because they lack opportunities.”
The Foundation is funded by prizes awarded to Adesina, starting with a total cash amount of $1.1 million in the kitty.
“In 2017, I was very honored and greatly humbled to have been awarded the World Food Prize, known as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture’. And when I won that award, I was given the prize in Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States. And it comes with a cash prize of $250,000. And as I took to the stage to be given the award, I told them I was not going to take the money for myself. I told them I was going to devote the entire $250,000 to supporting young people in food and agriculture, because I really believe we need more dynamic, entrepreneurial young people in agriculture. So I devoted the whole thing to them.”
This year, in Seoul, South Korea, Adesina was awarded the global Sunhak Peace Prize for his achievements in promoting food security in Africa through agricultural innovation. It came with a cash prize of $500,000, which also went straight into the Foundation.
The Foundation offers a one-year fellowship program. Within the first two weeks of advertising the fellowship, 1,300 applications were received. Ten Borlaug Adesina Fellows were chosen. This was named after Adesina’s mentor, the late 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the prize for his contributions to the ‘green revolution’ and its impact on food production.
In October, the Adesinas took the 10 Borlaug Adesina Fellows to the World Food Prize in Iowa – a global event. “They had never seen anything like that in their life and it was a great exposure for them,” he says. Within 24 hours, they were snapped up by global companies and international agriculture research centers. “It’s going to provide them a world of opportunities that they never dreamed about.
“So really it’s no longer about me. It’s not about you, what you have. If I have a billion dollars today, I would do exactly the same thing. Because I really believe that the future is not just for the youth, the present is for them. We have got to start investing in them. I am very passionate about investing in young people and that’s why, of late, I’ve been speaking a lot about the creation of new banks just for young people in Africa.
“Because today you have about 640 million young people on the continent, but there are no financial institutions dedicated for them. They have great ideas, but there’s no money. They walk into current banks and when they see them, they see problems. They don’t see hope, they don’t see opportunities. They’re crushed. And that’s the whole asset of a continent. So that’s why I have called for the creation of what is called the Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks.”
These banks will be banks for young people, run by young people. Run professionally, the banks will provide grants for the youth to develop their businesses.
“They will invest in the eco-system to which the businesses of young people are connected so that they can succeed,” Adesina explains. “They will be able to provide debt financing for bankable businesses of young people at an affordable rate, and then as their businesses grow over time, this Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Bank will take equity in the businesses of the young people as they grow.
“So, it is a step to helping them to grow, and you’re helping them throughout their business cycle. I really think that when you take a look at the world today, we talk about GDP (Gross Domestic Product). I can have a high GDP as a country, just from oil, just from gas, it does not mean that my young people are contributing to that GDP.
“And so what I want to see in Africa is what I call sometimes Y-GDP, which is the contribution of young people to the GDP of economies. And that can only come through entrepreneurship and innovation,” he continues.
“To be able to have innovation and entrepreneurship, we have to believe in the youth, we have to put our capital at risk for the youth, because if we don’t, all of us are going to be at risk.”
Adesina has been talking to a number of countries about these banks. “I believe that the African Development Bank will be there to help provide some financing to get these banks off the ground. If you look in the past, when micro-enterprises could not get access to financing from the traditional banks, Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel prize, developed the micro-finance institutions.”
The Nobel Peace Prize 2006 was awarded jointly to Yunus and Grameen Bank “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below”.
Adesina does not believe in youth empowerment. But he does believe in the youth. “In my experience, the people who say they’re empowering the youth are the ones who are empowering themselves. The youth don’t need hand-outs, they need investment. Africa’s challenges require Africa’s solutions. And Africa’s biggest assets being our young people, they can’t be roaming the streets. They can’t be dying over the Mediterranean, which I’m very ashamed when I see that. Or they cannot be loitering in the Sahara Desert just trying to make a living,” he explains.
“As nations, we should invest in the young people because as the world’s population gets older, Africa will have the youngest population in the world. The number of young people in Africa in the labor market by 2050 will be close to a billion people. Now, what are they going to do if they don’t have jobs and what are they going to do if they have not created jobs? So we can’t wait for that, that’s why I want us to create the Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks that will provide them the capital, the finance, the confidence they need to turn their ideas into great businesses.”
There has to be a focus on agriculture as the size of the African food and agriculture sector is going to rise to over $1 trillion by 2030.
“That means that the future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will not be coming from the oil and gas sector, they’ll be coming from the agriculture sector. But I want African countries to be looking at agriculture as a business, not as a way of life. Nobody smokes gas. Nobody drinks oil, but everybody eats food. So food is critical and that is what Africa has a comparative advantage in.
“Think about it; 65% of all the arable land left to feed almost nine billion people in the world by 2050 is not in China, it’s not in Europe, it’s not in Latin America. It’s in Africa. So what Africa does with agriculture is going to determine the future of food in the world. And so we at the African Development Bank are investing right now, over a ten-year period, $25 billion in the agricultural sector to help them to make it a thriving business.”
‘HE IS MR AFRICA!’
“Dr Adesina is a great people’s person. The unique thing about him is that he is a visionary; he makes things happen and sees them before they happen. He also knows how to bring people together. Everybody loves him. I think he should run for the President of Nigeria in the future. He is Mr Africa!” – Masai Ujiri, President, Toronto Raptors
“I find Dr Akinwumi Adesina energetic, evangelical and sincere. He has raised his role to different levels, where, rather than him trying to convince leaders of the world and corporate business leaders to come to Africa, they are actually chasing him.” – Sanjeev Gupta, Executive Director, Financial Services, Africa Finance Corporation
“Dr Adesina has shown good leadership creating the [Africa Investment Forum] platform. He truly is a leader.” – Benedict Oramah, President, Afreximbank
”Dr Adesina is, in my view, the definition of a credible, visionary and courageous leader. He has his sights clearly set on a future Africa that along with global partners, continues to invest in the development of its talent, industry and infrastructure, ensuring sustainable livelihood for its citizens. A prosperous continent that processes its primary produce, trades within itself and the world at large. He is a giant, a role model.” – Ronnie Ntuli, head, Thelo DB
Among the examples Adesina cites is the $600 million for Ghana’s Cocoa Board, for them to buy, store, warehouse and process cocoa.
“We’re going to be doing the same for Cote d’Ivoire. Why? Because Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon account for about seventy-five percent of all the global supply of cocoa beans, and Africa accounts for only two percent of a $120 billion annual chocolate market. You don’t make chocolates from sand, you make it from cocoa beans. So we supply the cocoa beans and we get nothing out of it, so that’s no brain surgery in making chocolate.”
Another example is the $800 million dedicated to support young people in technology and agriculture as a business.
“If we don’t get younger people to get excited about agriculture and to see agriculture as being cool, I believe agriculture is cool, they will not go into agriculture as a business, and who is going to feed us?”
Then there is the fact that a lot of what gets produced in Africa today gets lost just because the farmers can’t access markets immediately.
“We don’t have good logistics, we don’t have good food manufacturing companies, and the few food manufacturing companies you have, they’re all located in the urban areas, close to the port. But there are no farms close to the ports anyway. And the reason is because in the rural areas you don’t have the right infrastructure to allow the food and agriculture companies to locate there,” says Adesina, explaining the reason for AfDB’s support of agro-industrial zones in rural areas.
The bank will finance infrastructure – power, roads, water, ICT, irrigation – and create an environment or environments that will attract private sector food and agriculture companies to the rural areas.
Another area Adesina is passionate about is financing for women. The AfDB has an initiative called Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), the objective of which is to mobilize $3 billion specifically for women in business on the continent. “If you take a look at Africa today, the gender-based financing gap between men and women is roughly about $42 billion annually, which means that men get a lot more finance than women do. But in Africa, women dominate the small and medium-sized enterprises and they are better business people, and they pay back their loans more than men, maybe at least 95% of their loans are paid back. But they don’t get access to finance.”
The AfDB has an innovative approach to encourage banks to provide financing to women.
Financial institutions will be ranked based on their lending to women. They will be evaluated according to the volume of lending, interest rates charged, and development impact.
“We are Africa’s largest financial institution and we provide huge amounts of lines of credit to banks, trade finance to financial banks. So when they come to us, we will simply take that index, we call it Women Financing Index for Africa, and ask you the question: ‘what have you done for women of late?’ If you haven’t, sorry, you’re not going to get our money. So it’s a way of tilting the financial markets to work on behalf of women. You know, I do bird-watching. But I’ve never seen any bird that has one wing. They always have two wings. So by getting equality for women in finance, African economies will finally be able to fly with two wings. And that’s important,” Adesina says.
Finally, renewable energy is close to Adesina’s heart. “I think that we must have energy sources that are clean. I think Africa should lead the way in clean energy. I think that coal is the past, I think renewable energy is the future.”
Renewables include hydro, wind and solar energy, whereas gas-fired power plants can assist in the transition to renewable energy. In terms of solar, what Adesina likes to call “the desert of power” will help to provide 10,000 megawatts of electricity across the entire Sahel using the power of the sun through the world’s largest solar zone.
It will provide electricity for 250 million people and 90 million of those will get their power through off-grid systems.
“The other thing that we are doing right now is to move countries that have huge legacy investments in coal to invest more in renewable energy, or those that may want to do coal, to shift into renewable energy. Instead, the African Development Bank is establishing what is called a Green Base-load Facility, and this will allow us to mobilize $5 billion of investments, support, and transition into renewable energy.
“Another area that is very big for renewable energy is off-grid energy. In the old system, you need to have power grids that are running all over the place. It used to remind me of landlines for the telephone in those days. But now, you and I carry around our mobile phones. So we don’t need, in most cases, those very expensive transmission lines when you can have mini-grids closer to communities, where you can also have decentralized energy that uses renewable energy for people. Renewable energy is the future. And we have to start investing not in the past but in the future.”
Seen through the eyes of Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, the future for Africa’s economic development is bright.
The continent has indeed found a champion to lead the charge in developing Africa as an integrated, bankable investment destination.
-Jill De Villiers
Africa’s Aficionados And Their Eclectic Collections
From the old to the unusual to the bizarre, what is it that motivates the rarefied pursuit of collecting objects?
For the aficionados soon to be unraveled on these pages, their collectibles are more than mere things – they are priceless treasures and extensions of who they are.
We explore the captivating world of Africa’s collectors, and get a feel of their prized possessions, and what motivates them to keep building on their treasures. This is a selection of considered individuals on the continent who embrace the world around them in enchanting, curious and unlikely ways.
They are passionate devotees, enthusiasts and fanatics who share a love of unique objects. They are drawn to either preserve the things they love, or be surrounded by them.
The featured collections range from accessible and popular to the aspirational and unusual, each different and purposeful. And what we have uncovered rings true to the words “not all treasure is silver and gold”.
It is not always the financial value or return on investment that sparks nor sustains a collector’s momentum. It is the essential personal value they derive from their collection.
The value of the featured collections come from what the individuals are willing to sacrifice, in actions, finances and space to establish their treasure trove.
What’s most encouraging is to see how their hobbies pave the way to alternative avenues of wealth creation and notably, how serial collectors unlock opportunities of commercial, professional and social benefit. This compilation is innovative, exciting and aspirational. Most impactfully, it brings to light how we can extend our personality, values, self-expression, memories, emotions and passions through eclectic items of interest.
The compilation on the pages that follow is in no particular order.
Makgati Molebatsi, 61, South Africa
Collection: Contemporary art
Estimated worth: R1.2 million ($80,000)
Collecting for: Enjoyment and appreciation
Makgati Molebatsi quit her 30-year career in marketing and communications at the end of 2015 to pursue her passion for visual art. The following year, she founded a consulting firm in the contemporary art space called Mak’Dct Art Advisory & Agency.
Her keen interest in art began in 1997 after briefly working in the second Johannesburg Biennale art exhibition. The conceptual nature of the artworks exhibited intrigued her and almost immediately sparked her interest in collecting paintings, sculptures, installations and photography. Twenty two years later, she has amassed around 40 significant pieces in her personal stable. Each gem cost Molebatsi an average of R30,000 ($2,000).
“Most of my artworks are acquired from artists during their early career phase,” she says. One of her favorite artworks, which almost eluded her, is a mesmerizing installation of 1,200 keys intricately strung into a scarf by Liza Grobler titled Easy Access Scarf.
Collecting art is a big-budget, yet profitable, indulgence. Local art sales were estimated at R5.5 billion ($368 million) in 2017 according to the AfrAsia Bank South Africa Wealth Report. Molebatsi, however, is not investing in art. She considers herself an ‘essential value collector’ who only acquires pieces that resonate with her.
“Most of my artworks are abstractions which are engaging and have a dialogue. I gravitate towards color fields in artworks [that] I acquire because I tend to be monochromatic and minimalist in my dress sense and home décor,” she adds.
Molebatsi is one of the few black female art collectors in the country and a prominent art curator and advisor in the local and international space. She has served on the selection committees for the prestigious annual Turbine Art Fair. In 2018, she produced and curated an exhibition with renowned photojournalist Óscar Gutiérrez, to celebrate the centenary of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Some of her artwork is displayed within the Breast Cancer Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, to which she loaned.
Clyde Terry, 54,South Africa
Estimated worth: +/- R4.9 million ($327,936)
Collecting for: Enjoyment and resonance
After qualifying as a chartered accountant, Clyde Terry decided to neglect his father’s ambition to follow the profession but to convert his hobby of collecting rare antiques into a fully-fledged career instead. Today, Terry is one of the leading antique dealers in South Africa with a personal collection of 83 unique and rare antiquities that have a special place in his heart.
Terry recalls childhood moments spent at auction houses and local antique shops in his hometown of Ramsgate in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, which sparked his love of things old, rare and beautiful. He has now built up a notable selection of silver and glassware; including beautifully-contoured Daum decorative art glass as well as rare Lladro and Hummel figurines. His prized collection includes enchanted, floral pottery from sought-after 1900s British art potter and manufacturer, William Moorcroft; whose delicate pieces have sold for an amount of R221,583.96 ($14,723.45) on auction. “I love that William Moorcroft traveled the world [to] study the flowers of different countries, including South Africa. His vase with the [South African] protea is one I still search for,” he says.
Terry is not only led to acquire unique items just for himself. He has turned a beautifully-restored house in Melville, Johannesburg, into an antique treasure trove of magnificently-decorated rooms, showcasing everything from art-deco, Georgian, Art Nouveau and 1950’s objects. There, he proudly runs his business, Clyde on 4th, which aids antique-enthusiasts in finding and trading prized showpieces and valuable relics. “My hardest lesson was learning that as a collector, you hold on to items and as a purveyor of antiques, you look after many collections and help collectors grow,” says Terry. “[It’s] become easy now to part with items and give them a new future and history.”
As the founder of the South African National Antiques Decorative Arts Association, part of his time is spent organizing the biggest monthly antique fairs in the country which take place at the prestigious Nelson Mandela Square, as well as the upmarket Mall of Africa in Johannesburg.
Masego ‘Maps’ Maponyane, 29, South Africa
Collection: Hats and caps
Estimated worth: +/- R180,000 ($12,046)
Collecting for: Passion and enjoyment
As a prominent figure in ‘showbiz’, it’s tempting to presume that Masego ‘Maps’ Maponyane’s continuous showcasing of personal style is merely a part of his job. Yet, his love affair, specifically with accentuated headgear, dates back to a time before his career even took shape. “My grandfather is one of my biggest inspirations as far as clothing goes. He was of the generation of Sophiatown, always [fully] dressed in their Sunday best. There would be a complete look with him and his peers with the hat, and I always loved how it complemented their outfit,” says Maponyane.
Maponyane’s fondness for headwear took form in his late teens while on a family vacation in Namibia. There, he bought his first hat, a tan straw fedora with a ribbon around, to combat the scorching heat of the desert land. Impressed by the aesthetic and esteem it gave his ensemble, Maponyane has since invested in over 200 headpieces that have become an extension of his everyday life.
Even so, hats are more than a fashion accessory to him. They represent an opportunity to step into different frames of mind. “Hats are like a form of expression for me. Hats allow me to be that character for a day, depending on the hat. I will choose the hat, not only based on what I am wearing but on my mood,” adds the entrepreneur who also recently opened a hip burger joint in Johannesburg named Buns Out. His collection includes different headgear of varying styles and finessed artisanry such as millinery hats, caps, cowboy style, panama straw and homburg hats. His headgear can be inexpensive as much as it can be pricey. He has once parted with R4,500 ($299) for a blue pork pie with a slick leather ribbon designed by England-based hat-maker, Christys’ of London. Locally, Simon and Mary is his go-to confidante. Although he may order caps online, Maponyane still prefers the sensorial experience of shopping in-store. To ensure the right aesthetic, Maponyane opts to physically weave through selections, feel the weight, texture, try it on and above all, make sure it’s the perfect fit. If not, he has several trusted milliners to adorn his head flawlessly.
Damian de Canha, 30, South Africa
Collection: Fine art statues
Estimated worth: +/- R2.75 million ($184,000)
Collecting for: Enjoyment and passion
What is better than watching your favorite superheroes or villains on screen? For Damian de Canha, it’s having life-like statues of them displayed as works of art that he can marvel at everyday in his home. De Canha has been collecting the most premium pieces since 2017. As a superfan of all the comics from Marvel and DC Entertainment, his collectible statues hail primarily from their successful fantasy franchises, as well as from the Transformers and Mortal Kombat stable.
“I have always been a geek but what got me into collecting was when [a] friend bought me a Hulk statue as a thank you gift,” says De Canha. Standing up to 70cm tall and an average weight of 17kg, these statues are primarily imported from XM Studios in Singapore which supply luxury collectible pieces that are not manufactured, rather individually hand-crafted to inspire the pride and status of the limited pieces.
“I was so intrigued by the amazing attention to detail and craftsmanship that goes into these handmade statues that I was hooked from the moment I received it,” he says.
In the span of two years, De Canha has collected over 140 limited statues that stand in marvelous grandeur displayed across two rooms turned into galleries in his home. Not to be mistaken for toys or figurines, the figures can take De Canha up to 20 minutes to correctly assemble, and they hold their value over time. One iconic statue, called the X-Men Sentinel Diorama, is worth R110,000 ($7,361). His most treasured piece is a priceless little green bus his mother gifted him when he was just a toddler.
He has turned his enthusiasm into a business called Symbiote Premium Comics & Collectibles, which seeks to increase the accessibility of high-end statues. It’s become the official African distributor for XM Studios for the DC franchise. The business hosted its first exhibition at Comic Con Africa in September.
Yegas Naidoo, 60, South Africa
Estimated worth: R125,500 ($8,500) excluding champagne
Collecting for: Consumption and enjoyment
Yegas Naidoo has been collecting wine from 1985. As a gourmet hedonist, she is not one to deny herself the sensorial joy and global allure of a signature wine. For Naidoo, the process of winemaking, from bottling to evolution, is a spectacle in itself that makes each bottle unique and multi-faceted.
The 1981 red blend from the southern Rhone in France called Pierre Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape Vintage inducted Naidoo’s collection of high-quality wine. She now has over 500 bottles in her home and admits that her wine assortment is purely for consumption with family and friends.
“My collection is imbibed daily, but the average cost is R250 ($17) per bottle, conservatively [and] not including champagne,” says Naidoo. The most valuable addition to-date is a magnum of the 2007 La Motte Hanneli R, a vintage shiraz blend inspired by the owner, Hanneli Rupert. Naidoo purchased this for R9,500 ($636) at the 2017 Nederburg charity auction.
She is a bonafide champagne zealot and is an ordained member of the esteemed L’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, the official French fraternity of the major Champagne brands. She has been an anchor judge at world-renowned wine competitions based in London including the International Wine Challenge and International Wine & Spirit Competition. Notably, she has served on the judging panel of the South African Airways inflight wine selection for the last 15 years. In her spare time, she’s involved in wine education and participates in global wine events to promote South African wine. “I speak on numerous forums, delivering the message of wine not being an exclusive product targeted for only certain social classes, wine being a product without mystery for the un-christened [as well as the] health benefits of drinking wine in modicum over time,” she says.
Eric Leeson, 35, South Africa
Estimated worth: +/- R625,000 ($42,325)
Collecting for: Personal apparel
The wave of millennial cultural influence has birthed a new form of collectibles, and Eric Leeson is rooted in the game. Leeson fell in love with sneakers at the age of 13 but only began collecting at the age of 16 with a pair of marked-down cherry-red Jordan 11 Retro Lows gifted to him by his father. “I started collecting sneakers out of struggle. It was simply about having, at least, more than three pairs of shoes aside from my school or physical training shoes. [But] not being able to get the ones I wanted sparked my obsession,” says Leeson.
He has since accumulated a fashionable footwear collection of 350 pairs which he recently downsized to 250. His motivations are now fueled by pleasure and the experience – no longer strife. “I’ve really enjoyed the chase of getting a pair of shoes. Standing in a line to wait my turn doesn’t give me that thrill. I need to be able to make a few calls, locate a pair and get on a taxi, [or] drive to the place that pair is suspected to be,” he says.
Leeson has taken advantage of social media to trade, hunt and purchase limited releases. Although, a recent purchase from Germany was a challenge due to negative perceptions around African buyers. However, through Leeson’s active Instagram and Facebook profiles, he was able to gain trust with the seller.
Globally, Nike still reigns as the most popular sneaker brand with the 2018 global footwear sales reaching $22.3 billion, representing 61% of total group revenue according to Nike’s 2018 Annual Report. It’s no surprise then that Leeson’s top picks include the Air Max 1 Anniversary Red and a pair of high-top Jordan 11 Concord which he proudly wore at his wedding.
He is excited to pass on his affection for sneakers to his children. Currently, his six-year-old son already has 40 colorful pairs of ‘sneaks’, and his five-month-old daughter is soon to follow.
Sarah Langa mackay, 26, South Africa
Collection: Luxury fashion
Estimated worth: +/- R1.9 million ($127,150)
Collection for: Investment
Sourcing rare, unique and timeless pieces that are in high demand is how fashion influencer and avid digital media content creator, Sarah Langa Mackay, manages to stay ahead. In 2011, she began her fashion journey in her first year of university by launching a blogsite showcasing “campus looks of the day”. “All I wanted to do was show someone how to mix and style everyday outfits with key items and pieces,” says Mackay.
Initially, she collected for fun and as a personal shopper and stylist for local celebrities, which meant searching and finding the right fashion pieces for her clients. As her reputation grew in the digital space, she began cementing herself as a luxury fashion brand influencer. This prompted her to intentionally source distinctive and hard-to-find fashion items that stood out. “This gave me the competitive edge needed over my peers and [as a] businesswoman,” she adds.
Her closet is exquisitely stacked with more than 200 pairs of stylish shoes and over 30 luxury one-of-a-kind handbags. Her favorite accessories include the elegant Louis Vuitton Monogram Palm Springs occasional backpack and the effortlessly chic Prada Cahier leather handbag. Amidst Christian Louboutin, Gucci and Alexander McQueen heels, her front-runners are her Amina Muaddi Begum Glass Slingback and the super-trendy Miuccia Prada Cult Flame sandals.
She proudly confesses that she has a trained eye to differentiate fake merchandise from originals. “I do not condone anything counterfeit as I feel like it robs the fashion industry, craft-makers and the original designers of their work, creativity and intellectual property,” she says.
With fashion on the rise in terms of collectibles, she sees acquiring rare luxury items as an investment that will positively contribute towards the growth of her online store, Luvant, which retails affordable pre-owned luxury apparel. “I want to offer my customers a premium experience, something they won’t get from heading to other spaces,” says Mackay.
Alan Donovan, 80, Kenya
Collection: African Art
Estimated worth: Unknown
Collecting for: Preservation and exhibition
Alan Donovan was first exposed to the world of African art as a young US diplomat based in Nigeria in 1967. After several serendipitous meetings with West African chieftains and contemporary artists, Donovan began traveling extensively to remote places across the continent such as the northern lands of Kenya where he started collecting art, beads, artefacts, weapons, adornments and textiles.
In 1970, he befriended the late Joseph Murumbi, who was the first foreign minister of Kenya, and its second vice president, which transformed his life and birthed a life-long career of collecting, displaying and selling African art. Today, Donovan’s house, a brainchild and artful conception of his partnership and collaboration with Murumbi, is one of the most critically-acclaimed private African art galleries in Kenya.
“It was Murumbi’s dream to set up a pan-African gallery in Kenya where artists from all parts of the continent could show and sell their works [as well as] to preserve, protect and promote African culture,” he says. Set up in 1972, the African Heritage House, as it’s known, is a piece of art by itself. It boasts a decorative summation of Donovan’s art collection spanning 50 years from all over Africa. So diverse and valuable, the house has become a national monument.
The interior and exterior construction design is a mosaic of indigenous and pre-colonial architecture of various African cultures. “I wanted to make my house as African as possible: its architecture, design, furniture, fittings, décor, cutlery and everything,” he says. “I designed my house as a blend of all of the Africa that I was privileged to visit along my way: the desert palaces of Morocco, the sensual Sahel mud structures, the carved wooden house posts of Nigeria and Cameroon, the palm-thatched coral stone houses of the Kenya coast and the extraordinary painted houses of Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso.” Inspiration was also drawn from the towering mud mosques of Djenné. and Timbuktu in Mali. Although his house has not been valued, one of his decorative pieces was recently valued by Sotheby’s at $400,000.
At the age of 80, he still has many hearty dreams for the place he calls home. He plans to add another 200 rooms, a conference center, a restaurant and to build a museum, to be called ‘African Journeys’, which will highlight the works of those who have dedicated their lives to African heritage as well as the pioneering artists of Africa whose careers started at the time of African independence.
James Rugami, 57, Kenya
Collection: Vinyl records
Estimated worth: KSh440,000 ($4,242)
Collecting for: Investment
Known as “Mr Records” in Kenya, James Rugami lives off music. As the country’s chief record dealer, Rugami has amassed around 55,000 vinyl records of which 3,000 form part of his personal collection. The rest he sells in his shop, Real Vinyl Guru, situated in a busy meat market in Nairobi where he also restores broken records and record players.
The store is draped in circular black discs. He’s been growing his vinyl collection and business since 1987. The selection of vinyls encompass all genres of music, including an impressive library of classic African tunes. “The output of vinyl is rich and priceless. [It has no] comparison with any other format and it’s purely original,” he says. He remembers that the very first disc record he purchased was Louis and The Good Book by legendary American jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Louis Armstrong, whose popularly known for the late-1960s hit track, What A Wonderful World.
Globally, there is a massive resurgence and renaissance of vinyl collecting. Some rare long-playing records (LPs) can trade up to $40 on auction. Classical ‘Afro’ music is even harder to find and therefore, more expensive. With thousands of Afro-selections, Rugami’s vinyl collection is a gold mine. Befittingly, his store has won the admiration of international vinyl fans and clients who sift through the archives in search of rare finds.
Dawid Venter, 42, South Africa
Estimated worth: +/- R300,000 ($20,000)
Collection for: Experience and passion
Although many people perceive gamers as adolescent boys and girls, Dawid Venter is a self-confessed console and gaming fanatic. An avid video game collector and serial champion of the South African gaming industry, Venter’s love for gaming started at the age of six with the childhood veteran game, Donkey Kong Junior. However, the Sega Dreamcast was the first video game console to inaugurate Venter’s collection.
“I originally started in 1996, but sold off [my] collection in 2006 after my mom passed away,” says Venter. He later restarted his collection in 2013. Currently, he has an impressive collection of over 30 gaming consoles. Amongst his collection are modern consoles such as Switch, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, right through to nostalgic gaming consoles including GameCube, Nintendo, Dreamcast and SEGA. “Retro collecting is something that never ends. Every generation brings new games which in time becomes retro and collectible,” he shares.
The local video game market is growing at double digits and is estimated to be worth R3.5 billion ($234 million) in 2018, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s Media and Entertainment Outlook. As a major proponent of the gaming industry in South Africa, Venter is also the co-founder, managing director and contributing author of SA Gamer.com, one of the country’s biggest gaming news and review websites. He’s had the pleasure of meeting legendary pioneers of the industry including Shinji Mikami, the creative engineer of the long-standing, mainstream video game series Resident Evil, which subsequently birthed the highest-grossing film series based on a video game in 2016.
Today, Venter has no less than 1,000 games, excluding digital titles, to enjoy in the personal comfort of a dedicated gaming room in his home. The latest games to mark his extensive collection are a CD copy of Mortal Kombat and Silpheed for his Sega CD accessory. Interestingly, if Venter were to be left on a deserted island, the only game he would take with him is the futuristic and combat racing game titled Wipeout Omega Collection.
Nnennaya Fakoya-Smith, 34, Nigeria
Collection: Postcards, stamps, coins and banknotes
Estimated worth: Unknown
Collecting for: Investment
When one hears deltiologist, philatelist and numismatist, the first thoughts that may arise may be that these grandiose terms are used to label medical practitioners. Contrary to that, these three illustrative words are expressively used by the esteemed Nigerian tourism promoter, Nnennaya Fakoya-Smith, to represent her unique obsessions. The descriptions define a postcard collector, stamp collector as well as a coins and banknotes collector, respectively.
Fakoya-Smith has been collecting elements that represent the culture and history of a people since she was seven years old. “My dad used to collect stamps and coins, and I inherited the hobby from him. He also used to send my siblings and me postcards from the countries he visited, which I truly enjoyed reading,” she says. Fast forward 27 years, she has over 100 stamps, postcards as well as a diverse currency collection from across 36 countries. “I love the banknotes and coins because they are vintage collections. [They] are no longer in use in their various countries. They have become rare valuables among my collection,” she shares.
Many are baffled by her interests, especially in this digital age. Although, it is on the internet from which people trade their coins, which can demand a premium over 1,000 times their original value. A 1969 2-and-½ shillings Africa Biafra coin is currently selling at N36,851.85 ($101.31) on eBay. “The first time I found out that stamps and coins were valuable investments was when I bumped into the United Nations stamps and other coin websites,” she says.
True to her millennial nature, Fakoya-Smith regularly makes use of social media to meet and collaborate with people who are like-minded as well as create awareness for these communities. She plans to retain her collection and similarly, like her father, pass it down to future generations. She hopes to open a stamp and coin gallery in the future.
Thomas Collier, 37, Ethiopia
Collection: Jordan sneakers
Estimated Worth: +/- £46,500 ($57,351)
Collecting for: Personal apparel and nostalgia
Thomas Collier is an Ethiopian London-based photographer who grew up in the “golden ages”, loving basketball and watching Michael Jordan, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Penny Hardaway. This gave rise to a fetish for sneakers associated with old generation sports players. To this regard, he has bought every pair of Nike Jordan’ sneaks’ that have ever been released – a feat that would leave any dedicated sneakerhead in awe. “I don’t see [my sneakers] as an investment, more like works of art. [They] remind me of my childhood and daydreaming of one day playing in the NBA,” says Collier.
Collier began this dream collection in 1998. Currently, he has bought close to 300 pairs, with his favorite shoe undoubtedly being the Jordan 11’s. Collier buys all his sneakers from retailers and not resellers. Furthermore, when it comes to solidifying his selection, he’d go as far as camping in a tent outside a Nike store. This was the case in London when Nike had the highly-anticipated special release of the Air Foamposite One Galaxy colorway shoe in 2012.
“I thought I was going to be the only one [camping], but I was soon joined by about 300 other sneakerheads from all over Europe who arrived just to buy these shoes,” he says. Globally, sneaker fanatics still regard these as the most legendary and publicized sneakers of the century. They’re currently reselling on eBay for $700, for pre-owned and around $2,499, fresh from the box.
Apart from the illustrious designs of his sneakers, Collier treasures the fact that for every pair he has, he can find a picture of his hailed players wearing them. Even though his dream of becoming an NBA player didn’t materialize, his complete range of Jordan’s iconic designer shoes is consolation enough.
Katherine Munro, 74, South Africa
Estimated Worth: +/- R8.5 million ($569,000)
Collecting for: Knowledge
Reading and discovering the world through other people’s writing is Katherine Munro’s devotion. A seasoned lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Munro enjoys gathering items of knowledge, specifically ephemera, antique maps and non-fiction books.
She began collecting in the 1950s as a child. Today, she has amassed around 17,000 books, mostly written in English and a few in German, French and Afrikaans. “[I was] fortunate to have a family and a husband who built me a library for my books,” says Munro. Within her library, Munro runs private tours and talks to discuss interesting books and book collecting.
Almost all her books are pre-owned. The genres include history, travel, geography, politics and the Folio Society collection, to name a few. To this day, the excitement of escaping into a world full of thrills, surprises and the appeal of dusty old bookshops in cities around the world is something Munro can’t resist. There, she savors the dusty smell of books not opened (for maybe 20 years); discovering things hidden in books such as money, birthday cards, peculiar bookmarks or pressed flowers. “Every book tells a story. Immediately through a book, you can [feel] the intimacy of someone else’s life. [It’s] also fascinating to read inscriptions in books – gifts to other people or a book signed by the author,” says Munro.
Within her career as an academic, Munro credits books as the stock in trade to spread ideas and stimulate young minds. Her current focus is building a book collection of the city of Johannesburg: focusing on the rich history, people, town-planning and literature.
Newton Jibunoh, 81, Nigeria
Collection: African art
Estimated worth: Priceless
Collection for: Preservation
Nigeria is quickly becoming an art collectors’ haven; however, for Newton Jibunoh, the man who has driven across the Sahara four times, African art collection is an old trade. His love of the history, civilization and religion of the African black race sparked his reverence for African art. This made him an eager collector from a very young age, but he didn’t start to collect seriously until the early 1960s, after his first visit to the British Museum in London. “Seeing our works in a foreign land and being appreciated by many triggered my need to collect even further. It wasn’t just because I enjoyed art anymore, but I felt obligated to safeguard our works,” says Jibunoh.
He grew up as a choir boy and member of the early churches run by missionaries. During this time, he observed how heritage, religion and culture were stripped off the surrounding indigenous villages before being converted into Christianity. “I witnessed most of [their artworks] being carted away. They were various bronze works from Benin and Ife, woodworks from Igbo-Ukwu and Nok Terracotta from the Nok culture. I [later] wrote home from London requesting that whatever was left, should be kept for me,” he says. These formed his first collection.
Throughout the years, he has acquired a wide variety of African crafts ranging from paintings, sculptures, shrines to artefacts. “I recall that I would spend my entire one month’s salary purchasing artworks,” he shares. One painting by Akin Salu called One Man, One Wife cost him 60% of his monthly salary which he paid over three months. Eventually, when his home could no longer contain his passion, he was moved to open the first private museum in Nigeria, DIDI Museum. It now houses close to 1,000 artworks.
He considers his collection priceless: an investment in kind towards the historical preservation of the continent’s unwritten and continuing story. Some of his collection is loaned to institutions, homes and galleries across Africa and Europe, and others are registered with the national museum, making it close to impossible to auction.
Sonal Maherali, 39, Kenya
Collection: Luxury bags and shoes
Estimated worth: KSh20.7 million ($200,000)
Collecting for: Personal accessorizing and investment
Ever since Sonal Maherali was a little girl, she’s had a great obsession for the finer things in life. A mother of four and arguably, East Africa’s queen of fashion, Maherali’s walk-in closet is drizzled with glamorous high-priced shoes, bags, perfumes, clothes and jewelry.
“I grew up from a very humble background. Unlike most kids who were fascinated by toys, I loved the lore of Cinderella and her coveted glass slipper. That slipper became an obsession,” she says.
Not too shy to impress, the stylish fashionista has a designer collection to enviously flaunt which inspired her to launch a YouTube channel in 2010. She has since drawn over 68,000 subscribers to whom she shares her appreciation of fashion, style and her extravagant lot of Christian Louboutin heels. Her luxury collection also includes high-priced bags like the Lady Dior, the rare Diorama and the exceptional quilted 2.55 Chanel shoulder bag commissioned by Gabriel ‘Coco’ Chanel in 1955.
Her lavish and custom-made items average between $3,000 and $13,000, individually. Some pieces she considers priceless. This includes a special Trash Pigalle by Christian Louboutin that was custom-made with items she sent to the shoemaker. Although her tailormade accessories hold significant memories, they’re not the priciest items in her closet. “[The most expensive] would have to be the first Birkin bag I was offered by Hermès. It set me back a cool KSh1.6 million ($15,400) while the second one, a Fjord leather in blood orange was around KSh1.3million ($12,500),” she shares.
Birkin handbags are rare and can fetch a fortune in re-sale markets. In this light, Maherali has launched an online store, closetsm.com, where she sells pre-owned items from her closet that she no longer wears and that are still chic, trendy and timeless.
Marc Pendlebury, 38, South Africa
Estimated worth: +/- R2.5 million ($169,000)
Collection for: Consumption and investment
For some people, the pleasure alone of consuming a premium whisky is enough, but not for Marc Pendlebury. In 2007, he progressed from whisky drinker to collector when he began purchasing more whisky bottles than he consumed. “I love everything about the world of whisky: the flavors, people, production process, history and the places it is made. I wanted to try as many different whiskies as I could,” says Pendlebury.
He’s since collected about 1,200 distilled bottles of the finest whiskies from across the world – some acquired for consumptive pleasure and others for appreciation. Pendlebury takes pleasure in visiting prominent distilleries, famous whisky bars and festivals in search of limited or discontinued bottles similar to his Japanese Chichibu whisky collection. “[Their] whiskies are near-impossible to find and are expensive on the secondary market. That makes each release I secure quite an accomplishment,” he adds. To date, the most significant spend he’s incurred was on the highly-lauded Springbank Millennium Collection which he part-purchased with two of his friends. The rare set includes six whiskies ranging in ages from 25 to 50 years old and is worth approximately R400,000 ($26,767).
Whether Scottish or Irish, bourbon or rye, whisky returns out-perform every other collectible asset including classic cars, art and fine wine. According to the 2019 Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, whisky topped the list of the most desired objects with the value of rare whisky rising by 582% over the past 10 years. Although Pendlebury doesn’t buy to invest, he does recognize that collectively, his whisky selection holds a substantial monetary value.
Pendlebury’s greatest pride includes becoming an inducted member of the Keepers of the Quaich, an elite international society that recognizes outstanding individuals committed to the Scotch whisky industry. He is also the founder and co-owner of a dedicated whisky bar, WhiskyBrothers, based in Sandton.
Ryan Herman, 30, South Africa
Collection: Nike and Jordan Sneakers
Estimated worth: R75,000 ($5,000)
Collecting for: Personal apparel
Ryan Herman has always had a love and appreciation for sneakers. He sees himself as a silent member in the game and not necessarily influenced by the millennial social trend of sneaker culture. “I don’t have the common ‘I saw the cool kids wearing it’ story. I’ve always had a love for sneakers,” Herman says.
Back in the early 2000s, when companies didn’t send emails or newsletters to remind customers what sneakers were being released, Herman would have to make regular trips to the mall and town to see which sneakers were on shelf. “I remember [a time] when you didn’t have to stand in line or even do the raffle system because the sneakers were all just there,” says Herman.
As a 15-year-old, sneaker-obsessed teenager, he remembers how he would complete household chores to earn his next pair of sneakers. Fast forward to adulthood and financial independence, not one month passes by without Herman purchasing at least one or two pairs. At age 30, Herman has amassed 50 pairs of Nike and Jordan sneakers. “My collection consists solely of sneakers that I like and wear, and I’ve always loved the Nike brand; their unique styles, colorways and their sportswear too,” he shares. To usher in the summer, Herman has already added to his footgear collection the latest addition to the Air Max lineage, the multi-colored Air Max 270 React ‘Bauhaus’, which debuted in July.
Kavita Chellaram, 62, Nigeria
Collection: African art
Estimated worth: Unknown
Collecting for: Investment
Kavita chellaram is an influential Nigerian art curator of Indian-descent. She began collecting art when she moved to Nigeria as a way to explore the culture of her adopted country. The first works of art she bought were in 1979. These were workmanships of the highly astute and multi-talented artist Jimoh Buraimoh and the late Twins Seven-Seven. Her passion gradually grew over the years, leading her to build the Arthouse Contemporary in 2007.
“When I started collecting, there were very few galleries and exhibition spaces in Lagos. Often, artists sold out of their cars,” she explains. As a result, Arthouse quickly grew into an international auction house and exhibition venue.
Over time, Chellaram has acquired approximately 400 artworks. She’s particularly drawn to Nigerian artists of the modern period including artists of the Zaria Art Society, who were making artworks around the time of Nigeria’s looming independence. According to Chellaram, these artists incorporated traditional narratives and styles along with Western training, creating a unique visual style that developed modernism in Nigeria. “Many of my favorite artists [include] Uche Okeke, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Simon Okeke,” she says.
Her collection is ever-evolving as she discovers new artists as well as finds rare artwork. Some of her most recent acquisitions are works by Abdoulaye Konaté, the artist from Mali who makes beautiful textile pieces, as well as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African artist. “I also recently added an artwork by Kudanzai Chiurai, an artist from Zimbabwe who works in photography and oils,” she says.
Chellaram sits on the African Acquisition Committee at the Tate Modern, an institution that houses the United Kingdom’s national collection of British and international contemporary art. She is also on the Advisory Board of the School of Traditional Arts under the Prince Charles Foundation. Moreover, she has a non-profit organization arm, Arthouse Foundation, which facilitates artist residencies and support programs for emerging artists.
– Mashokane Mahlo
‘Surrounded By The Richest People In The World’
An entrepreneur in Ghana collects and frames FORBES AFRICA magazines.
Kofi Asmah, the founding partner of Gyandoh Asmah & Co, has been collecting FORBES and FORBES AFRICA magazines for the last 15 years.
When he was still an attorney, he visited one of his client’s offices in Ghana and that was the first time he came across a FORBES magazine on world billionaires.
“It inspired me to want to be on that list one day,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Asmah made it his mission to collect the magazines and stack them up to form a mini-museum in his house.
“What I did was to rip the covers off and have them framed,” he says.
“I actually have about 20 to 25 of the top issues framed, the ones with Warren Buffet, Aliko Dangote and just really the big heavyweights. I use that as a theme for my beach house, where I created a FORBES-themed room. The whole idea is that it’s a rich lifestyle and while you’re in the room, you are surrounded by the richest people in the world. It’s for people to know that these are my heroes.”
His favorite issue to date of FORBES AFRICA is the February 2019 edition that featured Africa’s billionaires.
And his message for FORBES AFRICA’s eighth anniversary last month?
“We need to send FORBES AFRICA to every corner of the world so people can be educated about Africa has to offer,” he says.
– Karen Mwendera
‘Old Cars Make Me Nostalgic’
A vintage car collector in Mauritius says nothing can beat driving an old car through the swaying sugarcane fields near his home.
One of Mauritius’ most famous vintage car collectors is Viju Gowreesunkur, a sugar farmer whose home in Central Flacq by the ubiquitous sugarcane plantations, is a repository of gleaming metal. In his unassuming, musty garage, under greasy white sheets, are some of the island’s most classic vehicles.
The Rolls-Royces and Cabriolets stand out in the ubiquitous green of the sugarcane fields, taking unsuspecting passersby to another era.
“I love old things, old houses, old furniture… and old cars that make me nostalgic,” the 60-something Gowreesunkur, who also has many vintage cars parked in the front yard of his home, told FORBES AFRICA when we visited him in mid-2017.
“When you see an old car, it brings back memories of your parents, an old film… the cars are that and so many things, you can’t really express it.”
The die-hard antique enthusiast says he has as many as 50 vintage cars in his collection, possibly a record in all of Mauritius. A respected senior at Mauritius’ Vintage and Classic Car Owners Association (VCCOA), he regularly attends meets and races.
In his garage are such jewels as a stunning burgundy 1950 Opel, six Chevrolets, six Jaguars, three horse wagons, a black Daimler that belonged to the Governor of Mauritius in the colonial period, and three Rolls-Royces including a 1956 Silver Clouds Rolls-Royce “believed to have belonged to Marilyn Monroe”. Gowreesunkur’s first car was a beige Citroën that he has now given up. Every car he owns has a story, he says.
“I drive for pleasure… When you drive an old car through the sugarcane fields, you don’t feel anything, you don’t feel the bumps, it’s just incredible!”
– Renuka Methil
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
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