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The Madhvanis: The Industrialists Who Have Tasted Sucrose And Success

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The Madhvanis started with sugar and now lead diversified global businesses. In a rare interview from their home base of Kakira in Uganda, Mayur and Kamlesh Madhvani, the Joint Managing Directors of the Madhvani Group, share a century-old tale of extraordinary family enterprise and how they are continuing the legacy of their forefathers. 


It’s  a bumpy 100km drive from the Ugandan capital of Kampala to the town of Kakira in the east. Past the swaying sugarcane plantations and green hillocks and roundabouts intermittently featuring the words ‘Madhvani’ and ‘Sugar’ that announce you have arrived, a tranquil avenue, immaculately lined by pine trees and acacia, leads to Kakira.

From this little town, an international empire was built, with a reach in far and distant lands. To this little town, have many a cavalcade, bearing presidents and global business tycoons, made its way.  

At the sugar factory that is the pulsating heart of Kakira, the quiet of the verdant landscape rapidly gives way to the deafening sound of production. 

The sound of enterprise, the sound of African industry.

Close to the equator and Jinja, the source of the Nile, I am in the ‘cane yard’ of Kakira Sugar Limited, watching giant machines noisily swallow up truckloads of sugarcane and crush them into pulp.

READ MORE | Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year

Under the sweltering African sun, these monsters, also known as feeder tables, are four in number around me, relentlessly chopping tons of sugarcane fed by a long line of at least 400 trucks piled high with unruly cane stalks gathered from the fields in this eastern corner of Uganda. 

This is the back-end and the beginning of a well-oiled factory process that will eventually turn sugarcane into foamy rivers of juice and finally sugar.

The entire process, from feeder table to sugar crystal, is completed in eight hours, resulting in bags of refined sugar at the other end.

Inside the factory, even the air is calorific, with the saccharine-sweet smell of sugar – and success. The factory is the soul of the 14,000-hectare Kakira Sugar Estate, which provides a livelihood to some 9,300 direct employees, and sugar to the rest of Uganda and East Africa.       

It is the core business of The Madhvani Group, Uganda’s biggest sugar producer. And everything within a 10km radius from here, belongs to the group.

Generations of the Madhvani family have been based in Kakira, and much has happened here over the last century: success, strife, destruction and resurrection. 

It all started in 1908, when at the age of 14, the family’s venerable patriarch, Mujlibhai Madhvani undertook the long and arduous journey from India to Uganda, to join his uncles Vithaldas and Kalidas Haridas in their shop in Iganga. By the time he was 20, Mujlibhai was tasked with opening and managing a shop in Jinja, a town at the source of the Nile River.

The waters ran deep in his veins as he was determined to make a success of his enterprise. He was appointed the Managing Director of Vithaldas Haridas & Company, which in 1918, bought around 800 acres of land in Kakira. The sugar factory subsequently started operating here in 1930, with a cane crushing capacity of 150 tons per day.

Mujlibhai built his empire on sugarcane, and laid the foundation for Kakira’s development, also empowering the communities within. Kakira grew around the factory and family home.

Soon, Mujlibhai Madhvani & Co. was also manufacturing sweets, soap, cooking oil, ghee, tea, margarine and pastry shortening. It also made cotton and became the agents for imported goods such as Goodyear tyres.

The late Manubhai, Mujlibhai’s second son, writes in his book, Tide of Fortune, an account of the family’s tale, with British author Giles Foden: “My father was the first person in Jinja to own a radio, which he bought in 1938. He purchased a record player in 1940 and soon afterwards, he became the proud owner of a 9.5mm film projector. His love of cars led him to purchase an extremely expensive powder-blue Buick, as well as an Oldsmobile.”

After Mujlibhai’s death in 1958, his eldest son, Jayantbhai, took over the business. Manubhai worked closely with him. By 1970, the Madhvani Group, according to Tide of Fortune, was at its peak with rapid annual growth of at least one new manufacturing unit a year. Manubhai says of his brother Jayantbhai: “I admired his humility and his commitment not only to serve the family, but also the community at large.”  

The factory is the soul of the 14,000-hectare Kakira Sugar Estate, which provides a livelihood to some 9,300 direct employees, and sugar to the rest of Uganda and East Africa. Picture: Forbes Africa

And he further pens: “How did we select the industries we were expanding into? It was a combination of two or three policies, really. The first was to seek vertical integration. If you make beer, you will need bottles, so why not manufacture them and some plastic crates as well?”

Unfortunately, for the Madhvani family, tragedy struck when Jayantbhai died of a massive heart attack in 1971.  

Politically too, Uganda’s destiny was changing.

When Idi Amin came to power in 1971, Manubhai was thrown into the Makindye military prison, an infamous hell hole, by the ruler for 21 days. The Madhvanis, along with the rest of the Asians living in Uganda, were notoriously expelled by Amin in 1972. The family relocated to London and then Kenya.

The sugar mill operation, which was producing 83,000 tons of sugar and contributing to 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was destroyed, looted and run down.

“Production had been at a standstill since the end of 1983 and the great hangar where sugar had once been produced was now a home to birds and animals,” says a line in Manubhai’s book.

When Amin was toppled, the Madhvanis returned, to the vestiges of their farm and factory, and a family squabble, with a segment of the family taking over the business in 1980.

The property was returned and the process of recovery started in 1985, with Manubhai and Mayur, Mujlibhai’s youngest son.

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“When you repossess assets that are completely destroyed and run down, there is obviously a great emotional side to this,” says Mayur, the Madhvani Group’s Joint Managing Director, when we meet him in his offices at the Kakira sugar factory on a sun-filled afternoon in March.

The offices he shares with his nephew and Joint Managing Director, Kamlesh, Manubhai’s elder son, are adorned with tasteful MF Husain paintings, family memorabilia and redolent with the smell of incense. The British-educated Mayur, wearing a crisp white linen shirt, warmly invites us to his office space.

“For us, it was not so much a business decision, I think it was more of an emotional decision but it ran into the business arena because we knew that once the industry would come up, there would be growth,” continues Mayur about the challenging 1980s.

Kamlesh, 64, who joined the business a few years later, and is the younger of the two, chips in: “Kakira is where the roots of the family are. What we learned very quickly was that it is far easier to build something new than to rehabilitate something that is in total disrepair. It is not only the physical assets but also the mentality of the people.”

They had to work hard to return it to the glory days of the past.

“When we were here before 1972, we had connections with a lot of leaders. Mrs Indira Gandhi visited us, and also the Kennedys; they all used to visit Kakira. Martin Luther King was here, to meet my brother. My father of course is the pioneer. I mean if you look at the way the estate is laid out, it was this man in the early 1950s that laid it out,” recalls Mayur.

 Today, the Madhvani Group is one of the biggest diversified private-sector businesses in Uganda, with assets of $750 million for the Kakira sugar business, producing 180,000 tons of sugar, 74,000 tons of molasses and 22 million liters of ethanol.

The sugar factory also makes green electricity. Very little of the sugarcane is wasted. The fiber from the process, or the bagasse residue, is burned in large boilers to generate steam that drives the turbines.

The facility also generates 51MW of electricity daily and of that, sells 32MW to the national grid, “enough to light up Kampala”, says Mayur. This is one of the biggest bagasse co-generation power plants in Africa.

A tour of the sprawling factory is rounded off with a visit to a storage warehouse with mountains of 50kg sugar bags, stacked from floor to ceiling at any given time, ready to be hauled onto waiting trucks. 

At an altitude of about 4,000ft, Kakira is lush, fertile territory offering year-round harvest. The sugar factory stops only for a month every year for maintenance. It processes its own cane but also buys from the farmers, or the out-growers, living outside the nucleus of the estate. This is an association built from Mujlibhai’s time.

Kamlesh and Mayur Madhvani, the Joint Managing Directors of the Madhvani Group. Picture: Forbes Africa

“There was a genuine affection when we came back [in 1985]. But it was very nice to say the Madhvanis are back but the Madhvanis are not magicians,” recounts Mayur. “It takes a lot of hard work and strategizing, and with government support (President Yoweri Museveni was newly elected at the time), we managed, through our small efforts, to instil in him, the aspect of business not necessarily being a bad thing. He was the one that allowed us to move forward and put this company right and pay taxes.” Fast forward to now, and the group’s focus continues to be to build its core businesses.

It is commencing a new $150 million sugar project in the northern district of Uganda named Amuru, working closely with the government. It has a sugar project in Rwanda, and projects in South Sudan and Tanzania are also on the cards.

“If you are manufacturing food commodities, it’s going to grow and this is the bread basket of the world. The Ugandans went through hell with Idi Amin but you never heard about famine because we can put anything in the ground here. We are so blessed,” says Mayur.

Cashing in on the salubrious climate and natural resources, another focus area for the group is tourism. There are nine lodges that it currently operates in Africa including in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

One of the ways in which it opts to stay relevant is with partnerships. 

 “In the past, we used to think we can run [the business] ourselves and have those old-fashioned conglomerates. Those days are gone. You need to tap into the international market and get good world-class partners to work with and work with the right value for the African context,” offers Kamlesh.

And this applies to management as well, to further professionalize what is a family-run business.

“Most businesses that have started have been family businesses, if you look at Walmart, Ford, etc. But what you have to do is move away from the family business and let it become a little bit more professionalized,” adds Mayur.

“You want to avoid falling into the trap where the first generation creates, the second generation enjoys and the third generation destroys. We are the second generation moving to the third. The Madhvanis have broken the mould, but now [it’s not] for us to think we are infallible. We need to set up something that other family businesses can emulate, and follow other families that have succeeded in this. For that, you need to have a business that is professionally-run, yet have the family involved to give direction and not lose total touch or control.”

For this reason, the group mandatorily organizes three meetings a year in Bermuda, attended by family members and stakeholders.

But why this location in the Atlantic Ocean, far from Kakira? “We set up our companies in Bermuda in 1958, so we have been there some serious years now,” says Mayur. “In those days, perhaps it’s correct to say Bermuda was a tax haven, but now, the corporate tax structures have changed. Bermuda becomes a good venue because it is one of those tax havens that is also respected by various jurisdictions and for us, it is a historical fact that we were based in Bermuda. Our boards are all there.”

In Bermuda, the family also meets with members not actively involved in the business. Even the youngsters who are a part of the business have to report on their activities.

 “We present our reports to the family and I think the secret that myself and Kamlesh are looking at is that the business has to be such that it survives this turmoil of create, enjoy and destroy and there is transparency. The secret is transparency. The more transparency you have in a business, the more likely it is going to survive the long-term because then individuals are not allowed to mess up the day-to-day control systems,” says Mayur.

“Leadership is something that you grow into by an accident of life. I am not the oldest of this family. I have two brothers but they are much older. Kamlesh’s dad, and my elder brother Jayant, sort of had the experience of my father. So did Pratap and Sur, my elder brothers and then things changed. We came back here and I worked closely with Kamlesh’s father and he had a lot of knowledge and I had the advantage I had. We got on as a team wonderfully, and in any business, you always need the ying and the yang. Kamlesh and I work very closely but you will find that each one of us is very good in certain aspects of the business. That is so important.”

As Joint Managing Directors, their offices are adjacent to each other.

“We have this little window and we shout at each other or talk to each other whenever we want,” laughs Mayur.

“We are more like brothers, but he is still my nephew. As children, when we were at boarding school in the United Kingdom, his mother was always worried and I had to look out for him.”

Looking ahead, the Madhvani Group plans to produce rum, vodka and gin, predominantly for the export market. All of these are by-products of the same crop – sugarcane. The distillery at the estate produces 22 million liters of Extra Neutral Alcohol or ethanol a year.

“Sugar is the main product, [but] it’s quite possible in the time to come that some of these other activities from the by-products will become the main product. Such as electricity and alcohol… We are even putting up a plant for carbonated waters coming up next year,” says Mayur.

The Kakira sugar factory back in the day; the original sugar mill of 1930 is preserved to this day within the factory compound at Kakira. Picture: Supplied

But Uganda, a part of the East African Community (EAC), has a population of about 45 million and a poor rating score in the EAC when it comes to corruption. Surely, that’s discouraging for investors?

“The biggest problem we have in Africa is nearly 58% of the population is below the age of 30 and these individuals really do not want to hear about the wars because it is history. They are looking to see Africa catapult itself to another level. What the businessman needs is political stability and structured legal systems so that you feel comfortable doing your activity and I think [that is the only way] you will see Africa grow,” says Mayur.

“And yes, we do have corruption; it is endemic, you have corruption in every country. You have got to stop it. You have to have the right systems in place and you have to have total transparency on how businesses are conducted. Countries have gone through these stages and I think you have got to make an effort to try and eliminate corruption actively, without lip service. Now, action needs to be taken. If you look at Rwanda, it has progressed amazingly. As a businessman, what I have seen is the efficiency in which the government works, and the government takes decisions very pragmatically. That is the kind of model one needs to follow.”

At this point, Kamlesh interjects to say decisions taken must be implemented too.

 “It leads to frustration. In Uganda, you have the President who has tremendous vision, and his vision towards the private sector driving the economy becoming the engine of the economy is absolutely spot-on, but there is no follow up,” agrees Mayur.

As in other countries of the EAC, in Uganda too, private-public partnerships may be the way forward and it takes effort from the private sector to lead that charge.

  “The politics of Africa is very similar. Leadership is important but then [you have to] have growth cycles driven by the private sector. I remember there was a time when in Uganda, prior to the expulsion of the Asians in 1972, to do business was criminal. If you were a businessman, you were regarded as a crook. Today, it is instilled that everyone should do business; business is a good thing. There are positive changes.”

The Madhvani Group’s sugar project in Amuru, in northern Uganda, for example, will be owned 51% by the government and 49% by the group and it will be managing it.

“Eventually, the government will offload the shares to the general public, but I think it is important for all private sector businesses to try to involve the community, the population around you,” says Mayur.

“Kenya’s President Jomo Kenyatta gave a good analogy when we left Uganda. He said ‘in the case of you Madhvani, you are the tree and the tree has fruit and if you share the fruit with the local community, the tree will get water’… For instance, we make the products, but we don’t do the distribution, we allow the others, we have our out-growers.”

 “The farmers benefit more, we have a very successful joint venture NGO with them,” adds Kamlesh. “Essentially, we convinced the farmers to contribute a certain amount of money which we will also contribute and this money goes to finance roads, clinics, health facilities and orphanages. This is one quite unique experiment. The farmers have voluntarily sort of parted with money.”

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 For farmers like 48-year-old Naitema Godfrey, who owns 48 acres of land and has been an out-grower for the Madhvani Group for the last 15 years, sugarcane is everything. Calling himself a “sugarcane millionaire”, he says: “The food crop has given us money, power, sugar and electricity.” 

Another out-grower, Robert Waako, who has been supplying sugarcane to the Madhvanis for the last 26 years, says he has been able to put his six children through school and college; four of them are software engineers today.  

On the cards for the Madhvani Group is a possible listing in the future. The group also operates properties in India, and is big on religious tourism with hotels in famous pilgrimage sites.

“Indians are very religious, they go to these sites, but don’t have a good place to stay. We built a beautiful four-star hotel in Tirupati. We are now opening one in Bodh Gaya, and we have in Rajkot. At Rishikesh, we have the land, and we are looking at Shirdi and Benares. They are all in the pipeline.”

Back home in Uganda, the group are also big in packaging and steel.

The discovery of oil in the country has made investors and the private sector sit up to the opportunities to fund development.

The Madhvanis are also keen to hop on to the bandwagon.

“We are looking for good partners to work with. We have our infrastructure companies, also working on the logistics side,” offers Mayur, but says Africa’s real strength is the green economy.

“I think oil is overplayed, and is not going to solve our problems. I think oil brings problems in itself, from an environmental point of view and the point of view of not becoming too reliant on this one product. Look at Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; they are all looking at alternatives now. The one thing you have got to remember in Africa is we have the weather, and we have vast tracks of land that are fertile. I think Africa can be a great grain basket for the world.”

The next generation of the Madhvanis are in line to take the company to the future. Mayur’s 34-year-old daughter Tanya, who is based in Rome, is responsible for managing the hotel business.

His nephew Ronnie was tasked with reviving the packaging business and he has built it into “a multi-million enterprise through his creativity and marketing efforts”.

The caveat is that family members who are involved in the business must contribute to its growth. Kamlesh and Mayur too came up learning the ropes the hard way.

“We have enough youngsters in business. But just employing family members for the sake of employing them and giving them a posh office is totally wrong and it hasn’t worked. What you have to do is contribute, and when you do, you also get a share of the success as an individual,” says Mayur.

“Basically, we are all fortunate we had good role models to follow. If you read my father’s book, you will know we had our own turmoil in the family. Kakira did not come to us and say ‘here is the key’; we had to fight for it. We had to fight for it from other family members as well. We are not the perfect family; we had to prove ourselves [in addition to] the passion we had [for the business]. That is the type of determination that made it work,” says Kamlesh. 

READ MORE | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

“We started at zero…” adds Mayur.

Today, the family members all have their own businesses too, and in different countries. “I have my own companies. Kamlesh has his. I have vast real estate in Orlando, we all have assets in Europe, North America and India. But we have been taught to be low-profile,” says Mayur.

The family live in bungalows near the factory in Kakira, minutes from each other. There is nowhere else they would rather be. They have their own airstrip and private planes.

“This is utopia for us,” says Kamlesh.

Succession planning is key in ensuring the Madhvani legacy lives on. Mayur is cognizant of this truism.

“We have reached an age where we know the inevitable is coming. We have to witness the change so we can actually guide that change to some extent, rather than create a vacuum and arrive at a situation where there is no smooth handover,” he says.

“We will have to leave that to the next generation. The important thing is to make sure that whatever business that we have, we maintain a world-class lead in them. Today, our sugar factory is the most modern in the world, and more and more we are moving towards automation, and everybody is going to still need sugar,” says Kamlesh.

“In the end, you don’t work for the money, you work for the passion of it all.” The bags and packets of sugar that go out of this little town of Kakira are testament to the fertile bounties of the land, and the story of a family from India that, through enterprise, resilience and industry, found its fortune in the fields in a beautiful corner of Africa.

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African Of The Year

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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. 

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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.”

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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.

READ MORE: Deals, Dollars and Developments On The African Continent

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

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Africa’s Aficionados And Their Eclectic Collections

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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

Collection: Antiques

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

Collection: Wine

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

Collection: Sneakers

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.

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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

Collection: Gaming

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.

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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

Collection: Books

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.

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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.

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Marc Pendlebury, 38, South Africa

Collection: Whisky

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.

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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.

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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


SIDE BARS

‘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

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Cover Story

Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

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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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