The Tanzanian tycoon who started life barefoot and bedding down with the farm animals in a tiny hut has died aged 75. Reginald Mengi who once appeared on the cover of Forbes Africa – with $550 million to his name – never made a secret of his humble roots and in later life poured millions into helping the less fortunate.
Mengi made his way out of poverty in Tanzania, where his family had a smallholding, by winning a scholarship to an accounting college in Glasgow, Scotland. He dropped out of his first course, took night classes, and worked as a bus conductor and cleaner to pay his way. He end up as an accountant with PwC and was posted back to Africa, to Nairobi, before securing another job with the company back home in Dar es Salaam.
It was the want of a pen that sparked Mengi’s mind on the way to a fortune. The socialist days of Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania there were often shortages of mundane items like pens and pencils.
Mengi had been searching the streets of Dar es Salaam for one for an entire day when he ran into a friend who knew someone, who knew someone else, who could export pen parts to Tanzania.
He assembled them on his bedroom floor.“That little business gave me my first million dollars,” Mengi told Forbes Africa in 2014. Mengi went on to trade in everything from shoe polish and toilet paper to soap, detergent and natural skin exfoliator – he said the latter was merely bottled mud from the sea bed.
He once boasted that no one could spend a day in Tanzania without touching one of his products. Mengi used this money to buy up a string of radio stations, TV channels and newspapers that put him on the way to his fortune.