not long now

Rebrab, Fotso, Benjelloun… How much longer will Africa’s billionaire boys club be at the helm?

By Aurélie M’Bida

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Posted on July 25, 2023 15:02

File photo of Othman Benjelloun.
File photo of Othman Benjelloun. © Jean-Michel Ruiz/CAIF for JA.

In a few years, many leading figures in industry such as Rebrab, Fotso, and Benjelloun will have to pass the torch. Their contribution to the African economy is undeniable. But their departure also represents a tremendous opportunity for renewal.

“I want to die on stage. That’s where I was born.” The words of Egyptian-born singer Dalida must be ringing in the ears of Issad Rebrab as he puts on his suit in the morning before leaving for the headquarters of Cevital, one of Algeria’s largest private conglomerates, or as he gazes across the Bay of Algiers from his penthouse.

Changing landscape

The Moroccan group Bank of Africa has its Othman Benjelloun; the diversified Cameroonian industrial group Fotso had its Victor Fotso; NSIA, a pioneer in bank-insurance in West Africa, is embodied by Jean Kacou Diagou; in the DRC, Rawbank, leader in the banking sector, bears the name of the Rawji family, which laid its foundations; even the French group Castel, which quenches the continent’s thirst with its beers and other soft drinks, is inseparably associated with the ubiquitous Pierre Castel, etc.

Dalida beautifully symbolised this state of mind. The Cairo-born star proclaimed her desire to sing until her last breath, to end her international career with her audience. In business, running a company is akin to being on stage. Death, meanwhile, is meant figuratively – although for some octogenarians or even nonagenarians, one ends up wondering.

In the next few years in Africa, entrepreneurship is expected to undergo profound change as several leaders of large companies depart. Business icons will say their goodbyes, bequeathing a series of successes. These changing of the guard, which will often occur within families, will give way to an environment more conducive to new ideas and approaches that will shape the industrial landscape of the continent.

New generation of leaders

The departure of these leading figures will undoubtedly be significant. However, it is essential to see it as an opportunity to be seized, that of rejuvenation and stronger growth. A new generation of leaders will take over and shape the future of African industry.

Africa has a vast reservoir of young talent eager to contribute to the development of their continent. These emerging leaders bring new perspectives and technological know-how. They are well aware of the challenges and opportunities facing Africa. They are well placed to build on the achievements of their predecessors and to put their companies on track for the fourth industrial revolution.

Since the telephone entered our lives 150 years ago, no one marvels at Graham Bell’s genius anymore, even though some credit him with the paternity and merit of this revolutionary invention. Knowing what we owe, to whom and why does not mean we should remain in blissful, nostalgic contemplation of the past.

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