Is trade still dynamic, in sharp decline or completely insignificant? At a time when global inflation is reaching new heights and geopolitical ... balances are being reconfigured, we take a look at Sino-African relations and the issues underlying the partnerships between the continent and the Asian giant.
Abi Jaoudi (Liberia)
Who doesn’t know Abi Jaoudi in Liberia? The family has given its name to a chain of supermarkets. And George, its patriarch, is at the head of a group that distributes both food and vehicles. He also owns casinos, hotels, restaurants…and many other businesses. Reputed to be close to former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the family is just as close to George Weah, her successor. But this didn’t stop them from having some trouble when authorities discovered a container of banknotes had disappeared from the Monrovia port. Some local media did not not hold back on calling out the strong grip held in Liberia by “foreigners”, the Lebanese.
Gerard Achcar is one of the most influential men in the country. Achcar Mali Industries (AMI), the group he inherited from his father, is the local mammoth of the food industry. He owns the Grands Moulins du Mali, whose flour mill is located in Niger, as well as a pasta factory. He also produces oil, sugar and electric batteries.
Beydoun (Côte d’Ivoire)
Abdul Hussein Beydoun was only 16 years old in 1977 when he landed in Abidjan. After humble beginnings, he started working in building materials and distribution. In 2003, he bought the Bernabé company, which sells DIY and building materials, from the French group Descours & Cabaud. Today, now a father of four, the entrepreneur heads the Yeshi group, whose turnover reached 47bn CFA francs (€71.7m) in 2017. Present in eight countries, he opened two huge (10,000 square-metres) sales outlets in 2018, including one under the Mr. Bricolage brand. A 45,000 square-metre shopping centre is also under construction on Avenue François-Mitterrand in Abidjan.
Co-founders, in 1971, of the Chagoury Group, brothers Gilbert and Roland Chagoury are, at the age of 70, the head of a very diversified conglomerate (construction, real estate, milling, bottling, insurance, hotels, telecoms, etc.) and are now billionaires. Gilbert was an ambassador for the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia, whose banking system is not known for its transparency. He is also a philanthropist who financed the construction of schools and hospitals, as well as a monument in memory of the victims of 11 September. A gallery at the Louvre Museum, of which he is a generous donor, bears his name and that of Rose-Marie, his wife.
Created by Issam Darwish and William Saad during the privatisation boom of Nigerian telecoms in 2001, the IHS Group is one of the leaders today in tower management in the country and works with the main players in the sector. Mohamad Darwish, the group’s vice-president, heads the Nigeria business. There are also Darwishes (with a “c”) in Côte d’Ivoire.
El Sahely (Cameroon)
Leaving South Lebanon, Maarouf El Sahely had no idea that he would one day become the leader of the beverage industry in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazza and Zambia. In Cameroon, the dynasty is present in many sectors: wood (with Sefca), transport (Solet) and mineral water (Source of the country). Sefca was created through the initiative of his father Youssef. It’s now run by two of his sons, Jamal and Nessrallah. In 2015, a report by the NGO Global Witness accused the forestry company of helping to finance Seléka, the Central African armed rebellion.
Ezzedine (Côte d’Ivoire)
Like many groups created by the Lebanese, the Golden Square conglomerate, founded by Ibrahim Ezzedine (deceased) and taken over by his brother Zouheir, is extremely diverse. Import and sale of food processing, mills, real estate, mineral water…the list goes on. The group also owns the only pasta factory in Côte d’Ivoire. Since the purchase of the Omaïs group factory, it now also runs the first cardboard producer in the country. Two nephews have just joined the management of the group who continue to develop the group.
Fadoul (Burkina Faso)
Michel Zouhair Fadoul created the group that bears his name in 1966. The company has gradually diversified into many sectors (construction, distribution, industry) and a good ten countries (Togo and Ghana, in particular). Maintaining good relations with the government at the time of Blaise Compaoré, the family, which is Christian, remains one of the most powerful in the country, but its influence was undermined by Sunni or Shiite dynasties, primarily the Basma.
Fakhoury (Côte d’Ivoire)
In Côte d’Ivoire, when one hears Fakhoury, the name of “Pierre” immediately springs to mind. Born in 1943, the famous architect is a business figure whose influence extends far beyond the Lebanese community. Since 2011, his son Clyde has gradually taken over the operational management of the group.
A former broker, he only joined PFO in 2008. While construction remains a flagship activity, Clyde is fully committed to diversification: water, environment, waste management, among other areas. Keen to no longer depend solely on the Ivorian market, he has launched projects in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Guinea. As for Cécile, his wife, she runs one of the main galleries in Abidjan and spares no effort to promote contemporary art in Côte d’Ivoire and throughout Africa.
Fakhry (Côte d’Ivoire)
Originally based in Senegal, the Fakhry family is now very influential in Côte d’Ivoire, where its activities range from textile trade to mass distribution, hospitals (Polyclinique Internationale de l’Indenie) and hotels (Ivotel). A leader in mass distribution with 159 stores under 17 brands, Prosuma is co-directed by Karim Fakhry and Ivorian Abou Kassam. In 2016, the company employed 3,600 people and achieved a turnover of more than €350m.
Ranked among the most rich in Senegal (alongside the Layousse, Omaïs, and Choubassy), the Fares brothers, Mohamed, Muhyedine, and Hassan, first developed their activity in construction and materials (Batimat, Batiplus) before diversifying into food processing (Siagro), water, milk, and fruit juices (Kirene).
Ghandour (Côte d’Ivoire)
Created in the 1960s in Senegal by the patriarch of the family, the Gandour perfumery migrated to the Côte d’Ivoire, where it became a major player in the cosmetics sector. Its products are distributed as far as Europe and the United States, under the brand Nouvelle Parfumerie Gandour (NPG). But the family remains present in both countries. The spelling of its name fluctuates somewhat, since there is the Ghandour as well as El Ghandour. And to complicate things more, today NPG is led by the son-in-law of Mahmoud El Ghandour, a certain Ghandour Ghandour!
Hage (Burkina Faso)
Joseph and Georges Hage lead the family group created by their brother Elijah. This Christian family is active in the steel industry, shopping malls, painting and building materials. In Togo, they own the company Sototoles. There is also Hage family in Liberia.
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In Libreville, the name Hejeij is omnipresent. Hassan, who had a quasi-familial relationship with Omar Bongo Ondimba, is a heavyweight in the construction industry with Socofi. His son Ali and brother Kassem lead the group today. In 1991, the Hejeijs founded the Bank of the Middle East and Africa, established in Lebanon. Kassem resigned in 2015, leaving his place to his son (also named Ali).
Although he has long been a national of Monaco, Adnan Houdrouge remains linked to Senegal, where he was born in 1948; the 12th child among 13 siblings. He began his career as a salesman in a sports store in Dakar in 1968. Four years later, he set out to equip the entire Senegalese Olympic team and contacted Adidas. Houdrouge won his bet, and in the process created the City Sport brand (distribution of sporting goods), which developed without a problem in Africa and Europe, and formed alliances with various French groups: Fnac, Casino supermarkets, Courir, to name a few.
Mercure International, his group, now manages 150 stores and employs 5,000 people. It is a shareholder of the Ivorian retailer Prosuma, created by the Fakhry and Kassam families. His daughter Johanna, who is a lawyer, has joined him at the head of the group, while Véronique, his wife, and Jennifer, his other daughter, run a charity called Children of Africa.
Hyjazi (Côte d’Ivoire)
Co-directed by two brothers, Hassan and Samih, the Hyjazi group is a pioneer in mass distribution in West Africa (with the Prima Centers in Abidjan, Conakry and Ouagadougou) and employs more than 4,000 people in fifteen countries. It is also present in industry, real estate development and catering.
Sometimes presented as the “leader” of the Lebanese community in DR Congo, Ibrahim Ahmad Issaoui is at the head of Sociemex, the group he created in 1998, which today oversees six large companies specialising in food processing, construction and distribution, including automotive. Sociemex is the official importer of Hyundai and Mazda automobiles.
Born in 1960 in Dakar, Jalal Kaawar is the king of furniture and decoration in Africa, a title passed on to him by his father Fakhreddine. Jalal runs the Orca company, which has 25 stores in many countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and many others. Other members of the Kaawar family are involved in the operation of the brand, especially his brother Jamal.
Khachab (Côte d’Ivoire)
CEO of Thunnus Overseas Group (TOG), Mohamad Ali Khachab reigns, for his part, over the tuna cannery in Africa, with his three family companies: the Canning Company of Côte d’Ivoire, Pêche et Froid Côte d’Ivoire and Pêche et Froid Madagascar. Its group is also present in Europe, particularly in France, where it has a 25% market share in its sector of activity.
Khalil (Côte d’Ivoire)
Founded in 1972 by Moustapha Khalil, the Eurofind group is continues to develop the metallurgy, chemical and food industries. It is present in 13 countries, including 5 in West Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Mali, Senegal and Togo. When the founder returned to Lebanon, Adham El Khalil, his son-in-law, took over the presidency of the group. Together with Atef Omaïs, Moustapha Khalil also created the company Sotici, which manufactures PVC pipes. The firm is now run by Ramzi Omaïs, son of the former and nephew of the latter.
Specialized in energy, Khouri is one of the main private groups in West Africa. Founded by Fahim Khouri in the early 1970s, it is family-run and has offices in Togo, Nigeria, Lebanon and the United States. The Khouri (or Khoury) are also present in many other African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin.
Lakiss (Côte d’Ivoire)
Associated with brothers Ahmed and Dnan Amer, the self-taught Ivorian-Lebanese Ali Lakiss founded the Amer et Frères (SAF) company in 2004, which quickly managed to compete with the cocoa multinationals present in the country. According to its website, in 2016, SAF had a turnover of €380m and accounted for 10% of national production. This did not prevent it from going bankrupt in July 2018, due to defaults on contracts and a large accumulation of debts. In January 2019, the Société Agricole de Café Cacao, SACC, (The Agricultural Society of Coffee and Cocoa) purchased the assets of SAF Cacao.
A subsidiary of the Finatrade Group, Ghana Market Direct Ltd (mass retail) has a turnover of around $1bn. This makes Nabil Moukarzel, its boss, one of the richest men in Ghana. He employs more than 2,000 Ghanaian employees and distributes food products in seven West African countries.
Amin Moussalli was born in Lebanon before immigrating to the United States and settling in Nigeria, the country where his wife’s family is from. He is owner of the AIM group, which owns a string of Nigerian radio stations and television channels: Cool FM, Wazobia FM, Wazobia TV, Cool TV, and others. Evita and Tatiana, his daughters, also work in the group. The second one is married to Shahin Nouri, a Swiss automobile champion.
Founded in the 1970s in Kinshasa by Ali Nehme Nesr, the Webcor group is still present in Congo and Mozambique, but most of its African revenues come from Angola. Today, it is headed by Wissam, the founder’s son, assisted by Hussein Nestr, its vice president. The group, which is headquartered in Switzerland, specialises in the import and distribution of food products. Its turnover is in excess of $1bn.
Initially an employee of the Ghanaian subsidiary of Toyota, Mohammed Ahmed Odaymat bought his first company in 1978. Today he is the chairman of the board of a diversified group that works throughout West Africa and of which his son (Esam) is the CEO. Although Rana Group owns a mineral water factory and a travel agency, its activity is still primarily linked to means of transport: it distributes Kia cars, Suzuki motorcycles and a wide range of tires, which equip the vehicles used in the country’s many mines.
Omaïs, yes, but which one? Present throughout West Africa, the family, which landed in Dakar at the end of the 19th century, carries much weight in the Ivorian and Senegalese economies. Youssef, who lives in Dakar, symbolises this success. Founder, in 1981, of the Patisen group, he manufactures and distributes a multitude of products: spreads, broths, drinks, mayonnaise, salt, to name a few. Allied to the Singaporean Wilmar, he exports to some 40 countries.
Seklaoui (Côte d’Ivoire)
Masters in the distribution of electronic products and household appliances in Côte d’Ivoire, brothers Nassif and Ali Seklaoui work with major international brands (Samsung, TCL, Beko), but also market products under their own label, Nasco, and especially smartphones manufactured by Samsung. Sociam, their brand, is present throughout the region, as far as the DR Congo. Their next targets? Senegal and Nigeria. A figure of the Lebanese community in the country, Nassif is the vice-president of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Côte d’Ivoire (CCILCI), which brings together, as he explains, “300 groups employing more than 60,000 people and achieving a cumulative turnover of about 2,500bn CFA francs (€3.8bn). This chamber of commerce, unique on the continent, hopes to give ideas to other Lebanese communities in Africa.
Symbolized by the Futur Tower, an ultramodern building in the centre of Kinshasa, the Tajeddine Empire covers construction, food processing (Atlantic Trading Co., Biscuiterie Congo Futur), wood (Trans-M), plastic (Congo Futur Plastic) and mass distribution. But the last time the siblings were in the spotlight, it wasn’t for economic reasons. On 15 March 2017, Kassem Tajeddine was arrested at Casablanca airport and extradited to the United States. The American administration accused him and two of his brothers, Hussein and Ali, of financing the Lebanese Hezbollah through the family business. These accusations were rejected with indignation by the family, particularly by Ahmed, boss of the Congo Futur group and the only sibling not on the American blacklist.
For the Wazni, mining is a bit of a family affair that began in the 1920s. Fadi, the grandfather, was at the time a wealthy merchant established in the mining areas of Sierra Leone. Nearly a hundred years later, Fadi Wazni, his grandson, is an entrepreneur in many guises. As Managing Director of United Mining Supply, in 2015 he joined forces with Singaporean Winning Shipping Ltd and Chinese Shandong Weiqiao to launch the Boké Mining Company (SMB). Two years later, this consortium has made Guinea the world’s third largest bauxite producer. It has some 9,000 employees (94% of whom are Guineans) and a turnover of around $1bn. In addition to his entrepreneurial qualities, Fadi Wazni is also Honorary Consul of the Netherlands. When asked about his family’s integration in Guinea, he doesn’t mince his words: “In 25 years, I have never been a victim of segregation. We have families who have been in Guinea for more than a century, our ties with Lebanon are increasingly strained. I am Guinean.”
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