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From Motsepe to Dangote, are Africa’s richest leaders doing enough to fight Covid?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: In search of new African leadership

By Christelle Marot
Posted on Thursday, 7 January 2021 14:44, updated on Friday, 8 January 2021 16:50

Aliko Dangote and other African billionaires are helping the continent to fight the coronavirus. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Governments are leading the COVID-19 response, but the continent’s richest citizens are contributing their part to the team effort, sometimes even getting ahead of public sector initiatives.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a long list of Africa’s ultra-wealthy are providing backup to governments, including Patrice Motsepe, Nicky Oppenheimer, Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiyiwa, Othman Benjelloun and Aziz Akhannouch.

In Nigeria, cement magnate Aliko Dangote, the continent’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $10bn, has been on the frontlines from the outset and is coordinating a response effort.

READ MORE 10 facts about South Africa’s Motsepe, who wants the biggest job in African football

Through his Coalition Against COVID-19 and with the help of funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dangote kicked off a campaign to raise N30bn ($78.8m) from some 100 local donors to finance more than 2,100 intensive care beds, 600,000 test kits for distribution around the country and a food relief programme. Thus far, more than 50 companies have partnered up with this highly publicised initiative.

Dangote put N2.2bn of his own money into the organisation.

Funds and foundations

Other private donors include the founder of Globacom and third-richest African, Mike Adenuga, who donated N1.5bn, alongside the industrialist Abdul Samad Rabiu, the managing director of Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe, the oil baron Femi Otedola and the vice chairman of Famfa Oil, Folorunsho Alakija, each of whom contributed around N1bn.

In addition to Rabiu’s personal donation, BUA estimates its total donations to the Covid-19 relief efforts to be over 8.5bn naira.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been at the forefront of relief efforts, creating the Solidarity Fund, with the Oppenheimer family chipping in almost a third of the funding, or R1bn  (€65.5m). The country’s second-richest family, the Ruperts, have pledged to donate R1bn to help small businesses and their workers.

Patrice Motsepe, South Africa’s third-wealthiest person and the chairman of African Rainbow Minerals,  raised R1bn through his private foundation, working together with faith-based organisations, trade unions, NGOs, traditional leaders and local government authorities. “The priority is to save lives and slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus” by purchasing disinfectants, personal protective equipment and water tanks.

Early action in Morocco

Appointed as an African Union special envoy on COVID-19, the Zimbabwean telecom tycoon Strive Masiyiwa has taken a different approach, calling on community leaders, religious leaders, MPs and mayors to stop the spread of the virus at the local level. The billionaire provided 100,000 test kits for Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable groups and 45 ventilators for the country’s public hospitals.

READ MORE Nigeria: Dangote Refinery, African Free Trade hinge on better roads

In Morocco, billionaires Othman Benjelloun, head of Bank of Africa, and Aziz Akhannouch, chief executive of fuel retailer Afriquia, got the ball rolling as early as March, donating Dh1bn ($113.4m) each through their companies to boost the country’s Special Fund for the Fight Against Coronavirus.

Elsewhere in North Africa, after coming under scathing criticism for his lack of involvement and his tweet calling for Egyptians to return to work, Naguib Sawiris forked over E£100m ($6.4m) through his foundation in April. The donation provided support to the Egyptian health ministry and poor families.

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