Meet the richest African immigrants in America

By Ebimo Amungo

The richest Blackman in America may not be Robert Smith, Oprah Winfrey or Micheal Jordan as has long been thought of, rather, he may be a Harvard trained lawyer from Nigeria called Adebayo Ogunlesi. But even Ogunlesi is not the richest African immigrant in America. That distinction is held by South African-born Elon Musk and his countryman Patrick Soon-Shiong who are both multi-billionaires.

As African immigrants are increasingly attracted to America, some are making a success of their American odyssey in ways that are impacting the socio-economic fabric of their adopted country. Increasingly, African immigrants and their children are becoming a significant economic force in America through their success as athletes, scientists, bankers, academics, entertainers, asset managers and entrepreneurs.


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But as a people with dual heritage, most ordinary African immigrants tend to have two places for investments, their home country and America. A big testament of this duality is the increased remittance from African immigrants to the continent which in 2018 was $46 billion world wide with African immigrants in America contributing the largest sum.

In this report I run down a list of some of the richest Africans who immigrated to America.


Elon Musk

Nora Tam | South China Morning Post | Getty Images

Country of origin | South Africa

Year of arrival in America | 1992

Estimated Net Worth | $59.3 billion

Industry  |  Space, Electric cars

Elon Musk is an industrial designer, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is the founder, CEO of SpaceX; Tesla, The Boring Company and was an early investor in PayPal. Musk was in born in Pretoria, South Africa on June 28, 1971. He attended Waterkloof House Preparatory School and later graduated from Pretoria Boys High School.

At 17, Musk moved to Canada to avoid serving in the South African military. He would later obtain Canadian citizenship through his mother. Musk enrolled in Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After two years at Queen’s University, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania in May 1997. Musk graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the Wharton School. He moved to California to pursue a PhD in applied physics at Stanford University but left  program after just two days to start his entrepreneurial journey.

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In the intervening period he has founded and co-founded several companies including Zip2, PayPal, Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and SpaceX. Tesla recently became the world’s most valuable car company with a  $208 billion-plus market capitalization. Elon Musk who owns just over 13% of the company’s stock, is the biggest beneficiary of this surge. Musk is also the majority owner of SpaceX, holding about 54% of the private company. In all, Elon Musk’s total net Worth is estimated to be $59.3 billion by July 2020.

Patrick Soon-Shiong 

Country of origin | South Africa

Date of Arrival in America | 1978

Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $7.8 billion

Industry  |  Medicine, Pharmaceuticals

Patrick Soon-Shiong  is a South African-American transplant surgeon, billionaire businessman, bioscientist, and media proprietor. He was born on July 29, 1952 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to Chinese immigrant parents.  He had his early education in South Africa and graduated from the University of Witwatersrand, receiving a bachelor’s degree in medicine (MBBCh) at age 23. Patrick Soon-Shiong moved to Canada in the 1970s and then the United States. In America he began his surgical training at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and became a board-certified surgeon in 1984. He later became a professor of microbiology and immunology.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong is the inventor of the drug Abraxane, which became known for its efficacy against lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer.. He sold his drug companies Abraxis and American Pharmaceutical Partners for a combined $9.1 billion. His cancer drug maker, NantKwest, went public in 2015 and his biotech startup, NantHealth, listed on the New York stock exchange in 2016.

He owns NantWorks, a network of health startups, and has stakes in media firm Tribune Publishing and the Los Angeles Lakers. He bought the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune for $500 million in June 2018.

Nassef Onsi Sawiris

Country of origin | Egypt

Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $6.3 billion

Year of arrival in America | 1979

Industry | Construction, Chemicals

Nassef Onsi Sawiris is an Egyptian billionaire businessman, the youngest of Onsi Sawiris’ three sons (his brothers are Naguib and Samih). He is the CEO of OCI N.V., an international engineering and construction contractor and chemical producer. Nassef Sawiris was born in 1961 in Egypt and received his secondary education in Cairo and later attended the University of Chicago where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1982.

In September 2012, Nassef Sawiris led Orascom Construction to expand into the United States by building a $1.4 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in Iowa. The company also acquired The Weitz Company, a construction company.

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As of April 2019, Nassef Sawiris net worth was estimated to be $6.3 billion. He is the fourth richest African in 2019, according to Forbes. Showing a long-term commitment to America, Nassef Sawiris bought a Penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue in New York for $70 million in 2012, a record price for a penthouse at the time. Nassef Sawiris is a member of Cleveland Clinic’s international leadership board, and in 2013 became a member of the University of Chicago’s board of trustees. In 2015, Nassef Sawiris donated $20 million to the University of Chicago to establish and endow the Onsi Sawiris Scholars Program, which provides support to academically gifted students from Egypt.


Adebayo Ogunlesi

Country of origin | Nigeria

Year of arrival in America| 1977

Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $5 billion

Industry | Investment Banking, Private Equity

Adebayo Ogunlesi is a Nigerian lawyer and investment banker. Ogunlesi is the founder and chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners, GIP, the worlds largest infrastructure focused private equity firm with $74 billion in assets under management.  There are over 70 companies in GIP’s equity portfolio that includes several power plants, sea ports and airports, among which are Gatwick and Edinburgh Airports. The companies have a combined annual revenue of $45 billion and employ approximately 62,000 people.

Adebayo Ogunlesi was born December 20, 1953 in Sagamu, in Western Nigeria. He attended King’s College in Lagos. He received a B.A. with first class honors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University in England. In 1979, he received J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School, which he pursued at the same time. During his time at Harvard, he was on the Harvard Law Review.

Adebayo Ogulesi founded Global Infrastructure Partners in 2006 after working several years with Credit Suisse. Not much has been reported in the media about the net worth of Adebayo Ogunlesi, but if we can infer that he is worth no less than $5 billion dollars if one draws parallel from the wealth of the African-American, Robert Smith, whose private equity firm Vista Private Equity, has $57 billion under management and who is listed as being worth $5 billion by Forbes. With $70 Billion under management of Global Infrastructure Partners, Ogunlesi is the founder, managing partner and chairman of the largest black-owned private equity firm on earth and can conservatively be said to be worth at least $5 Billion.


Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon

Country of Origin | Nigeria

Year arrived America | 1981

Estimated net worth | $200 million

Industry | Sports, Real Estate, Fashion

Наkееm Аbdul Оlајuwоn was а wоrld-fаmоuѕ bаѕkеtbаll рlауеr оf Nіgеrіаn dеѕсеnt. Оlајuwоn wаѕ bоrn оn Јаnuаrу 21ѕt, 1963, іn Lаgоѕ, Nіgеrіа. Аѕ а tееnаgеr hе рlауеd ѕоссеr and handball and іt wаѕ nоt untіl he was 15 thаt hе рlауеd bаѕkеtbаll for the first time. Не еmіgrаtеd tо the United States to study and play for the Соugаrѕ at the Unіvеrѕіtу оf Ноuѕtоn. In 1984, Hakeem was the first pick of the draft ahead of Michael Jordan and was signed by Houston Rockets. He later played for the Toronto Raptors.

Наkееm Оlајuwоn’s professional basketball career spanned from 1984 to 2002 in which time he was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NBA champion, an Olympic gold medal winner (1996), and an eventual Basketball Hall of Famer. Being one of the greatest players of his era, Olajuwon earned over $107 million from his NBA contracts, according to Money Inc. He also signed endorsements with Etonic, LA Gear, and Spalding.

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Olajuwon’s net worth is reportedly $200 million in 2020. He has had a number of successful business ventures off the court. He launched a clothing line in 2011 called DR34M (his nickname, “The Dream” combined with the number he wore during his playing days).  Olajuwon’s real estate investments have reportedly netted him over $100 million.


Chinedu Echerou

Country of origin  |  Nigeria

Year of arrival in America |   1991

Estimated networth |  $100 million

Industry | Technology, Investment


Chinedu Echerou is a serial entrepreneur, inventor and investor. He is the son of  Michael Echeruo, a writer and Safire Professor at Syracus University. He was born in 1974 in Eastern Nigeria. He attended Kings’ College, Lagos where he graduated in 1991. He arrived the United States following the relocation of his family and attended Syracuse University where he obtained a B.S in Finance and Accounting (Honors) in 1995. He later earned an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. Echeruo worked for  J.P Morgan Chase.

In 2005, he founded HopStop, the pioneering travel app that helped millions of users navigate public transportation in major metropolitan areas around the world. Apple acquired HopStop in 2013 reportedly for $1billion and subsequently incorporated much of HopStop’s functionality into Apple Maps. Chinedu also founded Tripology, a lead-generation and referral business for the travel industry. Tripology was acquired by Rand McNally and is now owned by USA Today. He is also the inventor of US Patent # 7,957,871, for Methods and Apparatuses for navigation in urban environments.

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On the back of the his sale of HotStop, Chinedu’s wealth is estimated at $100m. After selling Hotspot, he invested in and  became a principal at Constant Capital Partners Ltd, a firm committed to raising capital for institutions in Africa.  He has continued to invest in several starts ups and his other ventures include MindMeet, Love and Magic Company and the  Startup School of Alchemy which he founded in January 2020.


Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah on The Daily Show Undesked Chicago 2017: (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Country of Origin | South Africa

Year arrived America | 2011

Estimated net worth | $40 million

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, actor, television host, and radio DJ. Trevor Noah was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 20th, 1984. His father Robert being of Swiss extraction and his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah being of Xhosa ancestry made life difficult for the Noah family under the South African apartheid rule of the time which had criminalized interracial marriage. His mother faced jail time and fines over the course of his childhood.  

Noah moved to the United States in 2011. He was the first South African comedian to appear on The Tonight Show (6 January 2012) and on Late Show with David Letterman (17 May 2013).  After making a name for himself on the international stand-up comedy circuit, Noah made his big break in America when he was hired to replace Jon Stewart as the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show from September 28, 2015.

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Trevor Noah is estimated to have a net worth of $40 million and is reportedly earning an annual salary of  $8 million. He also earns a tidy sum from his stand up comedy gigs across the world. In 2019 reports emerged that Trevor Noah shelled out $20.5 million for an eye-catching estate in Bel-Air. Spanning 1.31 acres on a promontory lot, the 10,044-square-foot home is entered through a pivoting front door made of paneled wood.


Authors note: This list is by no means exhaustive. If you know of other African immigrants we may have missed contact us with their details.


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