By Ebimo Amungo
The African immigrant continues to consolidate as a growing economic force in America. Long known for their contributions to healthcare, academia, sports and the military, African immigrants are growing as an entrepreneurial class in a manner that benefits America and their home countries in Africa. Nevertheless, immigrants who were born in Africa and their offsprings have the least economic clout compared to other immigrant groups, but their influence has grown in the two years since our last survey of the Richest African immigrants in America. Since 2020, Elon Musk, born in South Africa, has gone on to become the richest man in the world and also the single largest taxpayer in American history. Patrick Soon Shiong has put some of his vast wealth to the benefit of his home country by building a Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing plant in South Africa and a slew of tech entrepreneurs have created startups that are facilitating payment systems for Africans.
Still, it should be remembered that for the African immigrant, entrepreneurship in America is a great struggle. Lacking the social cohesion of several immigrant groups, African immigrant entrepreneurs battle against deficiencies in social and financial capital, but as one of the most educated immigrant groups in America, they often fall back on their vast asset in human capital to find a way through America’s myriad challenges.
Today, African immigrant entrepreneurs are becoming entrenched in many communities across America as they run restaurants, fashion shops, beauty parlors and transport and logistic companies. But these entrepreneurs are not only valuable to their host communities, their impact is felt in Africa where they develop supply chains for fashion products, ethnic food, and raw materials like shea butter. But the entrepreneurs who have made it to this year’s list are those that have gone mainstream through their business ventures and captured a sizable share of America’s humongous economy with their wealth creating endeavors.
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Compiling the 2022 list of Richest African Immigrants in America has been challenging. African immigrants are shy about reports of their wealth so what is gleaned is what is in the public domain. But African immigrants are known for their transnational activities and may have vast investments in their home countries. African immigrant entrepreneurs in America invest in real estate, manufacturing, banks and hospitals back in Africa. Indeed, many African immigrants may have more wealth in their home countries than in America.
Nevertheless, our list is made up of some of the most accomplished African immigrants who, even if their names are unknown, have made an impact across America and Africa through their entrepreneurial activities. A good number of the new entrants to our list are founders of digital startups which are creating solutions in Africa and expanding the digital economy of the continent. Firms like Flutterwave are broadening access to financial services in Africa and creating pathways for American venture capitalists to invest on the continent through capital raised in San Francisco and New York.
THE RICHEST AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICA 2022
Country of origin | South Africa
Year of arrival in America | 1992
Estimated Net Worth | $ 225.8 billion
Industry | Space, Electric cars
Elon Musk has seen his wealth grow from $59 in 2020 to $225 billion in 2022. He is now the richest man in world and made history in 2021 when he became the single largest taxpayer in American history with a $11 billion tax payment to the American government. Between 2014 and 2018, the eccentric billionaire paid a total of $455 million in federal income tax.
Much of Elon Musk’s wealth has been due to the growth in the valuation of Tesla to a one trillion dollar electric car company. Musk owns 20 percent equity in Tesla. He is also the CEO of SpaceX, the aerospace company which he founded. SpaceX sends NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and is building a satellite constellation through which it deploys broadband internet. SpaceX now has a valuation of $100billion. That is larger than the GDP of several African countries.
Even though he was born in Africa, Elon Musk is not known for investing his vast wealth on the continent, not even in the country of his birth, South Africa.
Country of origin | South Africa
Date of Arrival in America | 1978
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $7.4 billion
Industry | Medicine, Pharmaceuticals
Patrick Soon-Shiong is a South African-American transplant surgeon, billionaire businessman, bio-scientist, and media proprietor. He is the inventor of the drug Abraxane, which became known for its efficacy against lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer.
He is is valued to be worth $7.4 billion in 2022, down from $7.8billion in 2020. Patrick Soon-Shiong may have lost a few hundred dollars but his value to Africa grew exponentially when he established a Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing plant in South Africa. The pandemic has exposed a global lack of access to life-saving vaccines, particularly in Africa, where just about 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Patrick Soon-Shiong commissioned the new plant in Cape Town in February 2022 in the presence of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Soon-Shiong, who is also a medical doctor, will transfer technology and materials from his California-based NantWorks to the south African branch, NantSA. To ensure a pipeline of skilled workers, he has pledged 100 million rand ($6.5 million) for scholarships to train South Africans.
Patrick Soon-Shiong is the owner of Los Angeles Times
Nassef Onsi Sawiris
Country of origin | Egypt
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $7.6 billion
Year of arrival in America | 1979
Industry | Construction, Chemicals
In 2014 Nassef Sawiris made news in America when he paid $70 million for the penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue in New York. To cement his ties with the city Nassif acquired a 5% stake in New York-listed “Madison Square Garden Sports”, owner of “NBA Knicks” and the “NHL Rangers” team In December 2020.
Nassef has continued to make news for his investments in America, Egypt and around the world. There has been a sharp rise in his wealth due mainly to the increase in the value of his shares in Adidas. His net worth is now $7.6 billion according Bloomberg.
Nassef remains the wealthiest man in Egypt and the Arab world. He currently owns 30% of OCI; a Geleen, Netherlands-based fertilizer producer formed out of a demerger from his family’s original business, Orascom Construction. His other assets include 6% of Adidas’s sportswear company and a stake in LafargeHolcim, the world’s biggest cement maker.
Country of origin | Nigeria
Year of arrival in America | 1977
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $6 billion
Industry | Investment Banking, Private Equity
Adebayo Ogunlesi has led an inconspicuous life in America until he was thrust into the consciousness of Africans and Americans through Burnaboys hit song “Wonderful”. But despite being self-effacing, Ogunlesi’s accomplishments in law and finance belies his Nigerian heritage. Ogunlesi is the founder and chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners, GIP, the world’s largest infrastructure focused private equity firm with $77 billion in assets under management. There are over 70 companies and the companies have a combined annual revenue of $45 billion and employ approximately 62,000 people. Ogunlesi’s wealth can only be conjectured as he has used his extensive knowledge of law and finance to keep his financial dealings tightly sealed from the media. Nevertheless, it is certain that Adebayo’s net worth has increased in the past two years due to vast increases in stock valuation and the valuation of private equity firms.
Meanwhile, GIP continues to make news as they plan to raise a $25 billion flagship fund.
Despite his reputation as the COE of the world’s largest infrastructure fund, however, Ogunlesi has stayed clear of investing in Africa where there is an estimated $103 billion yearly financing gap for investments in infrastructure.
Richelieu and Mary Dennis
Country of origin | Liberia
Year of arrival in America | 1989
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $1 billion
Industry | Cosmetics, investments
Richelieu Dennis and his mother, Mary, are one of the most unlikely success stories of African immigrant entrepreneurship in America. Forced by war to overstay in America and prompted by unemployment to start making soap and shea butter products at home, Dennis and his school roommate hawked their products on the streets of New York and eventually founded Sundial Brands. Sundial Brands grew until it was the largest black-owned beauty brand in the world and one of the ten largest black-owned businesses in America. In 2015, Bain Capital purchased a minority stake in Sundial. Two years later Sundial Brands was acquired by consumer goods giant Unilever for $1.6 billion. Forbes at the time of the sales proclaimed that Mr. Dennis and his mother had a combined net worth of $850 million.
As part of the acquisition of Sundial Brands, Unilever and Mr. Dennis together created the $100 million New Voices Fund, which is aimed to assist entrepreneurial women of color to achieve business success. Not forgetting his African roots, Dennis travels to places like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria to research the distribution models there. Sundial Brands purchases over 250,000 kilos of raw shea butter from Africa especially Ghana where the company sources from seven women’s cooperatives in Northern Ghana. Sundial Brands is also expanding manufacturing outside the company’s Long Island headquarters into areas closer to new markets, including Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon
Country of Origin | Nigeria
Year arrived America | 1981
Estimated net worth | $300 million
Industry | Sports, Real Estate, Fashion
Hakeem Olajuwon had a dream career in basketball in America and Canada, but it was his decade long stay with Houston Rockets that he is most remembered for. Even today, he is compared to current NBA players and other legends. After his illustrious career, during which he was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NBA champion, an Olympic gold medal winner (1996), he has been busy investing the over $107 million he earned from contracts and endorsements.
Olajuwon’s net worth is reportedly $300 million in 2022 earned mainly from his vast investments in real estate. Olajuwon claimed that he preferred to deal around Houston as he had ‘home-court advantage’ there. Olajuwon also has extensive investments in Canada and Jordan where he also has a home. Not much is known about his investments in Africa.
Country of origin | South Africa
Year of arrival in America | 1989
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $160 million
Industry | Actress, Model
South African-born Charlize Theron actress and film producer is not only a runaway Hollywood success, she is also one of the world’s highest-paid actresses. Since arriving America she has been involved in many commercially successful and critally acclaimed films and has received various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Globe Award. In 2016, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Charlize Theron has an estimated net worth of $160 million in 2022.
Theron is proud of her South African heritage and in 2007 she created The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) was created in 2007 in an effort to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The project is committed to supporting community-engaged organizations that address the key drivers of the disease. CTAOP has raised more than $6.3 million to support African organizations working on the ground.
Theron is also United Natiins Messenger of Peace
Country of origin | Nigeria
Year of arrival in America | 2014
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $ 300 million
Industry | Founder of Flutterwave, Digital entrepreneur.
Olugbenga Agboola is a great testament of the bridge being created by African immigrants between America and Africa. Born in Nigeria, Agboola arrived America to further his education at MIT Sloan School of Management and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. But it was his decision in 2016 to establish Flutterwave in Lagos that has had the greatest impact on digital payment systems in Africa.
Six years later, Flutterwave, which is now headquartered in San Francisco, has grown to become Africa’s largest payment platform by coverage. Flutterwave processes 150 kinds of currency and is used in 34 of Africa’s 54 nations, including Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. More than 25,000 entrepreneurs use the Flutterwave store to sell their wares, and the company processes payments for more than 300,000 merchants. Flutterwave in February 2022 raised $250 million from investors, taking the valuation of the firm to $3billion and making Flutterwave “highest valued” African startup.
Now living in San Francisco and Lagos, Agboola in not only directing investors to African startups like his, he is also an active angel investor in the African startup ecosystem and has 14 startups in his portfolio.
Country of origin | Nigeria
Year of arrival in America | 1982
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $250 million
Industry | Founder of Somatus
Ikenna Okezie was born in Nigeria and came to the United States at the age of two. He was raised in Detroit where his father and brother were medical doctors. He trained as a doctor in Harvard University, but it is his prior training in economics at Yale and later an MBA from Harvard Business School that has helped him merge the worlds of business and medicine when he founded Somatus in 2016. Today Somatus is largest provider of value-based kidney care in America.
Since its founding Somatus has grown to provide high-quality and customized care to nearly 21,000 patients with kidney disease across multiple states, employ over 300 clinical and operational leaders, and establish innovative, value-based partnerships with leading health plans, health systems, and providers.
Somatus has been a boon not only to patients but also to investors who have driven ip the valuation of the company over several rounds of fundraising. The company recently announced that it raised $325 million from an oversubscribed Series E financing round that raised its valuation to $2.5 billion.
Ikenna Okezie was named Entrepreneur of the Year for the Mid-Atlantic region by Ernest and Young in 2020.
Country of origin | Zambia
Year of arrival in America | 2000
Estimated Net worth in 2020 | $200 million
Industry | Brand builder, serial investor
Rohan Oza was born to Indian parents in Zambia, educated in Great Britain and attended graduate school at the University of Michigan. To many people in America, he is known for his role in the popular TV series “Shark Tank”.
Rohan found success in America through his uncanny ability to identify key market trends which has made him one of the most successful brand builders in the world. Early in his career, he worked for Coca-Cola as a marketing manager and had success driving up sales of Sprite and Powerade. He later joined Glaceau, a $25-million company that was later sold to Coca-Cola for $4 billion.
Rohan founded Idea Merchants Capital and invests mainly in health products. His successes include Vita Coco; Health-Ade Kombucha); Pop Chips; Bai (antioxidant infusion drinks); and Chef’s Cut Real Jerky.
Rohan has never forgotten his African roots and engages with the continent through many philanthropic endeavors, but closest to his heart is The Children Matter NGO, a partnership between the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Matter Organization, which provides medical equipment and hearing implants, as well as food and other everyday necessities, to underprivileged children in Africa.