The annual Sunday Times Rich List 2009 in its faithful rendition of the wealth, opulence and excesses of the British men and women has once again turned out to be a whitewash affair with few black millionaires. As a chronicler of excesses, I have always been an avid connoisseur of the life of the rich, the famous, the rain makers, the movers and shakers of British entrepreneurial life. There is something in the soul of all of us that make us gawp in astonishment when we read about the lives of billionaires and millionaires. They shock, awe and mesmerise us. We feed on Forbes Richest 500 and pour voraciously on their biographies.
Late MKO Abiola, Africa’s foremost billionaire, like him or loathe him, once had us in his wealthy coil. He was a careless spender. He spent and spent and spent until he died. Even though Alhaji Dangote’s spending power paled in comparison with MKO, he is a man we all delight to watch. Among an estimated 140 million Nigerians, he is a foremost billionaire, not in naira, but in dollars.
Some years ago, I reached a point of departure, that moment of no going back which made me curbed my craving for the life of the rich and famous. I decided not to touch the Sunday Times annual rich list because of ennui, my race exclusion and the unbroken domination of white and Asians as richest people in the UK. Except one is a fantasist, I do not expect to see a black man as a steel, shipping, banking, food, construction, retailing, computer, property, jewellery, insurance, hotel, finance and electronic magnate. These are the uncontested preserve of white and Asian businessmen and women.
Yearly, the A-lists of British billionaires contain the usual predictable suspects. Credit crunch and worldwide recession may have bitten some of his fortune compared to last year; Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian steel magnate, still remains the richest Briton. He is followed by a whitewash list of billionaires like Roman Abramovich (oil and industry), Duke of Westminster (property), Ernesto Bertarelli (pharmaceuticals), Hans Rausing (packaging), Charlene Carvalho (brewing and banking), Sammy Ofer (shipping and property), John Fredriksen (shipping), Sir Philip Green (retailing), Joe Lewis (foreign exchange and investment) and David Simon Reuben (property).
There is a famous Egyptian, Mohammed Al-Fayed (retailing) then an envious array of Asians from Anil Agarwal (mining), Anurag Dikshit (Internet gambling), Lord Paul (industry), Bhikhu and Vijay Patel (pharmaceuticals), Tom Singh (fashion), Vikrant Bhargava (Internet gambling), Naresh Goyal (airline), Iqbal Ahmed (food), Ranjit Singh (chickens) to Shiraz Tejani (paper products).
The only black man who made his fortune through industry and technology in the Sunday Times Rich List is the Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim who is regarded as the 178 richest Briton with a combined fortune of £300million pounds amassed through mobile phone technology. American based Forbes puts Ibrahim fortune at £1.7 billion but Britain would not regard him as having all that ‘wonga’.
It is sad that wealth through industry and service provision is outside our reach. Many Asians who made the list only had strong ambition, determination, perseverance and sound business acumen which translated to millions. And many of them came to Britain penniless from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Britain to them became a place of rediscovery, retooling and a land of limitless opportunity. Britain is home while the smell, sound and suffering of old Mumbai and Delhi, only distant memories.
I really could not understand why British blacks could not compete in all the enterprise listed above and excel. Rather, we repress our ambition and create corner shop empires selling African food and small time Internet cafe. We seem to have lost our business bearing to the intrepid business spirit of an average Asian, who, sad to say, are the wholesalers of most African products. Many of our successful businessmen and women are either carting their profit to Africa to reinvest or are part of the flamboyant, Benzy class of Nigerians with overinflated ego of their own self-importance. Some aspiring African businessmen and women in the UK have been intimidated by the business-bursting instinct of an average Asian who sees us not as competitors but insatiable consumers.
The old, sad tale of racism as the destroyer of our destiny in the West is an outworn cliché. Those who go about with this tragic emblem are the lazy, unambitious, unthinking, procrastinating, blind and fearful urchins who could not see the immense possibility of an audacious mind. Of course, in the ‘other’ areas where lateral thinking and business genius is not required, we are more than over represented.
We have a smattering of millionaires in music and sport. In sport, Lennox Lewis (boxing) leads with a combine fortune of £100million. Shade Adu (music) made the list with £30million fortune. In football, there is Sol Campbell (£33million), Rio Ferdinand (£30million), Ashley Cole (£13million), Nicolas Anelka (£11million) and Michael Essien (£11million). One of the biggest disadvantages of the rag-to-riches story of our footballers is the negative impact their wealth is having on the impressionistic minds of our children.
Intellectual and business routes to fame and fortune are no longer popular among black kids. They all want to be footballers and live an outlandishly, illiterate lifestyle of Ferrari, white girls, mansions, champagne, drugs, all, mortal destroyers of black mans wealth in the West. The question is where do our footballers invest their fortune? Where is their signature in banking, IT, manufacturing, insurance, retailing, fashion and mobile phone technology?
I believe that whatever white or an Asian man can do, we can do better. But an average black man lacks vision. He does not know how to hold down a vision and fire it up like a balloon of possibility. This is a continental disease. Many still see themselves as outsiders in the West and regard UK as a temporary abode while mother Africa is the real home. Even our homemade billionaires rather than invest their fortune in businesses in the West like the Asians, prefer to stash them in Western banks for fear of probing interest from Western regulators on how the money was made. In order words, looted money is hard to invest in Western business but easier to dump in offshore banks.
Hundreds of Nigerian billionaires who looted Nigeria dry are trapped in this investment dilemma. The rich, millionaire black footballers and the investment-timid African billionaires should see a guidepost in the courage of Mohammed Al-Fayed and Mo Ibrahim. Yearly, they battle for inclusion in a whitewash rich list that had remained an annual celebration of white and Asian wealth in the UK.