Strive Masiyiwa
Home African CEOs Interviews Visionaries How African Billionaire Strive Masiyiwa Made His Fortune 
Visionaries - February 9, 2022

How African Billionaire Strive Masiyiwa Made His Fortune 

From a court case with the state government, almost going broke, to launching telecom Giant Econet Wireless.

Strive Masiyiwa is an African billionaire with a net worth of $3.8 billion. The magnate made the majority of his fortune from the telecommunication industry, with supporting investments in fintech and power distribution firms across Africa. 

Let’s rewind a little, how did it all start?

Strive Masiyiwa was born on January 29, 1961, in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. After Prime Minister Ian Smith’s administration proclaimed a unilateral declaration of independence from the United Kingdom, his family fled the nation when he was seven years old. Kitwe, a city in north-central Zambia noted for its copper mining, became the family’s home. He went to primary school there before moving to Scotland to finish his secondary education. Masiyiwa’s mother was a businesswoman. And he was able to receive the acclaimed European education by the time he was 12 years old.

He was transferred to a boarding school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He returned to Rhodesia after graduating in 1978, planning to join Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo’s anti-government guerilla forces. He returned to school in the United Kingdom, earning an electrical engineering degree from the University of Wales in 1983. He temporarily worked in the computer business in Cambridge, England, before returning to Zimbabwe in 1984 to help the nation rebuild after the conclusion of the Rhodesian Bush War and universal franchise elections in 1980.

Making Billions

After a 17-year hiatus, Masiyiwa returned to Zimbabwe in 1984. He resigned from his job as a telecommunications engineer for the state-owned telephone firm and started his own business with the equivalent of US$75. He established a huge electrical engineering firm. When mobile cellular telephony became popular, he decided to branch out into telecoms, but he quickly ran into trouble when the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe refused to provide him with a licence to operate his company, Econet Wireless.

Masiyiwa took his case to Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, claiming that the refusal violated his “freedom of expression”.  After a five-year legal battle that brought him to the verge of bankruptcy, a Zimbabwean court ruled in his favour.  The decision, which resulted at the end of the state monopoly in telecommunications, is widely recognised as a pivotal point in the opening of the African telecoms industry to private finance.  In 1998, the company’s first cellular subscriber joined the new network. This marked the beginning of his business exploits across Africa. 

He controls slightly over half of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a publicly listed subsidiary of his bigger Econet Group. He also controls a little more than half of Liquid Telecom, a private company that provides fibre optic and satellite services to telecom companies across Africa.

Masiyiwa other holdings include Burundi and Lesotho mobile phone networks, as well as interests in African fintech and power distribution companies.

Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi formed the Higherlife Foundation, which helps orphaned and disadvantaged children in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi, and Lesotho.

READ ALSO: How Nigeria’s 2nd Richest Person, Abdul Samad Rabiu, Got His Start

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