Navigating Challenges in Business: Lessons from Africa’s Billiona...
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Lists - March 10, 2023

Navigating Challenges in Business: Lessons from Africa’s Billionaires

Africa’s billionaires have faced a lot of challenges over the course of their careers. They have had to navigate their way through difficult times in order to achieve the success that they enjoy today.

These billionaires who have made their fortunes in various industries such as banking, telecommunications, and real estate, attest to the fact that challenges should not be a deterrent but a stepping stone. Their lives present lessons aspiring entrepreneurs must pay attention to. Let’s examine some of them:

Limited access to markets

The growth opportunities for any business can be limited if they don’t have access to global markets. This is one of the challenges that many African billionaires suffer. But Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote navigated this challenge by investing in building new factories in other African countries, such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia, where demand for cement was high but supply was limited.

Drawing from this power move by Dangote, what you might need to expand your business into new markets is to franchise it or set up new shops in areas with a high number of potential customers. 


Corruption can make it difficult for businesses to operate in an ethical and sustainable manner. Many African billionaires have had to deal with corrupt officials who demand bribes or kickbacks in order to facilitate business deals. Some have faced several litigations challenging government laws that were not favourable to the business environment.

Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Econet had to legally battle with the government when he wanted to launch a mobile phone network in the country. The government was unwilling to grant him a license to operate his network, because it already awarded a license to another company, closely tied to the ruling party. They also added that Masiyiwa’s network would be a threat to national security. As he fought for the right to launch his mobile network, Masiyiwa built a strong network of supporters, including international investors and business leaders, who believed in his vision for a more competitive and innovative telecommunications sector in Zimbabwe. 

After spending five years in a legal battle that almost left him bankrupt, Masiyiwa was granted a license to operate his mobile phone network, Econet Wireless in 1998. The network quickly became one of the most successful and innovative mobile phone networks in Africa. African entrepreneurs must be willing to stick out their necks and fight corrupt practices amongst competitors. They must also remain committed to ethical business practices if they intend to be successful.

Political instability

African billionaires have had to contend with political instability and social unrest in some of the countries where they operate. Political instability disrupts supply chains, causes delays in projects, and creates uncertainty among investors. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British billionaire has had to navigate the complex and unstable political environment in Sudan. 

Ibrahim made his fortune as a telecommunications entrepreneur, founding the mobile phone company Celtel International in the late 1990s. Celtel quickly became one of the largest mobile phone companies in Africa, operating in over 15 countries on the continent.

As Celtel expanded its operations, Ibrahim and his team faced numerous challenges related to political instability and corruption in many of the countries where they operated. During the Liberian Civil War, Celtel who had established a strong presence in Liberia became a target for rebel forces and government troops. Mobile phone towers were destroyed, and Celtel’s offices and equipment were vandalized. Despite these challenges, Celtel worked hard to restore its network and expand coverage to areas affected by the conflict. It also provided free airtime and other support to humanitarian organizations and local communities impacted by the conflict. 

Challenges like these should not deter you as an entrepreneur, you must be resilient and learn new ways to adapt in the face of adversity. Look for how to diversify your business, and develop contingency plans to mitigate the impact of political and social upheaval.

Access to capital and technology

Another challenge that entrepreneurs face is securing access to capital and technology. Many of them have had to bootstrap their businesses, relying on their own savings and resources to get started. This can be a daunting task, especially in industries that require significant upfront investment such as real estate and infrastructure development. Aliko Dangote founded the Dangote Group as a small trading firm in 1977. The Nigerian billionaire borrowed N500,000 from his uncle to begin trading in commodities. 

He secured further funding by approaching the Central Bank of Nigeria with the idea that it would be cheaper for the bank to allow his transport company to manage their fleet of staff buses, a proposal that was also approved. This is a lesson that young entrepreneurs with ideas must learn, to make headway in the business world.

Lack of skilled labour

African entrepreneurs operate in industries where there is a shortage of skilled workers, which can make it difficult to find and retain top talent. Most of them have navigated these challenges by sending employees abroad for training. Dangote sent young engineers to India to train them on crude distillation units, continuous catalytic reform, and fluid catalytic cracking units, ahead of the launch of his $19 billion oil refinery.

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