By Chris Bishop, Head of Programming, CNBC Africa
In Africa wealth and power attracts envy and retribution like flies. Mohammed Dewji – the youngest billionaire in Africa – had both wealth and power in spades – but many people are baffled why anyone would want to hurt him. It was my privilege to put him on the cover of Forbes Africa, in my days of editing it, and to announce him as Person of the Year a couple of years later, which he accepted with his trade mark politeness and grace.
Mo, as most in business know him, was never the flamboyant, bullying type of billionaire, he was always the quiet type who worked hard, up to 100 hours a week, in earning $85 million a year and transforming the family import-export business into a Tanzanian conglomerate employing tens of thousands of people making everything from soft drinks to sisal.
A 180 degree turnaround from the dreams of his youth. Mo had a good golfing handicap from his primary school days and wanted to be the next Tiger Woods. His father sent him to study at the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy in the United States.
“I won the regional tournaments, but when I got to the nationals I realised how good everyone else was,” Mo told me once.
Mo went to Wall Street as a trader and one day he phoned his father back in Tanzania to ask for money to buy a new suit.
“My father said if I couldn’t afford a suit it was time to come home and work for him.”
This Mo did with a will and took over the family business in his 30s and modernised it garnering an estimated $1.5 billion fortune in the process. He even opted to take on the mighty Coca Cola – the graveyard of many a big time entrepreneur, including Sir Richard Branson – with his home grown Mo Cola. A sell out of his bottling plants to Coca Cola, which holds more than 90% of the market in Tanzania would have been very lucrative but Mo believed in his African brand. A certain struggle in a tough market.
What is more uncertain is who would want to hurt Mo and why would they go as far as kidnapping him from a gym at dawn firing guns through their window in their escape to God knows where.