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Africa’s Wealth Landscape: Navigating Challenges, Seizing Opportunities

Dominic Volek

Dominic Volek

Dominic Volek is Group Head of Private Clients and a member of the Executive Committee of Henley & Partners.

Africa's wealth story is one of aspiration and untapped potential. The continent is home to 135,200 millionaires, 342 centi-millionaires, and 21 billionaires, collectively holding a total investable wealth of USD 2.5 trillion.

The growth story is promising, with Africa’s millionaire population set to rise 65% in the next decade, fueled by strong growth in key sectors such as fintech, eco-tourism, business process outsourcing, software development, rare metals mining, green tech, media and entertainment, and wealth management.

But this growth has not been without setbacks. Currency depreciation and underperforming stock markets have chipped away at Africa's wealth compared to global benchmarks. The South African rand fell 43% against the US dollar from 2013–2023, and even though the JSE All Share Index, which makes up well over half of Africa’s listed company holdings, rose in local currency terms, it was down 5% in USD terms over that period. Currencies in most other African countries also performed poorly compared to the USD over the past 10 years, with dramatic depreciations of over 75% recorded in Nigeria, Egypt, Angola, and Zambia.

Digital image of the globe made up of glowing lines

This erosion of wealth can be largely attributed to the typical composition of African wealth portfolios. African investors tend to allocate their assets equally across equities, property, and cash. With African stock markets underperforming against global peers, local property markets facing headwinds, and currencies depreciating against the dollar, African investors have seen their wealth eroded on multiple fronts.

Pockets of prosperity

Amid these challenges, there are some notable centers of affluence across the continent. The 'Big 5' wealth markets — South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Morocco — collectively account for 56% of Africa's high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) and over 90% of its billionaires. South Africa leads the pack with 37,400 millionaires, 102 centi-millionaires, and 5 billionaires, followed by Egypt with 15,600 millionaires, 52 centi-millionaires, and 7 billionaires.

At the city level, Johannesburg emerges as the wealthiest, with 12,300 millionaires, 25 centi-millionaires, and 2 billionaires. Cape Town follows closely with 7,400 millionaires, 28 centi-millionaires, and 1 billionaire. Cairo (7,200 millionaires), Nairobi (4,400 millionaires), and Lagos (4,200 millionaires) also stand out as urban wealth hubs.

However, when looking at millionaire growth rates from 2013 to 2023, a different picture emerges. While South Africa and Egypt saw declines of 20% and 22% respectively, countries like Mauritius (87%), Rwanda (84%), Morocco (35%), and Namibia (32%) all experienced significant growth in their millionaire populations. Mauritius’ high growth rate made it the 3rd fastest growing market in the world for millionaires over this period.

Going forward, over the next decade (to 2033), the likes of Mauritius, Namibia, Morocco, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are all expected to experience 80%+ millionaire growth. Mauritius, with its stable governance and favorable tax regime, is projected to experience a remarkable 95% growth rate, positioning it as one of the world's fastest-growing wealth markets once more. Namibia, too, is poised for impressive high-net-worth growth, with a forecast exceeding 85% by 2033. The country's inclination towards offering residence by investment, coupled with its resource-rich economy and strategic location, is expected to attract global investors.

The allure of Africa's most expensive cities adds another layer to the continent's wealth narrative. Cape Town, with prime residential spaces valued at USD 5,600 per square meter, and Grand Baie in Mauritius, close behind at USD 5,000 per square meter, emerge not just as international centers of luxury but also as benchmarks of investment appeal and lifestyle desirability. These cities, alongside others like Morocco’s Marrakech and South Africa’s Sandton, stand as tangible examples of prosperity.

Investment migration: A catalyst for growth

Investment migration is emerging as a potential further catalyst for Africa's economic growth. By offering residence and citizenship by investment opportunities, African countries can attract vital foreign capital, stimulate job creation, and foster knowledge transfer. This not only benefits the host nations but also provides African HNWIs with enhanced global mobility and risk diversification options.

However, the growing trend of wealthy Africans seeking alternative residence or citizenship abroad underscores the need for African governments to create an enabling environment that encourages local investment and mitigates talent and capital flight. Strengthening institutions, enhancing transparency, and implementing investor-friendly policies will be key to retaining and attracting wealth.

Despite the challenges, Africa's potential for wealth creation remains immense. The continent's youthful and rapidly growing population presents a significant demographic dividend. Strategic investments in education, infrastructure, and technology could unlock human capital and drive sustainable growth.

Plus, Africa's vast natural resources offer a wealth of opportunities. Countries like Namibia, with its uranium, diamonds, copper, and gold reserves, are attracting global attention. Recent discoveries of offshore oil and gas further underscore the continent's resource potential. Harnessing these resources sustainably and translating them into broad-based prosperity will be a defining challenge for African leaders.

Key takeaways

Looking ahead, Africa's youthful population and vast resources represent a significant opportunity. The continent's growing middle class and increasing consumer spending power make it an attractive market for foreign firms seeking new growth frontiers. Africa's natural wealth, from minerals to hydrocarbons to arable land, also provides a solid foundation for prosperity if harnessed responsibly and equitably.

Clearly, Africa's wealth story is complex and potentially just beginning. Immense challenges coexist with incredible opportunities. By confronting these challenges head-on and seizing opportunities wisely, Africa can chart a path toward a more prosperous and inclusive future. The road ahead isn't easy, but the destination — a thriving economy that benefits all Africans — will certainly make the journey worthwhile.

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