Zimbabwean born Strive Masiyiwa named UK’s first black billionaire

Strive made his fortune from launching Zimbabwe’s first mobile operator in 1993.

Britain has named Zimbabwean born Strive Masiyiwa its first black billionaire. The 60-year-old, worth £1.087-billion (R20.85-billion), made his fortune in telecommunications when he launched Zimbabwe’s first mobile operator in 1993.

His razor-sharp business acumen is also in demand by western companies. Strive’s portfolio of directorships includes appointments to executive boards at Unilever and Netflix. He is the first African to get a seat at the famous American online streaming platform, signalling that Netflix is looking to Africa to grow its audience.

The telecoms tycoon also gained a reputation of being a troublemaker who is not afraid to take on corrupt state officials. His long, tumultuous history with Robert Mugabe’s regime has seen the billionaire pay the country’s doctors out of his pocket so that they could continue providing medical care to the country’s embattled population. He also funded Zimbabwe’s independent media houses during the long-running resistance to the Mugabe-led regime.

He is a folk hero of sorts to ordinary Zimbabweans who remain in the country or are economic refugees in neighbouring African countries.

Strive was born in then Rhodesia in 1961, and his parents first fled to neighbouring Zambia to escape Ian Smith's white-minority regime. Later the family settled in the UK. By the time he was 20, Strive had returned to his country of origin to take up a position at state-owned telecommunications company ZPTC.

This position would have a lasting impact on Strive, for it was here that he was exposed to varying levels of toxic cronyism, corruption and bureaucracy. He then left the government to fly solo, marking the beginning of a never-ending, difficult battle with Zimbabwe’s dictatorship government.

Strive’s ambitions to launch Zimbabwe’s first mobile network got off to a rocky start, as the Robert Mugabe-led government blocked his efforts at every turn. Determined to succeed, he approached the country’s high court to intervene and won the case. By 2010, Strive reported that 70 percent of Africans were connected through his company, Econet Wireless Global.

To date, Econet remains a target of consistent vitriol by Zimbabwean state officials. Very recently, the Zimbabwean High Court granted relief to Econet against the police department's demands for access to subscriber details and transactions as part of a money-laundering probe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government said black market foreign currency traders are using Econet’s mobile money platform to undermine the local currency and launder money.

Econet said the accusations were “ridiculous” and part of a plot to undermine its market leadership position.
Strive’s determination to increase telecoms access across the continent has led to legal disputes in Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana and Kenya. But in every country, Strive emerged victorious.

His South African headquartered subsidiary, Liquid Telecom, is rapidly expanding its infrastructure in various parts of the continent and building the largest African data centre in Nigeria. These moves signal that the company is moving quickly to position itself as an ideal provider for large tech firms like Netflix looking to expand their clientéle on the African continent.

Strive has also grown leaps and bounds as a humanitarian and philanthropist. He led relief efforts against the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and is currently part of a team to secure Covid-19 vaccines for Africa’s 1.3 billion-strong population.