Although he used to walk to school barefoot and the family shared a hut with livestock, he died one of the richest men in Africa.
“I grew up in poverty, but I always saw it as a challenge. The good thing is that you can surmount a challenge if you are willing to pay the price. The price is hard work.”
These are the words of Reginald Mengi, one of Africa’s wealthiest men, who died in Dubai yesterday at the age of 75.
The Tanzanian walked the talk. In 2014, Forbes magazine listed him as the 46th wealthiest African with an estimated net worth of $560 million (Sh56 billion), effectively making him one of the most influential men in Tanzania.
Mengi was not a child of privilege, but rather, one that grew up in extreme poverty.
According to the biography on his website, Mengi built his massive business empire in many years of patience and hard work.
The website describes Mengi as having been born in an extremely impoverished family in northern Tanzania, raised in a mud hut which the family shared with cows, sheep, goats and chickens.
He had one meal a day and sometimes none at all and walked to school barefoot.
While these adversities would have discouraged many people, they did not put Mengi down. Instead, they inspired him to work hard to overcome them.
His road to success began when he joined Cooper Brothers in the United Kingdom, where he studied accountancy and articles.
Mengi worked in the UK until 1971, when he returned to Tanzania, working for Coopers & Lybrand Tanzania, and rising to become the company’s chairman and managing partner.
Mengi left Coopers & Lybrand in October 1989 to focus on business, eventually building one of the largest Tanzanian private companies — the IPP Group.
According to Forbes, Mengi’s IPP Media Group owns 11 media outlets including newspapers, radio and television stations and internet properties.
He also owns Bonite Bottlers, the sole bottler of Coca-Cola products in the northern region of Tanzania. His Kilimanjaro brand of bottled water is the biggest selling in the country.
Mengi’s business interests extended to mining.
But even as his wealth grew, Mengi never forgot his humble beginnings and became an ardent philanthropist.
Long before his death, many Tanzanians and global figures testified of the businessman’s boundless generosity and kindness.
Through several initiatives, Mengi sponsored hundreds of children with heart problems for treatment in India and aided scores of physically challenged persons.
For his extraordinary business acumen and untiring philanthropic efforts, Mengi obtained recognition in Tanzania and globally.
He was widely honoured for his humanitarian causes, from fighting corruption and social injustice to promoting ethical and responsible business practices and helping vulnerable persons.
Mengi was an inspiration to the Tanzanian youth. They drew inspiration from his business acumen; his kindness and his devotion as a father and husband.
While his second marriage to former Miss Tanzania, Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe Mengi, stirred debate owing to the nearly 36-year gap between them, many looked up to it as an epitome of devotion.
Mengi’s first wife, with whom he had three children, died last year. By then he had already married a second wife.
Even at 75, Mengi was always proud of his second wife, showering her with love publicly.
The couple often posted their pictures together on social media, sometimes in coordinated outfits and accompanied by their two young sons.
Last month, Mengi posted on Twitter: “My sweetheart, I love you more than the sand in all the seas in the whole world.”
Days earlier, on March 27, his wife’s birthday, Mengi had sent her a birthday message on Twitter that read: “Happy Anniversary my Sweet love. It has been a very exciting journey full of love and happiness. I love you crazy.”
For many, Mengi was a model family man. In comments to his online posts, many of his followers said he taught them to be good fathers and husbands.
“Reginald Mengi loved his family and he wasn’t afraid to show his affection whenever he felt like it... that’s one great deed I will take from him,” one tweeted.
On Mengi’s birthday tweet to his wife one follower tweeted: “You have advised us on other matters in your book ‘I Can, I Must, I Will’. Now advise us on love. Give us another book so we know where to improve as young men.”
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