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How Kenya’s growing super-rich make and spend their billions

By Dominic Omondi | September 6th 2020

Kenya’s billionaires made their vast wealth through entrepreneurship, particularly in real estate and construction, a new survey has shown.

According to Standard Bank’s inaugural African Wealth Report 2020, most of Kenya’s high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) also attributed their success to good ideas and timing, giving credence to the adage that wealth creation is a function of working smart than working hard.

After making this money, the ultra-wealthy strive even harder to preserve it, putting in more hours than an average worker.

And to unwind, Kenya’s billionaires prefer travelling, reading and exercise, fine dining and playing golf.

While most of the super-rich found their break into affluence through entrepreneurship, most of them practice entrepreneurship as a side hustle.

“Most strikingly, entrepreneurialism stands out as the strongest trait amongst HNWIs in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya,” said the report.

Side activity

However, in the same countries, entrepreneurship is a side activity of respondents who have executive careers.

One of the 56 Kenyans that were interviewed attributed his wealth to “guts, resilience, intensity and tenacity”.

Tangible assets, including real estate, commercial property, farmland and foreign property account for a huge chunk of the average super-rich person’s investable wealth, according to the report.

“The study found that in Africa, the primary vehicle chosen for consolidating and preserving wealth was property — from urban residential and commercial, through to industrial property, farmland and agribusiness,” said the report.

While agriculture is the biggest economic sector in Kenya — contributing close to a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) — only five per cent of HNWIs said they had created their wealth through growing crops and rearing livestock.

None said they made their billions through engineering, entertainment, legal services, minerals, pharmaceuticals, media and sports.

“Across all five countries surveyed, only in South Africa was property not the primary vehicle for wealth preservation. Investments in stock and equities took the top spot in this country,” said the report.

Unfortunately, compared to their counterparts in South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius and Ghana, Kenya’s super-rich seem to be chasing wealth at the expense of their family, with only 31 per cent of the 56 respondents spending more than 10 hours a week with their family.

This is the lowest compared with South Africa at 65 per cent, Mauritius at 59 per cent, Nigeria’s 47 per cent and Ghana’s 33 per cent.

Six in 10 of the wealthy individuals said their biggest fear is personal safety and security.

Fifty-five per cent ranked political environment as their biggest fear. Political undertones, especially during the electioneering period, tend to subdue investments in the country.

Of the 56 HNWIs that were interviewed, 18 were worth Sh10.8 billion and above.

Another eight were worth between Sh2.16 billion and Sh10.8 billion.

Four were worth Sh540 million and Sh2.16 billion while the remaining 26 put their value at between Sh108 million and Sh540 million.

Majority of Kenya’s super-rich, 27, were aged between 36 and 50 years.

Eighteen were in the age bracket of 51 and 64 years. Seven were aged between 26 and 35 years. Seven others were over 65 years.

Official data show that for the high income group in Nairobi, which includes occupants of corner offices of some of the most prestigious companies, Members of Parliament and top entrepreneurs, air tickets, fuel and dining in expensive hotels for business or leisure take up a huge chunk of their money.

A good portion of the money the rich in Nairobi spend on transport is on international travel, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows.

A fine dining restaurant has a formal atmosphere and a fancier menu than most restaurants. They offer wine lists, and sometimes a wine steward, to help you with your food and wine pairing.

Around 16 per cent of respondents had an estimated net worth of $5 million to $20 million, while the researchers also canvassed those with $20 million to more than $100 million in net worth.

Respondents were from real estate, manufacturing, construction, financial services, technology, oil and gas, education, entertainment, retail and trade.


Most HNWIs also show concern for the poor and increasingly get into philanthropy and setting up of charities.

The super-rich in Kenya are building schools, hospitals and providing clean drinking water in areas where there was none.

The motivation for this in many cases is more likely fear than guilt. The wealth report notes that one of the biggest threats to wealth creation today is the ever-expanding gap between the rich and the poor.?

And, as they say, the rich also cry. They may not brood over school fees or food for their families, but how their estates will be managed when they die, and if their wealth will withstand the forces of time.

Often, they do not trust their children, who tend to burn money on flashy purchases, not smart ones.

Another report done by Stanbic Bank, an affiliate of Standard Bank, and property consultancy firm Knight Frank found that Kenya’s ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) — those who are worth over Sh30 billion, almost tripled to 42 in 2019 from 16 five years earlier.

On the other end, HNWIs, those worth $1m and above, increased by 263 per cent to 2,900 from 800 in 2014.

The super-rich, according to this report, are expected to increase even more in the next four years.

By 2024, the number of UHNWIs in Kenya is expected to increase by 14 per cent to 48. HNWIs are projected to increase by 16 per cent to 3,369.

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