When, the world’s most respected business magazine, Forbes, named Mr January Makamba and Mr Mohammed Dewji among Africa’s 10 most powerful men for 2013, the news was received with mixed reactions here.
A number of questions were raised, especially in the online debate, along these lines: Are these the most powerful men in Tanzania and Africa? Where does their power and influence come from? How is it manifested? Does society feel their power and in which areas? What’s their social impact, if any? Are they recognised as such by Tanzanians?
Mr Makamba, the deputy Minister for Science, Communication and Technology, said he was shocked but felt honoured by the magazine’s verdict. He told The Citizen this week, though, that he was not comfortable with the word “power”, given the historical connotations it carries.
But Mr Dewji, the group chief executive officer of Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania, told The Citizen that his power is reflected in the massive investment his company has in 11 African countries.
The Citizen went in search of the two men in an attempt to capture their feelings about the ranking and the criteria used to select them.
The 40-year-old Mr Makamba says the ranking was not about him and was simply recognition of the work he and the other nine Africans have done across the continent to unite young Africans to push for the continent’s agenda. “I think the apt word here is influence. I am not sure society feels my power, but what I can tell you is that when I speak people listen and you guys write about it,” Mr Makamba said. The Bumbuli MP added: “I think the idea that your word carries some weight and people rely on it in their social transactions is powerful–and I think it is also an immense responsibility.”
The concept of power has been evolving in recent years, he said, and it was no longer about the political position one holds.
“We have seen how irrelevant those can be as far as influencing action or commanding respect is concerned,” said Mr Makamba, who was once President Jakaya’s speech writer.
“It is no longer about carrying a big stick and having a huge entourage. The new kind of power and influence, soft power if you will, lies in the capacity to inspire and to persuade, and the capacity to create a wide global network of acquaintances and put it to work for the greater good.”
Sometimes this happens through sheer force of personality, he added. “I think the people on the list have been able to do this. We have been able to advance the idea of African citizenship – and I believe that any of us on the list can go to any African city and university and, without much effort, be able to commune and influence some action.”
Mr Makamba holds a Masters degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution in Fairfax, Virginia.
“When people, particularly young people, realign their priorities in life because of you, I think that is powerful–and I think you should take this responsibility seriously,” said Mr Makamba.
Asked how he felt when Forbes declared him one of the 10 most powerful men in Africa, he said: “I obviously was honoured. I did not expect it nor was I aware that such a list exists. I became aware of it a day before when Ms Farai Gundan from Forbes, who compiled the list, asked me to send a photo for the publication.”
He admitted that he did not know Forbes’ criteria in picking the candidates and directed the writer to talk to Forbes about it. According to Forbes, they collected many nominations across Africa which they then submitted for profiling and shortlisting.
After five years (2005-2010) as presidential aide, Mr Makamba left State House “enriched with deep knowledge on many issues and countless lifelong lessons”.
Mo Dewji’s story
Mr Dewji attributes his power to the rigorous expansion of his family’s business empire across the continent. The group has operations in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Eastern Congo, Ethiopia and Botswana.
“During the past six months, I have travelled extensively to these countries looking at how to expand my operations there,” he said. “I have decided to invest a total of $300 million in these countries within next 24 months.”
In Tanzania, he said, the group contributes about 3.5 per cent of the total market value of all officially recognised final goods and services produced within the country in a year (Gross Domestic Product–GDP)
At group level, the company also offers 4.5 per cent of all formal employment opportunities in Tanzania. “With such a background, it may not be amazing for me to be ranked as one of Africa’s 10 Most Powerful Men in 2014,” he said.
Mohammed Group has 24,000 employees and generates annual revenues of $1.3 billion people, but the 39-year old Singida Urban MP is hopeful that, come 2017, the number of people employed by the company will rise to 100,000 and the income generated annually will also rise significantly.
The Group started out as a family business–a small trading company that Mr Dewji and his father, Gulam Dewji, transformed into one of the largest industrial conglomerates in East Africa with interests ranging from real estate, agriculture, finance, distribution and manufacturing.
Mr Dewji, who has been an MP for eight years, says he engages in many philanthropic projects in his constituency. According to the business guru, he pays school fees for some 1,100 students in secondary school and supports the electorate in areas such as health, entrepreneurship development, water and sports. “In the past eight years, I have spent Sh8 billion on development projects in my constituency and I believe this also contributed to the ranking,” he said.
The Citizen could not independently establish the criteria Forbes magazine used to determine the 10 most powerful men in Africa. For two days running, The Citizen was unable to reach Forbes Magazine in US to get a clear indication of how the list was compiled.