BLACK BILLIONAIRE UPDATE:
According to Forbes international rich lists, Oprah Winfrey is the richest black person and had been the world's only black billionaire for three straight years.
Mobutu, the Congolese president, and Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military leader, were probably billionaires (both, pictured below) when they were alive but Forbes could never confirm this (according to Forbes magazine's Kerry Dolan).
From 2001-2003, Forbes listed Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson as a billionaire but dropped him after his fortune was split in his divorce from his wife Sheila. Forbes recently reported that Johnson has rebuilt his billion-dollar empire, placing him back on their American rich list, and can be expected to return to their international rich list in March 2007.
ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM AGAINST JOHNSON & WINFREY:
Reports have surfaced that even Black billionaires are not immune to the racism faced by everyday Blacks. In 2001, then Black billionaire Bob Johnson accused Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y of racism when Schumer attempted to block Johnson’s efforts to start “DC Air," a regional airline that would include slots in New York City and reach airports in upstate New York.
Johnson sent Schumer a letter reading:
As an African-American businessperson who has a personal net worth significantly greater than the market capitalization of [rival companies] Jet Blue and Air Tran combined, I am offended that you could argue that these two companies deserve an opportunity that should be denied to me.
It cannot be that you believe that they are better businesspersons; perhaps it is because they are white businesspersons.
Schumer's office released a statement saying the senator’s decision was based on "how it would benefit the people of New York, not on the basis of any political or racial consideration."
Racism was also suspected when Oprah Winfrey was denied entrance to Hermès’ Paris flagship store when she arrived only fifteen minutes after the formal closing time, despite the fact that the store was still very active and despite the tradition of high-end stores routinely extending hours for VIP customers. In living rooms and Internet chat rooms across America, Winfrey’s case sparked discussion of what many see as a serious problem of Blacks receiving poor treatment or outright suspicion no matter how well-educated or rich they are - particularly in high-end stores.
"The presumption in America is that if you have the wealth, you'll get equality - but where's Oprah's equality?" asked Bruce D. Haynes, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis. "It picks up on every inkling of discrimination that a black person might experience in daily life." Haynes added: "Many people are saying, 'I don't have the money, but Oprah represents what I could be. … She's like the black Donald Trump. And if it can happen to Oprah, it could happen to anyone."
Racism has also been blamed for derailing the careers of Blacks who appeared headed for billionaire status. Author and activist Dick Gregory says “Michael Jackson did something that no one thought a Black man would do. He purchased the Beatles catalogue for $48 million and today it is worth $1.5 billion. He didn’t know when he bought it that the Beatles owned Little Richard’s music. Michael gave it back to Little Richard, who is very happy now. Michael also owns the Elvis Presley catalogs. A Black man owns (the music of) two of the most important music figures in the world and anytime something is played by either of them, Michael gets paid…
Dictator Sani Abacha
THE FIRST BLACK BILLIONAIRES? BEFORE OPRAH WINFREY & BOB JOHNSON:
Despite being one of Africa’s top oil producing countries, no citizen of Nigeria has ever apperared on Forbes billionaire list, however an editor for Forbes claims that dictator Sani Abacha (who died in office in 1998) probably was a billionaire after all. Abacha's position as an allegedly corrupt dictator made his wealth unusually difficult to track and so his exact net-worth was a subject of much dispute . Abacha has been accused of siphoning off $2.2 billion in foreign assets to his family and their representatives (some have put the figure as high as $3 billion), however this fortune may have been divided among the foreign bank accounts of too many people for Abacha, or any individual in his inner circle to have ever qualified as a billionaire.
In April 2002, Switzerland, which began blocking Abacha's assets in late 1999, decided that Nigeria would get back $1 billion of the money allegedly embezzled by Abacha and his family with $535 million of that sum being transferred to the Bank for International Settlements in Basel to be used "in favor of the federal government of Nigeria," the justice office said. According to the terms of a deal reached with the Abacha family, the Nigerian government agreed to drop all criminal charges against Abacha's son Mohammed Sani Abacha and businessman Bagudu Abubakar and would also allow the Abacha family to keep $100 million which were "acquired prior to Abacha's term of office and which . . . demonstrably do not derive from criminal acts," the Office of Justice said.
"The Nigerians talk about $2.2 billion being plundered from the Treasury. They already received around $1 billion between 1998 and 2001, and now they are getting another $1 billion, which corresponds more or less to the $2.2 billion," said Folco Galli, a justice office spokesman. Nigerian officials however, continue to insist that only some of the funds that Abacha allegedly embezzled are in Switzerland and have requested assistance from the United States, Britain, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Germany to find the rest.
Congolese President Mobutu
Although currently the only billionaires in sub-Saharan Africa are White South Africans, there is an evidence that during the 20th century, Zaire/Congo, may not only have had a billionaire, but a Black one. Although no one with any known degree of Sub-Saharan ancestry appeared on Forbes billionaire list until 2001, a Forbes editor has gone on record claiming that Mobutu was probably a billionaire but the magazine could never confirm it.
CNN.com reported that Mobutu may have been worth as much as $5 billion, an amount almost equivalent to his country's foreign debt during the 1980s (the time the wealth was allegedly acquired), and, by 1989, the government was forced to default on international loans from Belgium. He owned a fleet of Mercedes-Benz vehicles that he used to travel between his numerous palaces, while many of his people starved. Infrastructure virtually collapsed, and many public service workers went months without being paid. Most money was siphoned off to Mobutu, his family, and top political and military leaders. Only the Special Presidential Division — on whom his physical safety depended — was paid adequately or regularly. A popular saying that the civil servants pretended to work while the state pretended to pay them expressed this grim reality.
While many believe that Mobutu actually did steal billions, in an effort to evade detection, the fortune may have been split among so many friends, family members, and government officials, that no single individual in Zaire ever qualified as a billionaire.
*We are flattered and grateful that Panache Report's "Richest In Hip-Hop List" for 2006 appeared in the unedited version of this story.