Every year, Jeune Afrique and The Africa Report establish a ranking of the Top 500 companies on the continent. This year, the ranking illustrates a general recovery in their activities. For this 24th edition, which covers 2021, the cumulative continental turnover for the ranking has jumped nearly 12%, driven by growth and rising commodity prices. Even more remarkable, the turnover of Africa’s Top 500 ($664.93bn) is at the highest level since 2014 when it recorded $690.5bn.
Julien Wagner, journalist at Jeune Afrique, in charge of the ranking, answered our questions:
• What are the main trends you observed on this year’s Top 500? What are the leading sectors and countries?
This year’s Top 500 is exceptional on several levels. First, the cumulated turnover of Africa’s Top 500 enterprises (i.e., $664,93bn, up by 12%) has reached its highest level since 2014 ($690bn). Also, the total profits figure is at the highest level ever with $80,84bn. These two figures take into account the financial results released from December 2021 to June 2022. They show how resilient the biggest African companies have been while being impacted by the Covi-19 crisis. As a reminder, in our previous edition, cumulative revenues for the 2020 fiscal year were down by 3.9%.
The Oil & Gas sector has been leading the recovery. At the height of the health crisis, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell below zero on 20 April 2020. In 2021, according to the World Bank, WTI’s average annual price reached $68 per barrel, compare the previous year’s $39,3. Prices then rose due to the Ukrainian war. Oil & Gas producer countries like Nigeria, Algeria or Angola have thus greatly benefited from this context.
The mining sector has also been leading the recovery with a prices effect: minerals like iron ore, phosphates, and cobalt have brought huge profits for the companies active in these businesses. Countries like Mauritania, DRC or Guinea have logically benefited these trends. Consequently, steel makers, like Ezz Steel (Egypt) or Maghreb Steel (Morocco) have also greatly improved their revenue.
Two other sectors showed great resilience: agribusiness and ports. Before the disruptions induced by the war in Ukraine, African agribusiness showed great strength, especially in palm oil exporting countries like Ivory Coast. In Nigeria, Abdulsamed Rabiu’s BUA Foods is another example of robustness with a $800-million-turnover in 2021. Finally, the post Covid-19 reactivation of supply chains have naturally benefited hub countries like Morocco or South Africa.
• What sectors and countries would you add to your watchlist for the upcoming years?
The first sector to watch is the mining sector and thus, mineral-rich countries. The energetic transition gives Africa a unique opportunity to be central in a brand-new value chain from mines to electrical vehicles. In DRC, the new Kamoa-Kakula copper mine is ranked 173rd and is a real opportunity. What will be interesting to follow is how countries will succeed or not to go up in this value chain and produce batteries within countries instead of exporting raw materials. The second sector that should be closely monitored if the agribusiness sector as agriculture is the key element to Africa’s growth. We need more production, more transformation, more sales within Africa and, in the end, more $1bn-dollar-companies in this sector.
• South African companies largely dominate the ranking. How do you see them evolve over the next years?
They do dominate with 49,6% of cumulated revenues and 159 companies out of 500 but… this domination is slightly eroding every year. 5 years ago, they had 57% of cumulated revenues. Last year 51%. We expect this trend to continue in the years to come as new companies emerge in various countries throughout Africa.
• What are some examples of companies that have greatly improved?
The first I would mention is OCP, the Moroccan fertilizer company. This company has been steadily going up whatever crisis it is facing, doubling its revenue in about 5 years to nearly become a $10bn-company. OCP was 15th last year, 11th this year and could enter the Top 10 next year.
The second is obviously Sonatrach. The Algerian oil and gas public company tops our ranking as every year since the beginning. Sonatrach’s revenues ($34bn) are two times Sasol’s ones, which is the second company of our ranking.
The last I would like to mention is a non-African company, Wilmar. This is the first time we have been able to get the consolidated figures of this Singaporean trading and agribusiness company including all its African footprint. Only a few multinationals do it and I think this is a shame. Wilmar has done it and I would like to thank them as transparency is key to Africa’s development. Wilmar Africa is now 27th in our ranking with a little more than $5bn in turnover.