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US tech executives rake in billions amid COVID-19 as they eye Africa for growth

While the rest of the world battles the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least three tech executives in the US have their collective wealth grow by an eye-popping $72.6 billion between the period of March 18 and May 19, as they line up Africa for next growth.


A report jointly released in May by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies showed that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg grew their combined fortunes by nearly $60 billion in the past two months. When added with the $25.3 billion earned by Steve Ballmer who led Microsoft as CEO from 2000 to 2014, the combined net worth of the three executives within these two months comes to $72.6 billion.


By percentage points, Zuckerberg has had the best two months of all the top ten billionaires in the United States with a 46.2 percent rise in his fortune – a net worth rise to $79 billion in May from $54 billion in March. Bezos, who remains the richest person in the world with $147 billion net worth, saw his wealth grow by 30.6 percent in the two months.


Other tech executives who got richer during the period include Mackenzie Bezos of Amazon ($12 billion); Larry Page of Oracle ($11.19 billion); Sergey Brin of Google ($10.7 billion); and Bill Gates of Microsoft ($8 billion).


Beyond tech executives, the total net worth of the over 600 billionaires in the US grew from $2.948 trillion to $3.382 trillion. In March, there were 614 billionaires on the Forbes list. Within the two months under review, the number of billionaires has risen to 630. In the same period, the number of US citizens filing for unemployment rose to 38.6 million according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.


While the growth underscores growing inequalities, African countries would likely be the next play field for the companies of these tech billionaires seeking growth as fear of market saturation continues to grow. Africa leads the world in fastest mobile uptake with three-quarters of the population having a SIM card as of 2017, according to GSMA report, but poor mobile and internet infrastructure undermine the growth in demand. As of December 2019, internet penetration on the continent was at 39.3 percent less than the world average of 59 percent.


Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon have since 2020 ramped up their investments on the continent. In May Facebook announced 2Africa, a 37,000km subsea cable that would interconnect 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.


“The Investment in 2Africa builds on other investments we have made in the region, including infrastructure investments in South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Najam Ahmad, VP of Engineering, Facebook; and Kevin Salvadori, Director Network Investments, Facebook. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity as billions of people around the world rely on the internet to work, attend school, and stay connected to those they care about. 2Africa will be not only an important element for advancing connectivity infrastructure across the Africa continent but also a major investment that comes at a crucial time for economic recovery.”


Microsoft appears to have strategically positioned itself to benefit from growth in remote work on the continent as a result of the pandemic. In March 2019, the tech giant had launched two data centre regions in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, becoming the first global provider to deliver cloud services from data centres on the African continent.


Microsoft had reported in May 2020 that revenue from its intelligent cloud group which includes Azure grew by $12.3 billion representing a 27 percent year-on-year gain. During the revenue call, Satya Nadella said that with new regions added in the first quarter, Microsoft Azure now has more data centre regions than any other cloud provider.


Microsoft was not the only company that increased its data centre stake leveraging on the demand in Africa. Amazon, in April 2020, announced the opening of its first data centre operations in Africa.


The AWS Africa Region brings the number of AWS Availability Zones to 73 within 23 geographic regions around the world. Amazon also plans to open 12 more Availability Zones across four more AWS Regions around the world.


The company had in March also announced a partnership with Kenya’s Safaricom which enables the largest telecommunication company in Kenya to sell AWS cloud services to its East Africa customer network. Safaricom will also become the first Advanced Consulting Partner for the AWS partner network in East Africa.

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