Celebrating Ghana’s Sam Jonah
Sir Sam Jonah is known in the corporate world as a business leader with rich managerial skills that saw Anglogold Ashanti reaching higher heights.
But on the lighter side, the knighted business magnate has an interesting social life that most people do not know of.
Speaking to The Weekender newspaper based in South Africa, Sir Jonah said the best time to track him down is mid-afternoon. That, he revealed, is when his phenomenal energy takes a dip. He said he has a built-in alarm clock which wakes him every morning at 4.45am and by 5.00am he is already in the gym.
Sir Jonah revealed the habit was instilled by his father, a military man, who insisted none of his children could be in bed after 5am. As his father had 10 children, said Jonah, he obviously knew how to be productive.
Sir Jonah was born in the mining area of Obuasi, where most of his family lives, he worked as a miner for Ashanti Goldfields before studying up to master's level in mine management at the Imperial College of Science of Technology in London. He oversaw the growth of Ashanti Goldfields between 1986 and 2004 when it merged with AngloGold. He then became the first president of AngloGold Ashanti.
His departure from AngloGold Ashanti's board earlier this year was criticised in some quarters in Ghana, perhaps because it was felt that Ghana had lost control of its 100-year-old gold mine. But, he said, two Ghanaians remain as nonexecutive directors on the board, and the Ghanaian government and citizens own 6% of the company. If they wanted more they could buy shares, he pointed out.
After 37 years with the mining house, Jonah wanted a change. He had always been an entrepreneur at heart.
His diversified investment company, Jonah Capital, is the second-biggest shareholder in pan-African microlender Bayport, and a major shareholder in Houses for Africa, a company that has undertaken middle-class housing construction projects in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria, where it also provides finance.
Jonah said a major constraint to home ownership in Africa is that most economies remain almost entirely cash-based.
With Standard Bank and a private entrepreneur as partners, Jonah recently started Jonah Mining, which has made investments in coal, platinum, uranium and gold. Its strategy is to take controlling stakes in a diversified portfolio of unlisted junior mining initiatives in Africa, and bring them to a point where they can be separately listed.
Sir Jonah also has investments in and holds seats on the boards of a number of companies, including Uramin, Moto Mining and SA's Scharrig Mining.
Jonah believes Africa is where the “low-hanging fruit” can be found and that the political economic management and governance improvements in Africa have not attracted the levels of investment justified by its potential resources.
But the Chinese, Russians and Indians have been investing in Africa's oil and mineral wealth in the past few years. In reaction, US and European institutions have expressed fear that this will renew the continent's debt trap and prop up illegitimate governments.
The suggestion provokes a vehement response from Jonah.
“This is a very hypocritical view championed by the west. Western governments showed little interest in Africa before the Chinese, Russians and Indians presented fresh competition.”
“Perhaps, to be cynical, it was no coincidence that the Group of Eight (G-8) was showing a new found love for Africa. Now you hear the US and British and European Union talking about the corrupting influence of the Chinese. The same organisations are the ones that institutionalized corruption in Africa,” he said.
He said: “The IMF turned a blind eye to Mobotu Sese Seko (the corrupt dictator of the former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo). My personal experience is that Chinese investors take a long-term view. They are ready to go into serious infrastructure development that the west has not undertaken.”
Sir Jonah believes Africa governments are wiser now than in the past. Immediately after independence, a new generation of Africans who had never served an apprenticeship were thrust into positions of leadership, he said.
“Nation-building is a slow, drawn-out process and it takes a long time for institutions of state which sustain stability to be well entrenched. Yes, we should be hard on ourselves, but should not underrate the enormity of the challenges that history imposed upon us, nor should we play down the remarkable progress we have accomplished in this relatively short period.”
Sir Jonah sits on the international investment advisory councils of Ghana, South Africa and that of Nigeria's former President Obasanjo.
He said he learned his leadership skills from his mother as a child. “I was taught to be decisive, and my mother instilled the need for integrity by constantly reminding me that my 'yes' should be my 'yes' and my 'no' be my 'no'. Whenever I vacillated, my ear was pinched.”
He said he was also taught to think ahead, not boast about his successes or drown in his failure and to show compassion.
Sir Jonah's travel schedule would shock even the most dedicated globe-trotter. Four days before the interview he had returned from Australia, where he was negotiating a coal deal. Two days after the interview he was to call in on Congo on the way to London for a meeting of the Investment Climate Facility, a body established by the G-8 to promote a healthy investment in Africa. A day later he was to return for a board meeting in Harare, fly to Botswana for a meeting with senior government officials and return to SA briefly before flying to Toronto to chair two board meetings.
Apart from going to gym seven days a week – a habit he began after a knee injury stopped him from playing squash and he could not find any walking partners in Johannesburg willing to join him at 5am – he enjoys television.
His favourite channels are the History Channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery, the BBC and Al Jazeera, which he regards as the most objective news channel.
He recently took a speed-reading course because he was concerned that he was not reading as much as he used to. This has improved both his quality and enjoyment of reading. And what does he enjoy reading?
Particularly biographies, he said.
Credit: The Weekender