Mohammed “Mo” Gulamabbas Dewji, is a Tanzanian billionaire businessman and former politician. He is owner of MeTL Group, a Tanzanian conglomerate founded by his father in the 1970s. Dewji served as Member of the Tanzanian Parliament for Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) from 2005 to 2015 for his home town of Singida. As of June 2021, Dewji has an estimated net worth of US $1.6 billion, therefore positioning him as the 13th richest person in Africa and the continent’s youngest billionaire. Dewji is also the first Tanzanian to cover Forbes Magazine in 2013.
Early life and education
Dewji was born on 8 May 1975 in Ipembe, Singida. He is the second of six children of Gulamabbas Dewji and Zubeda Dewji. They are Twelver Shias whose ancestors left Gujarat, India in the late 1800s to become traders in East Africa. When Dewji was born, the family was still of modest means; Dewji was born with the help of a neighbouring midwife in a house built from sand and mud. Dewji attested that he almost died at birth due to having the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, a condition known as nuchal cord. By the time Dewji started school, his father had built a family shop into a thriving import-export company.
Dewji received his primary education in Arusha at the Arusha Primary School and continued his secondary education at the International School of Tanganyika (IST) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
In 1992 his father enrolled him at the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy in Orlando, Florida, where Dewji also attended Trinity Preparatory School for 11th Grade. Dewji then moved for his last and final year of high school to the Saddle Brook High School in New Jersey.
Dewji attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in international business and finance and a minor in theology.
Upon graduation from university, Dewji returned home and assumed the management of Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania Limited (MeTL), a commodities trading business founded by his father. After two years of working with the company, he became chief financial officer (CFO) at MeTL. In the early 2000s, when the Tanzanian government privatized loss-making companies, he acquired them inexpensively and turned them into profit centers by trimming personnel expenses. MeTL Group of Companies is the largest privately owned conglomerate in Tanzania.
Dewji is responsible for increasing MeTL’s revenues from $30 million to over $1.5 billion between 1999 and 2018. MeTL Group has investments in manufacturing, agriculture, trading, finance, mobile telephony, insurance, real estate, transport and logistics, and food and beverages. The group conducts business in 11 countries and employs over 28,000 people with the aim to target over 100,000 people by 2021. MeTL’s operations contribute ~3.5% of Tanzania’s GDP.
He was the first Tanzanian on the cover of Forbes Magazine, in 2013 and has been featured on three separate occasions. November 2015, Dewji was recognized as the Forbes Africa person of the year In his acceptance speech, he dedicated the award to the youth of Tanzania.
In 2000, Tanzania hosted its second multiparty elections where Dewji, at the age of 25 competed to become the Member of Parliament (MP) for Singida Urban. Despite winning the preliminary votes for the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) with an overwhelming majority, Dewji was deemed too young to hold the parliamentary seat.
Tanzania held its third multi-party elections in October 2005 and Dewji stood for the parliamentary seat again and was chosen by CCM to stand as a candidate for Singida Urban. In the general election he won with 90% of the votes and was sworn in as an MP for Singida Urban constituency on 29 December 2005. Dewji served for ten years before resigning from politics in October 2015.
Dewji established the Mo Dewji Foundation in 2014. Dewji joined the Giving Pledge, an effort to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy either during their lifetime or in their will. Dewji is the first Tanzanian and one of the three Africans that have made the pledge in this group of 150+ billionaires, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Strive Masiyiwa and Patrice Motsepe.
Honours and awards
2012: Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum
2014: 10 Most Powerful Men In Africa, Forbes Magazine
2014: African Philanthropist of the Year Award by the African Leadership magazine
2014: Top 100 of young economic leaders
2015: Philanthropist of the Year Award for the East African region by All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA)
2015: Business Leader of the Year Award by African Business Magazine
2015: Forbes Africa’s Person Of The Year 2015
2016: Choiseul 100 Africa 2016: Economic Leaders for Tomorrow
In 2001, Dewji married Saira, his high school sweetheart with whom he has three children. The couple resides in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Dewji is a Shia Muslim from the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamat also known as the ‘Twelver’ branch of Islam.
At approximately 5:35 am on 11 October 2018, Dewji was kidnapped and abducted by armed gunmen outside the Colosseum Hotel in Dar es Salaam, where he was arriving for a morning workout. The kidnappers allegedly fired shots into the air before kidnapping Dewji and driving off with the billionaire. Despite Dewji’s wealth, he did not commonly travel with a security detail, and had driven to the Colosseum gym on his own the morning of the attack.
By 13 October, at least 20 people had been arrested in the inquiry over Dewji’s disappearance. On October 15, the family held a press conference, where they offered one billion TZS (US$440,000) as a reward for information that would lead to his rescue.
At approximately 2:30 am on 20 October, Dewji called his family, saying that he was released at the Gymkhana grounds. At 3:15 am, a tweet was sent out on the METL Twitter account by Dewji, acknowledging his return and appreciation for the Tanzanian people’s support. In a video release, Police Commissioner Lazaro Mambosasa was seen talking to Dewji, who acknowledged the efforts of the police; Mambosasa clarified that Dewji met them at his house and was not rescued by police. He also reported that Dewji informed them that his kidnappers were speaking in a South African language. January Makamba tweeted that he had met Dewji and noticed rope marks on his hands and legs. In a 2019 interview to the BBC, Dewji stated that no ransom had been paid. He believes the kidnappers gave up due to the massive media and political attention.