Self-effacing tycoon, Basiru Jawara, who reportedly made his first million at the age of 18, has for long been touted as the richest man in The Gambia.
But he evidently is not. On the whole, Gunjur-born telecom magnate is. He started from zero, but Alieu BM Conteh is now one of the most recognised multi-millionaires in the African telecommunications market. His mobile telecommunications company in Congo is worth more than $US1.5billion.
Who is Alieu BM Conteh
He was born in Gunjur, Kombo South in 1952. Alieu’s family was very poor; they struggled to make ends meet. He left the country as a young man, crossing many borders in search for better opportunities and to provide a better future for his family. How he ended up in the USA still remains a mystery to many Gunjarians.
Lamin Dibba, former deputy editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer said: “He suddenly left Gunjur and his whereabouts was unknown. Some thought he was dead until in the late 1980s when he returned on a visit. He came with a lot of cars. His brother, who was living in extreme poverty, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw him.”
The people of Gunjur were happy that their long-lost son was back. Alieu was extraordinarily generous, devoting his time and cash to charitable causes in the village.
The former editor of the Standard Newspaper, Sainey Darboe, also from Gunjur, told What’s On-Gambia: “He singlehandedly lifted his family from poverty and used to provide every family in the village with a bag of rice. He also sponsored dozens of people to perform hajj in Mecca.”
How did Alieu make his money
In 1981, he moved to Congo, a mineral-rich country. Alieu was exporting coffee beans to the United Kingdom. But during the civil war in 1996-1997, he lost everything in the countryside to the rebels.
When Laurent-Désiré Kabila took over, the Gunjur-born businessman decided to re-enter business. He sold everything he owned to start Congo’s first mobile telecommunications company, Congolese Wireless Network (CWN) in 1999 with just 4000 subscribers.
Two years later, Alieu sold 51 percent of his company to Vodacom in South Africa, and the name was changed to Vodacom Congo. Today, they have more than three million subscribers.
Alieu is also involved in other businesses.
His family in The Gambia
They are ‘living large’. According to Sainey, the family now has everything they need in monetary terms.
He said: “They are doing great and have everything at their disposal. Some of his nephews have been sponsored for education in South Africa.”