Africa’s Top Companies 2024: Hope but limitations in East Africa

Although East Africa continues to be grossly underrepresented in our Top 250, many of its companies are growing strongly.


Image : Simon MAINA/AFP

The East African companies listed in our table have combined market capitalisation of $18.3bn. Kenya dominates as expected with $11.5bn, followed by Tanzania with $4.4bn and Uganda with $2.3bn. Kenyan firms now account for 2.29% of the total value of our Top 250, up from 2.09% over the past year but still lower than the 2.71% achieved in our 2022 rankings. Despite being the fastest-growing African economy – and the third fastest globally – over the past 20 years, not a single Ethiopian company makes our Top 250 or regional Top 20 tables, although the government has gradually moved towards loosening its grip on the economy over the past three years.

Kenya’s Safaricom remains the biggest listed company in East Africa by some distance, as its market capitalisation is about four times as great as the next biggest firm, Equity Group. Safaricom is both the region’s biggest telecoms provider and an important player in the financial services sector thanks to its ownership of mobile money company M-Pesa. However, its market value has fallen dramatically from $13.3bn in our 2021 survey to $5.4bn this year, largely due to difficulties in Ethiopia – though it is banking on Ethiopia to drive long-term growth. Although its telecoms operations there have been affected by restrictions on the import of capital goods since it launched in Ethiopia in October 2022, it now has the opportunity to challenge the market incumbent, Ethio Telecom, including via M-Pesa, which has also secured a mobile money licence.

Tanzania Breweries takes third position with $1.3bn market capitalisation, well ahead of its Kenyan rival East African Breweries in seventh with $783m. Uganda is represented by its two biggest telecoms companies, MTN Uganda in fourth with $978m and Airtel Uganda in sixth with $874m. However, much of the rest of the table is filled by banks and other finance companies, with a total of eight Kenyan financial services entries in East Africa’s Top 20. The Nairobi Securities Exchange 20-share index came close to 5,500 points in early 2015 but had fallen to less than 1,700 by April 2024. This fall deters investment in Kenyan stocks, reducing the amount of capital available to Kenyan companies. International investors appear to have sold a large proportion of their Kenyan holdings, in a general retreat to established capital markets as a result of post-Covid economic dislocation and of rising inflation and interest rates fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Although East Africa continues to be grossly underrepresented in our Top 250, many of its companies are growing strongly. BK Group took 20th place in our regional table last year with $215m but I&M Holdings needed $277m to secure the same spot this year.

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Neil Ford

Neil is a journalist, writer, editor and consultant, specialising in international and African affairs.