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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK

World: Africa

Tiny Rowland - African giant

The life and career of Tiny Rowland were inextricably linked with the turbulent history of Africa.

He first moved to the continent when he was 30, attracted to the freedom and high life enjoyed by white Europeans.

Tiny Rowland - routinely dealt with the rich, the ruthless and the criminal
But he quickly understood that the African countries were going to become independent, and would need industrial and commercial know-how.

After building up extensive contacts and business interests in former Rhodesia, now Zimabawe, Mr Rowland was chosen to head the London and Rhodesian Mining Company (Lonrho) in 1961.

The new boss began expanding the company within Africa. Under his direction, Lonrho was transformed from an unprofitable ranching and mining company to a multi-million pound international conglomerate.

A charmer called Tiny

Mr Rowland was not just financially astute - he was also extremely personable - and used his charms to make lasting friendships with key figures in Africa.

Donald Trelford: He was valued by the people of Africa
According to Donald Trelford, who edited the Observer newspaper when Mr Rowland owned it, he had a vision of Africa and its potential that was like that of the 19th century British magnate Cecil Rhodes.

He is also said to be one the first businessmen to befriend black African politicians and condemn colonial rule.

The tributes that flowed in from African leaders are a testimony to how highly he was valued.

[ image: Nelson Mandela awarded him Honour of Good Hope]
Nelson Mandela awarded him Honour of Good Hope
"He made an enormous contribution, not only to South Africa, but to the whole of Africa," said South Africa's President Nelson Mandela.

"We will remember him as a long-standing friend in the struggle against apartheid."

The former president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, said, "We worked together to empower Africans ... He is a great loss to us."

When he was at loggerheads with the directors of Lonrho in 1973, shareholders voted overwhelmingly in his favour.

He maintained at the time this was because without him governments across Africa would not continue to deal with his company.

A revolutionary capitalist

Tiny Rowland built his reputation on what he called "revolutionary capitalism".

But his unconventional and individualistic vision was not shared by all, and his keen interest in political developments in Africa were sometimes said to have strayed into active intervention.

In 1973 a group of Lonrho directors tried to oust Mr Rowland, claiming that he had bribed African leaders and violated international sanctions imposed on Rhodesia.

[ image: Edward Heath:
Edward Heath: "The unacceptable face of capitalism"
The affair prompted the former British Prime Minister Edward Heath's memorable comment about "the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism" - to which Mr Rowland replied that he would not want to be its acceptable face.

The tycoon also retaliated by compiling a dossier on other British companies guilty of sanction-breaking. Eventually a British government inquiry cleared him of the charge - implicating ministers and calling into question the credibility of the government in the process.

But further political intrigues were not far away.

In the 1980s he was accused of helping the Marxist government of Mozambique manage its agricultural resources, and he increased Lonrho's South African holdings while sanctions against the apartheid government were still in place.

Then in 1992, Mr Rowland controversially sold a stake in some of Lonrho's hotels to the Libyan leader, Colonel Gadaffi, only three years after the Lockerbie bombing which was attributed to Libyan terrorists.

Company's fortunes declined in the 1990s

Lonrho's sales peaked in 1990 at more than £6bn but in the 1990s commodity prices slumped and the company's debts threatened profitability.

Amid bad publicity Tiny Rowland was ousted in 1994 from the company whose phenomenal growth he had overseen.

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