With the way in which the "1 percent" of society has come to be perceived over the past few years, it's easy to assume the worst of the world's richest these days. They have it easy, they don't know what it means to care for others, they never have to work hard, and they're selfish. They are behind much of what's wrong with the world. After all, money is the root of all evil.
So when Alassane and Ousseini Kanazoe stroll out of a white Porsche Panamera in the middle of Manhattan, thousands of miles away from their home in Africa, it might be tempting to assume that they'd exude the same type of snobbery that some find quintessential of the world's youngest heirs.
But then again, you'd only have to speak to them for a couple of minutes to realize that those assumptions would be wrong.
"Always be humble and respect people," says Alassane, as he explains the greatest lessons he's taken from his father's success. "You have got to give back."
It's the type of response that a few people might find surprising coming from two brothers who were born into one of their continent's richest families. Keep reading, though, and you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that those words are common for these two men, who have had a sense of moral responsibility ingrained in them.
"Here, someone will spend a thousand on something without even thinking, but back home you know that a thousand for some African Villages is a lot of money," said Ousseini as his brother nodded. "For example, a thousand here is 500,000 [CFA Francs] where I come from. It's like a fortune. So even when you go out and you want to spend money, you have to think first."
The 23-year-old twins are the sons of Oumarou Kanazoe, founder of the enterprise known as Groupe Kanazoe and the man who was widely recognized as Burkina Faso's richest and most important figure until his death in 2011 at the age of 84.
The late Kanazoe began building his empire as a traveling salesman, buying various commodities from different markets and selling them for a profit in others, even if it meant traveling on foot across the borders of Mali and Ghana. On his way to the top, Kanazoe made money off of everything from the sale of peanuts and bicycles, as Alassane mentioned in our sit-down at the Elite Daily office, to the acquisitions of restaurants and trucks.
But while their father's success has provided great wealth for the brothers' family, the twins assert that his legacy and the reputation he built in Burkina Faso inspires them to work harder, instead of sitting back and simply resting on their riches.
“In my country, we have a lot of people that we're feeding," says Alassane. "We build of a lot of mosques, churches and we build a lot of schools. So there's a lot of pressure in the sense that you feel like you have to work and you have to do your own thing. All of my brothers have their own things. Each one of them has at least five or six companies.”
The two brothers are the youngest of thirteen siblings and came to New York City towards the end of 2009, at which point they began to learn English. Since then, they've studied and earned bachelor degrees in accounting and finance. With doubts over whether they'll pursue masters degrees, debating if they even need them, the twins have put a lot of thought into their objectives pertaining to Burkina Faso. Their main priority is to continue the good work their father began focused on improving the conditions of an impoverished country.
"Basically, what the country wants is just infrastructure to help everything grow. There are villages in Africa and you need roads to go from this village to that village. If there are no roads, you're not bringing technology anywhere," Ousseini said to explain why technology is not a primary sector in which they allocate funds. "So right now, we're investing money in building roads, buildings and artificial lakes."
With each glimpse that the Kanazoe twins provide into their lives, their story becomes increasingly fascinating. They have, of course, enjoyed the big city life, as any young millionaires would.
"We go out man," Alassane reassured. "We go out a lot."
Despite indulging a little, they never lose focus on want they want to accomplish as heirs to an empire and what they are expected to do as figures whom a nation idolizes, knowing that the esteemed family has come through for the citizens on so many occasions before. It's only natural for the brothers to always remember their roots and to keep the needs of others at the forefront of their agendas. After all, their father acted in the same way.
"Every time my dad wanted to make money, he wanted to help people. Before, he was the only one who could build roads back home. Then his friends around him, people that wanted to make companies, instead of going to the bank, they would go to him and he'd give them the money. And sometimes, even if you don't give him back his money, he would understand that, 'you're doing something good.' He was all about making people's lives better."
Just what exactly the Kanazoe twins do with the wealth they've inherited and the financial strides they make with their own work in the future remains to be seen. But whatever happens, it's safe to say they'll act with humility and steer clear of complacency.
"You always want something more, it's human nature. You want more." Ousseini said before Alessane added, "and my family, we're not feeling comfortable with what we have. Never."