Pause: An amazing moment in African enterprise history 

__An urban legend!

A few weeks ago I was in Abuja for two really important events that I wrote about recently:

# Celebrating 25 years of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).

# The signing ceremony between Liquid Telecom and Telecom Egypt to partner in linking Egypt to the “One Africa Broadband Initiative” (from Cape to Cairo!)

Whenever I go to Abuja, I always sense that something big is going to happen in Africa. The Nigerian capital is a place where legends are born. Maybe I feel this way because of something that happened there in 2001 that few people outside the telecoms industry know about. Let me tell you about it again, so that you can tell your children one day!

When President Obasanjo, a passionate Pan-Africanist, came out of prison to lead Nigeria into democracy, he quickly realized that he needed to do something about telecommunications in the country. Nitel, the state-owned telephone company, had only 400,000 telephone lines in a country with 150 million people. It was a scandal!

President Obasanjo made it clear he preferred Nigerian companies in partnership with experienced African operators to bid for the three available licenses. At that time there were four African-led telecoms groups:

# MTN South Africa, led by Phuthuma Nhleko
# Celtel, led by Mo Ibrahim from Sudan
# Orascom, led Naguib Sawiris from Egypt
# Econet Wireless, led by myself from Zimbabwe but exiled to South Africa.

Although there were no Nigerian players in the industry at the time, oil magnate Mike Adenuga put up his own company, Glo Mobile.

Each bidder had to have Nigerian shareholders to qualify. The African telecoms sector was booming and although there were big international players like Vodafone and Orange, they did not join the process.

It is the only time in African history that such a bidding process was ever put in place!

President Obasanjo invited us to Abuja to start bidding for three mobile licenses. This meant two of the bidders would have to drop out. The bidding process was to be managed by an international telecoms auction team from the UK, working for the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). It was to take place at the Abuja Hilton.

# Every bidder had to lodge a deposit of $20m to participate!
# Bids would open at $100m!
# Any bidder who bid less than $100m would lose their deposit!

This was the business equivalent of a heavy weight boxing match! Five bidding consortiums:

# MTN Nigeria
# Celtel Nigeria
# Orascom Nigeria
# Glo Nigeria
# Econet Wireless Nigeria

President Obasanjo wanted the #Process to be competitive and transparent. The media were everywhere at the Nicon Hilton Abuja as we arrived for the “big fight”!

Abuja’s largest hotel was filled with men and women in dark suites. Mostly lawyers and bankers! Every single Nigerian bank was there working for one of the bidders, so were the lawyers!

It was amazing!

The day began with a briefing of the rules by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and its advisors:

# Each team would be allocated a floor of the hotel.
# Each team had five players.
# No access to phones, and every team would be assigned monitors and auditors from the Federal government to ensure no collusions.

I had already chosen my team which included a lawyer, an international banker, and two representatives from my Nigerian partners.

We headed to the Nicon Hilton. I started my day with prayers led by Pastor Langton Gatsi who had travelled from Harare to give me support. He was part of a strong contingent from “little Econet” (as everyone called us) who helped with the computer modeling to determine the bid price. I had already convinced our investors that it could hit $300m.

It took three days of bidding to settle the bid at $285m per license (the most expensive license ever issued in Africa at the time):

# MTN Nigeria
# Glo Nigeria
# And “little Econet”!

We were given 14 days to make full payment or lose our deposits. A few days later we paid in full. The rest is history, as they say…

Today more than 150m people in Nigeria have a mobile phone. I personally made the first GSM call to the regulator on 6th August 2001 advising him we were ready to start offering service to the Nigerian people.

In the past two decades now, technology like mobile telephony has opened doors to commerce and opportunity for millions of people, formerly far from prosperity’s doorway. And so much more is possible. What is in your hand? Where is it taking you?

End.

by 17 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

17 thoughts on “Pause: An amazing moment in African enterprise history 

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.

    “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” said Michelangelo, one of the most gifted artists of all time. Is the task of the entrepreneur so different? What do you see?

    Reply
  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    By the time the bidding process began in January 2001, we had been working on the ground in Nigeria for almost a year.
    At any given time more than 50 people were working on the project, full time, in one form or another. They were dedicated specialists who each knew exactly what was expected of them.
    We were also extremely confident, and feared no one, nor saw ourselves as grasshoppers in the sight of our competitors.

    I spent most of my time making pitches for funding. I must have spoken to more than 200 potential investors from within Nigeria, South Africa, Europe, USA, and Asia. Most of it did not yield positive results, which is usually the case, but I persisted until the money was in place.
    In the months leading up to the actual bid, we were clocking 20 hr days almost non-stop.
    It was also a time of the most intense persecution and threats to my personal life. I just filtered it out completely and focused on what I had to do…I’m actually quite good at that!
    What am I trying to tell you?
    Faith without [hard] work is dead. You have to put in the time, and be totally diligent to the task.
    Those who are your partners, colleagues, and even staff must have “faces that shine like lions, and know the season and the times.”

    Reply
  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection:
    Exposure to other cultures and countries will make you successful.

    The other day I was asked what are some of the qualities I look for in people I recruit.
    One of my core qualities is @curiosity. And one way I check for it, is by asking where someone has travelled to. I get excited by people who have travelled and lived even for short periods in other countries!
    I am wary about people who don’t like to eat food from other countries!

    @Exposure is important, because it also shows you can handle being outside your comfort zone.
    @Exposure is important because it means that you will be tolerant towards others who are different, and try to see things from another perspective.
    @Exposure means we can disagree without being disagreeable!

    @Exposure is important because it horns curiosity.

    The time I spent in Nigeria was amongst the most important in my development as an entrepreneur!
    During the first year, after we got the license, I would often say to people:
    “I live in Nigeria”!

    If you have not yet done so, you owe it to yourself to spend time in another country. Shame on you, if you can read and yet have no passport…in this day and age!
    @RealExposure to Africa is the key for the future, and you cannot get it sitting at home.

    Reply
  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Jeremiah writes,

    From you I am learning to build systems. In fact, everything I see now, I want to know how the system behind it works. It does not matter if it’s local chicken, small farms or complex Telecom companies. I have shifted from seeking to build successful business to building system that run successful companies. I may fall several times, I will keep coming back. I am version 1 of me, thanks to your update! God bless you!

    My reply,
    This is the end of the matter….well done!
    Now go forth and prosper.

    Reply
  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection:
    Some of you have been asking why I changed my banner on the NBA Africa game to the eagle taking off:
    When the tragic events of post election violence erupted I was on my way from the USA to SA, where I hoped to attend the game and enjoy myself. We are also the broadcasters of this game which is being broadcast by Kwesé Sports around the world.
    With a heavy heart I knew immediately #DoTheRightThing!

    “Mourn with those that mourn..”

    I did not attend the game out of respect for those who mourn.

    The eagle must at times look for a place of reflection and even solace.
    #DoTheRightThing!

    I’m now on my way to the US to do an event with Bishop TD Jakes.
    I hope we can show it live on Facebook.

    Reply
  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Pause:
    Misogyny [the hatred, contempt and disrespect of women] including shouting down women on social media is a serious crime. It is also a sign of serious social underdevelopment for a male [a man does not attack a woman].

    Personally I have no time for any male who shows disrespect for women.
    And when it comes to those who attack women members of my family on social media, never underestimate my skills to pierce the veil of a social media pseudonym [nickname]. Only a fool thinks they can hide behind a pseudonym…shhh!
    Maybe that is why I don’t say much, because I know I can do much…

    Reply
  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Reflection:
    Exposure to other cultures and countries will make you successful.

    The other day I was asked what are some of the qualities I look for in people I recruit.
    One of my core qualities is @curiosity. And one way I check for it, is by asking where someone has travelled to. I get excited by people who have travelled and lived even for short periods in other countries!
    I am wary about people who don’t like to eat food from other countries!

    @Exposure is important, because it also shows you can handle being outside your comfort zone.
    @Exposure is important because it means that you will be tolerant towards others who are different, and try to see things from another perspective.
    @Exposure means we can disagree without being disagreeable!

    Reply
  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Jeffery Akange writes,

    Thanks to this move I can now use the Internet for learning. I just started designing and coding apps, and the best part is I’m learning it for free! Thanks to google.

    My reply,
    The comments that excite me the most are those in which someone reports back about something practical they were prompted to do because of what I said in one of my posts.
    This platform is not about me, but about YOU being inspired to push ahead to achieve something with your own life.

    Reply
  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Hrm Dineo writes,

    I just got INSPIRED to partner in Francophone African countries for something in e-Commerce. I’m sorry I missed meeting you in London 2015 but I had just lost my son in a tragic car accident in South Africa.
    Thanks for switching my *light* on Brother. Stay blessed!

    My reply,

    Aah nooo!

    #sad, sad, sad!

    My deepest condolences to you, and your family.

    There is a reason He is called The Comforter. He shall indeed comfort you in a way that only He can comfort.

    Reply
  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Desiré writes,

    When is Cameroon going to be on your schedule ? Hope soon .God bless you

    My reply,
    It’s on my plans for this year!
    I have not been to Cameroon since I was 15 years old. It’s time I came for a visit!
    Seriously, I have plans to do something in Cameroon.

    Reply
  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Global Leadership Summit:
    Today [Thursday 9th October] I did an amazing “Fireside Chat” with Bishop TD Jakes before an audience of 10,000 people at a church in Chicago called Willow Creek Community Church. I was being interviewed by Bishop TD Jakes himself!
    How cool is that!!!
    We had a lot of fun.
    I know there were a lot a good folk who attended who hoped to see me in person. I only learnt that guys like my old buddy and brother Nigel Chanakira was there as I was leaving for the airport. I miss you brother, and I look forward to seeing you in Harare!

    I have already left the US.

    The good news is that the Bishop and I so enjoyed it we agreed we will do it again, and for this platform.

    Reply
  12. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Mukhtar writes,

    Hello, Dr. Strive. This comment stems from Liquid Telecom’s advert from
    one of your previous posts. The video is quite
    crisp, though I think it would have been better if
    there are pictures of people in various
    backgrounds of some African countries’
    landmarks. Pictures of Landmarks make people feel more connected to an idea or advert. The current advert shows only
    infrastructures like roads and settlements. Since
    Liquid Telecom is all about connecting people,
    from North to south and east to west of the
    great continent, the images could show the
    Arabs of the Sahara Desert in the background of
    the pyramids of Egypt to a Masai cattle herder
    in East Africa, down to a farmer in the grape
    orchards of South Africa.

    My reply,
    These are useful observations, and I hope the Liquid marketing teams read your comments.

    More importantly, let me share with you another business leadership tip:
    #I don’t micromanage!
    I would never approach the guys at Liquid or any of our companies, and tell them how to do something like an advertisement. I have not been involved in the design of an advert for more than 20 years!
    The adverts you see are done by professional marketing people, and they are approved by their own executive managements. Unless an advert breaks the law, or offends people, I stay away completely, even from commenting.
    Surprised?
    There are so many things in a business that I am not involved with, because we have empowered local management to deal with them. I don’t set tariffs or prices for any of the services. I don’t approve expenditures of things like cars, and other equipments. I don’t hire or fire people, unless they are director level.

    If I did all those things, there would be no Facebook page, and I would be on High Blood Pressure medications.

    Reply
  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Jeremiah writes,

    From you I am learning to build systems. In fact, everything I see now, I want to know how the system behind it works. It does not matter if it’s local chicken, small farms or complex Telecom companies. I have shifted from seeking to build successful business to building system that run successful companies. I may fall several times, I will keep coming back. I am version 1 of me, thanks to your update! God bless you!

    My reply,
    This is the end of the matter….well done!
    Now go forth and prosper.

    Reply
  14. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Breaking News on Townhall Meetings!

    I have not been able to do any Townhall meetings recently because of a packed business schedule.
    I’m trying to fit a few into my business program.
    I can confirm that we now preparing three meetings:
    -Kigali for Agric Entrepreneurs, on the sidelines of the African Agricultural Forum (AGRF) in. September.
    -Khartoum also in September.
    -Cairo also in September.

    I’m still hoping to do Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Lesotho this year.

    Reply
  15. Nobert Munyoro

    With testimonies and updates like these only brings nothing but hope to the African entrepreneur, i enjoy following @S Masiyiwa`s posts as they give me a purpose and hope. My friend and i recently formed an equity crowdfunding platform in Zimbabwe with the main purpose of helping African Entrepreneurs and brings us joy that we have been as the firstever Zimbabwean Crowdfunding platform to be accepted as a member of the African Crowdfunding Association so at that same note calling all those who wish to invest, partner or support African economies that is what we are here for just get in-touch with me
    Nobert Munyoro – nmunyoro@get.co.zw ; +263771057101, +263718955516; http://www.get.co.zw

    Reply

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