The day I discovered the true wealth of Nigeria

__It’s not all about oil!

When I first arrived in Nigeria to set up the country’s first GSM mobile network, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria), I had to serve as the company’s interim CEO for about six months, until we appointed someone substantive. This meant I practically lived in Nigeria for most of that time. It was a remarkable experience, and one which will remain with me all my life. Nigeria is one of the most exciting countries in the world, and could be the next China before the turn of this century.

I just want to share with you one particular incident which led me to that conclusion: As many people know, today Nigeria has over 120m mobile phones users. To imagine that I made the first ever official GSM mobile call in Nigeria on 6th August 2001 seems almost unbelievable…

Our company Econet Wireless Nigeria was in a race with MTN Nigeria, the only other operator at the time, to meet a deadline set by the regulator for 8th of August. We beat the deadline and MTN by two days, and as Interim CEO, I had the privilege to call the regulator to tell him we were “Live”!

What a moment in my life! It’s something I’ll always cherish. I don’t really care whether I own or don’t own a mobile operator there today. My success will always be measured in terms of my small contribution in kick starting the largest mobile industry on the African continent, and it is Nigeria.

Several months before the launch deadline, I’d arrived with over 100 engineers and technicians, drawn mostly from Zimbabwe and South Africa. At the time, since Nigeria had been delayed by the military governments from acquiring GSM, it was one of the last markets without this new technology. President Obasanjo, who had just won the election two years earlier, wanted to change that and had issued three licenses, but one had been delayed.

This meant that when we started operations, Nigeria had no homegrown engineers or technicians with experience in GSM mobile technology. (Today it has more than Southern Africa combined!)

So whilst setting up the network to meet the deadline, we used expatriates from other African countries that already had GSM. We also began the process of recruiting Nigerian engineers and technicians who we would retrain for this exciting new industry to take over from the expatriate team, which wanted to do in the shortest time possible.

We had literally thousands of posts to fill.

In one instance, we placed newspaper adverts in all leading newspapers asking for people qualified in electronic engineering, at degree level, and with minimum five years relevant experience. I’ll never forget the response. I came into the office to find postal bags, piled to the ceiling!

“I only want to see the applications from people who meet our requirements, and not from chancers who aren’t qualified,” I complained.

“Sir, these are the ones we have vetted.”

“What?! You mean there were more than this?”

“Thousands, sir.”

Then I came up with an idea: “Why don’t you separate for me, the most qualified academically. Set aside people with MBAs, and even PHDs.”

A day later, another postal bag of applications was delivered to my office. I was staggered!

There were thousands of people with qualifications in just this one discipline with MBAs and PHDs! Many had qualified in the best universities around the world. There were also GSM-qualified Nigerians working internationally, including in America and Europe, wanting to return home!

I was blown away by the qualifications. I thought to myself: “You can start almost any business or industry here. I wish investors would one day discover the wealth of this nation.”

Whenever I hear people talk about the wealth of Nigeria in terms of oil, I shake my head to say: “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

The true wealth of Nigeria is its extraordinary human capital, and passion for education. Unleash that and no one can stop them!


On this platform, we’re working to build a prosperous African continent, together… People, product, process. Lights, camera, action!

#Imagine, build, succeed, soar!


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 “The day I discovered the true wealth of Nigeria

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.
    Someone asked me the other day, “Why did you leave Nigeria?” “Leave Nigeria? No, I will never do that. You cannot call yourself a pan-African player if you have no stomach to work in Nigeria. And someday, no one will be able to say they’re global if they aren’t in Nigeria.” Remember my dictum from the military: “A good soldier learns to fight in the conditions, and not just the conditions.”

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.
    Whenever I’m developing a new venture, I always think of how can we launch it into Nigeria. I would never be able to do that were it not for the time I’ve spent there over the last 17 years. Until you’ve spent time in a country, you should be careful to judge or cast aspersions. In every country you’ll find mostly good people, and a few (very few) bad people.

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.
    A very smart young African told me she wanted to learn Chinese because it was the future. I said I thought it was a good idea but suggested she also add one of the African languages. Being able to speak or understand a language from another African country makes you more open minded and tolerant as a person.

  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Tinashe writes,

    Sir Strive Masiyiwa Please give us more quiz even if there is no reward ,I always learn more from the responses my fellow Africans give. #FocusForwardEntrepreneurs.

    My reply,
    Here is one:
    I will give a free decoder to the first 25 people who correctly list the names of the 6 new channels added on Kwese this week.
    [Hint: go to the Website, Kwese.Com]
    I will post the list of winners on Kwese.Com on Monday next week (this is where I put all the winners). Only put your answers under this Afterthought right here. Don’t forget to tell us your country.

    Note: Competition only on Facebook

  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kwese Update:
    #Hello Namibia!

    Our 24 hr free sports channel, known as Kwese Free Sports (KFS) is being launched officially in Namibia tomorrow. You don’t need a decoder to access this channel, just tune your TV set.
    If you want access to the other 66 channels, go Online (Kwese.Com) and order a decoder as Namibia is one of the 13x countries that sell decoders already.

  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kwese Update:
    There are now 13 countries in Africa, where you can buy a decoder from a local dealer.
    We can also ship decoders online to 19 countries in total.
    We currently process more than 100 dealer applications per day.

    To find out more, please visit Kwese.Com website.

  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Patrick Taru writes,

    Sir why haven’t you launched kwese in Nigeria? I have wondered why it’s been taking so long to see kwese here in Nigeria, I have d app and have read about how contemporary it is, we will be more than happy to have KWESE in Nigeria am still waiting…

    My reply,
    Patrick Kwese Tv is available in Nigeria!
    To get a decoder go the Kwese.Com website, and look up Nigeria. It will show you the nearest dealers in your area. You can also apply to be a dealer if you want.
    Nigeria is one of 13 countries that has full Kwese Tv services. Every month we add new countries.

  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    MacArthur writes:

    Dear Mr. Masiyiwa, Getting a Prepaid Meter for electricity supply is one difficult task presently in Nigeria. The Discos (that is, electricity DIStribution COmpanieS) are out of supply of prepaid meters and almost all Nigerians would love to pay ONLY for electricity actually consumed than having to pay “Estimated Bills”. I am drawing your attention to another business opening in the area of assembling of Prepaid Electricity Meter here in Nigeria. I want to believe you could put your team together to get prepaid electricity meters churned out in no time and thank me later for letting you to embark on another “first” in Nigeria with good ROI. If I could buy Econet sim card N10, 000 then (I still use that line till date, anyway), I and many more Nigerians will sure buy STRIVE PREPAID METER @ =N=X once it hits the market.

    My reply:
    Great idea!

    The reason this opportunity has been put on your heart is simply because you are the ONE who is supposed to do it!
    The One who put it on your heart, also put the ability to get it done!
    I’m not going to do it, because it is not my opportunity or vision. It is yours.
    Stop looking to someone else to do it.
    I’m telling you now: “you can do it!”–waste no further time, because if you do not do it, someone else will.

  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Moseki writes,

    Can’t wait to be a distributor in Botswana

    My reply,
    Kwese has been quietly recruiting dealers in your country now for many weeks, since I first mentioned it on this platform.
    Why are you waiting to apply?
    At least try….
    Kwese is recruiting dealers and installers in over 20 countries at present. Already more than 5000 installers have been trained!
    You can either be a dealer or installer.
    The ball is in your court.
    Don’t miss out on an opportunity I FIRST mentioned here.

  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Emmanuel writes,

    Thanks Dr. Masiyiwa. You have completely changed the way I have been made to perceive Nigerians. I congratulate the brothers and sisters. I have no doubt that with focussed leadership another China is in the making on the African Continent. Great!

    My reply,
    You are welcome!
    It is the way I would like you to think about every African country.

  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Joe Maganga asks,

    Sir, when are you launching the internship program that you promised a couple of months ago? #We are looking forward to it.

    My reply,
    Next week!

  12. Tendai


  13. Kingsley Mazi

    Hello Mr Strive,
    My name Kingsley Mazi from Nigeria.
    I have never read any of your articles or taken time to know the original pioneer of Econet (airtel) in Nigeria.
    You have made so much undeniable points about the wealth of the nation Nigeria on this post.
    I’m an entrepreneur in agro food processing and packaging. Though we operate as a SME at the moment, we are making effort towards expansion.
    At the moment our online shopping site ( is still under construction but accessible. Our mission is to promote more of African made products. We plan to integrate other goods and services into our online shop before full operation.

    I have some other ideas outside food production that I would like to sell to some of your companies if that is welcomed.
    One of them is a monthly TV show that may interest KWESE TV, KWESE SPORTS, IMVELO SAFARI LODGE, COCA COLA, AIRTEL, etc.
    Thanks for your inspiration.

  14. Crystago Inc


    Nigeria Has Wealth Not Only In Terms Of Oil, But there Are other sectors That Nigeria’s Wealth Can Be Developed..

    But Is Unfortunate That Only Few Discovered Them, And The Majority of people living in Nigeria always Have this Mentality of white collar jobs thats why we aren’t Progressing


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