Strive Masiyiwa – founder and Chairman of Zimbabwe’s Econet – has played a pivotal role in the development of a competitive African telecoms market, having fought a five-year legal battle in Zimbabwe against state monopolisation of the wireless telecommunications industry.
With Econet recently reporting a rise in subscription levels to seven million clients, Masiyiwa is now focusing on next generation initiatives – both technological and human.
Masiyiwa has come to be globally known as the father of the Zimbabwean telecommunications sector. Launching his mobile phone company Econet in 1993, Masiyiwa – like all other Zimbabwean telecoms businessmen at the time – came up against government opposition to his start-up, with the state monopolising the sector in the 1990s.
Determined to change the lock-down on innovation and business within the telecoms sector in his home country, and create a competitive Zimbabwean market, Masiyiwa took the risky step of launching legal action in the courts of Zimbabwe, challenging the government policy blocking all new businesses from entering the wireless telecoms sector. Following a legal battle lasting over five years, Masiyiwa became the first person in the world to be been awarded a mobile telecommunications licence by a court of law.
Since stepping into operation in 1998, Econet has grown at speed, swiftly taking over the Zimbabwean mobile market and also spreading to surrounding countries and across Africa. The company is the majority owner of Mascom – the largest mobile network operator in Botswana, accounting for 70 per cent of the country’s telecoms market. Econet has opened operations in both Kenya and Burundi, boasts a UK telecoms licence, and has been granted a licence to set up 3G operations in New Zealand.
With such unfettered successes over the past 20 years, Masiyiwa has accumulated vast wealth, with his net worth currently totalling $280 million (Forbes, 2012), made in the African telecommunications market.
His ideal of creating a competitive Zimbabwean telecoms market has also been realised, with Econet and rival TelecelZim announcing hefty increases in subscriber numbers recently – Econet leading with 7 million clients, while Telecel has expanded its network to 2.2 million subscribers. Battle between the rivals has been fierce over the past months, as Econet suffered a network capacity shortage causing a halt in sales of new lines in March, which Telecom promptly capitalised on, causing a stir in the market as the competing company dropped its prices to rock-bottom and launched aggressive bonus-scheme-based marketing.
Paving the Way for the Next Generation
While his company presses ahead in the hope of bringing next generation technologies to Africa and competing on the world market, Masiyiwa in his out-of-work endeavours prefers to focus on the human aspect of next generation success.
Most recently, Masiyiwa received global accolades – including an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Morehouse College, Georgia – for launching a new scholarship which funds promising orphaned African students to gain a full undergraduate education at the US college.
Masiyiwa personally put up the funds for the new scholarship programme, known as the Ambassador Andrew Young International Scholars programme, under the auspices of which 10 African students will be financed as they study for full four-year degree courses in various subjects. The donation amounts to a substantial $6.4 million of Masiyiwa’s personal income.
The first class of the Ambassador Andrew Young International Programme begins this autumn, following a rigorous selection process which saw applicants from across Zimbabwe and other African countries apply for the scholarships aimed at enabling orphaned and disadvantaged students.
Focus on Africa
Apart from academic excellence, the pivotal criterion for selection for the scholarships is the commitment to returning to Africa on completion of studies. Masiyiwa wishes the students he finances to follow in his footsteps, opening up the African market place to new and motivated entrepreneurs for the bettering of African economies and their reliantcommunities.
One of the students currently starting his studies under the programme is Nigena Hamim, from Burundi. He speaks eloquently as to the importance he places on returning to his country to implement his Morehouse education, saying: “I have a dream of fighting ethnic divisions in my country and I am encouraged to realize my vision…After all, I believe that I was born at a time like this to serve and develop my community.”
Following in Masiyiwa’s footsteps more closely than others, Abel Gumbo from Zimbabwe will be studying for an undergraduate computer science degree. He voiced his expectations and commented on what he stands to learn at Morehouse, saying: “Computer science is technologically more advanced in the States and I am learning a lot about people from different cultures… I expect Morehouse to help me become the agent of positive change in the community and in people’s lives.”