Issue no 505 22nd May 2010
Africa’s regulators are increasingly moving to assert their role as the protector of consumer interests in the ICT space. This week the Commissioner responsible for Consumer Affairs told a meeting held by the Liberian Consumers Action Network that it had established a consumer help desk. But if the landscape for ICT consumers is getting more complicated then the responsibilities of companies within the sector is also becoming more demanding.
The Chairperson of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Angelique Weeks said last week that the LTA will remain resolute in seeking the interest of telephone subscribers in the country, noting that subscribers are the lifeblood of the telecommunications sector and therefore should be treated with the utmost dignity.
Speaking at a one-day interactive dialogue organized by the Liberian Consumers Action Network to critique the Telecom Act of 2007 as it relates to the protection of telephone subscribers, Chairperson Weeks noted that the LTA has a statutory responsibility to ensure that customers' interest are protected particularly as it relates to value for money; quality of service; accurate and non-deceptive or misleading information and proven health implications in the usage of telecommunications products and other services, according to a report in The Informer.
In a key passage of her speech, she said, "the LTA has set aside appropriate resources to support key activities relating to consumer protection and education including the implementation of an on-going outreach program for consumer education and information sharing; the evolution of a consumer network association in the country and the establishment of consumer parliaments which will afford consumers and service providers to meet periodically to deliberate on issues of mutual concern".
Also speaking at the forum, Commissioner Lamini A. Waritay who has oversight responsibility for Public, Consumer and Legal Affairs consumers should take advantage of the newly established Consumer Help Desk at the LTA by seeking redress to unresolved problems with their service providers. He said the LTA will continue to monitor complaint handling procedures by service providers to ensure that consumers get the best value for their money.
Three incidents this week show how consumer education will have to be a vital component of the regulator’s (and operators’) work:
* In neighbouring Sierra Leone, SLPP Presidential hopeful Dr. Francis Kaikai had his hotmail address hacked and from it a scammer sent out a bogus e-mail. It said that while in Malaysia he had been robbed and could they send him US$2,500 by Western Union to help sort things out. Several of his friends and contacts fell for the con trick and sent money. Now it is easy to be cynical and say “more fool them” but con tricks of this kind play upon people’s natural sense of generosity, by contrast with the more greed motivated ones that make up the majority of this kind of traffic. He is quoted rather plaintively saying he does not know how they got his account password. But it’s an everyday problem that could happen to anyone in Africa.
* Consider the tricky issue of how broadband services are described. In the early days of African broadband, there were providers describing a 64 kbps download link as broadband. Things have come a long way since then but the problem persists. This week MTN South Africa announced with much hoopla an uncapped service in a country that has made “slicing and dicing” consumer broadband access a speciality. The new service comes in two sizes - Uncapped Lite and Uncapped Pro – which are on 24 month contracts. Uncapped? Well, not exactly. After you’ve had your bandwidth allocation you’re bumped down to a 128 kbps download link: Lite’s Fair Use limit is 3GB and Pro’s is 10GB.
* At the ItWeb Security Summit this week, Independent Security Evaluators’ Dr Charlie Miller pointed out how easy it was to attach a phone using SMS and how vulnerable the new smartphones arriving in Africa are to hacking. Indeed because of GPS functionality on smartphones, the hacker would be able to track where the owner was. Now you might say smartphones are only for the very rich but in 2-3 years time 5-10% of mobile subscribers in many African countries will own a smartphone and people like poor Dr Kaikai in the first example above will find themselves open to hacking in whole new ways.
All the above is as nothing alongside the large volume of often complicated tactical marketing offers made to Africa’s mobile consumers. To rephrase the immortal line from The Godfather movie, it’s a case of “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t understand.” At Balancing Act we spend more time than most consumers analysing telecoms prices and they are not always clear to us.
So what should a smart mobile operator or ISP do? Someone in the market has to start offering clear, straightforward descriptions of services and prices combined with an intelligent and educative relationship with their customers. It would almost certainly make that operator stand out in a crowded market. Any takers?Balancing Act
The introduction of a seamless mobile bank account product by Equity Bank and Safaricom on Tuesday promises to open up electronic commerce -- and mobile commerce in particular -- to the mass market.
The service, dubbed M-Kesho, will allow users to perform basic banking transactions like deposits, withdrawals, loan applications, processing and reception right from their handsets.
The game-changing innovation is set to deepen the uptake of mobile banking that has been adopted to varying levels of functionality by several commercial banks, including Kenya Commercial, Family, and Standard Chartered bank.
Analysts say the introduction of fully-fledged mobile banking services will help unlock virtual settlements at retail shops that for years have grappled with poor penetration of debit and credit card usage, concerns over their security, and concerns over the time gap between payment and settlement of transactions.
"In terms of access -- for both merchants (traders) and consumers -- the mobile platform offers significant low costs and unrivalled convenience," Eric Musau, a financial analyst, said.
The Central Bank of Kenya's National Payment System survey of 2008 indicates that the number of credit cards in circulation stood at 107,000. The total number of debit, credit, and charge cards stood at 1.6 million as of the last quarter of 2008. The total monthly turnover of card-based transactions is estimated at less than Sh40 million.
In absolute numbers, mobile money services that have now roped in all economic segments of society, are a better bet at taking cashless payments to the mass market.
By March this year, M-Pesa and Zap had facilitated money transfers amounting to Sh26 billion and had a combined agent outlet of about 20,000, excluding the ATM points of banks numbering over 1,000.
Mobile money services like KCB Connect, for instance, allows users to transfer money from one KCB account to another or to any other bank account and to any mobile number irrespective of the network operator. Such services have been the ordinary man's version of a debit card.
The newly introduced M-Kesho is set to be a rudimentary credit card facility, allowing users to spend money they don't have and pay later, although the loan approval is likely to take longer than typical credit cards.
Safaricom says it has over 250 business partners who accept payments for their services through M-Pesa, up from 75 in the last quarter of 2009.
They include utility firms, insurance companies, educational, hospital, and government institutions.
Last year, both Zain and Safaricom partnered with select banks, allowing small and medium sized firms to make bulk payments to their casual employees or those working in distant locations.
Yu Cash, the third mobile money platform from Essar, is set to further boost uptake of m-commerce, as the rivalry is likely to at least keep transaction costs down or even lower them further.
In January, I&M Bank announced plans to launch an online payment portal that allows consumers to buy goods from the internet in local currency using credit and debit cards. The portal is expected to relieve recipients of online payments of the trouble and high cost of engaging offshore electronic gateways to receive money.
The offshore gateways also increase the time gap between actual payment and settlement of transactions.
Analysts say the passing into law of the draft National Payment System bill will further stimulate e-commerce as it will address settlement of transactions among the different players and technologies in the payments system, offering merchants a guarantee of settlements even in the event that a company winds up its operations.
Africa’s largest infrastructure sharing, co-location and managed services provider, Helios Towers Nigeria (HTN) has signed a 120-site co-location deal with Gateway Business Nigeria, a pan African telecommunications service provider, for a nationwide network roll out in Nigeria. The deal follows Gateway Business’ successful roll out of its award winning AirlinkTM and MetroLinkTM wireless broadband services, using the same 10.5GHz solution in Lagos.
Helios Towers Nigeria (HTN) has over 1,000 sites nationwide and will provide end-to-end co-location services to Gateway Business Nigeria, the leading provider of communications services to multinational corporations working in Africa. Gateway Business delivers the highest quality, most comprehensive and affordable national, regional and international connectivity services on the continent.
“Gateway is passionate about doing business in Nigeria and will be deploying world class communications services to all the states of the federation,” said Guy Clarke, Managing Director of Gateway Business Nigeria. “We have been working on the continent for more than 15 years, building a pan African communications network. Working with HTN in Nigeria is part of our strategy to provide world class broadband internet services for Africa’s leading businesses.”
Gateway Business is building a pan-African MPLS network that will cover every major African city and has acquired 10.5GHz spectrum licenses for point to multipoint connectivity in Nigeria. The company will roll out wireless broadband services across 10 Nigerian states in 2010, with Port Harcourt and Abuja scheduled to go live in the next few weeks. A further 26 states will go live through 2011.
The partnership will enable Gateway Business to roll out services quickly through the co-location on HTN sites, with guaranteed uptime and quality of service and reduced operating expenses. Gateway Business currently provides a comprehensive suite of communications services to over 1,200 corporations working in Africa.
Gateway Business owns and operates Africa’s most advanced regional and international networks, supporting the requirements of the continent’s voice and data users and manages diverse satellite, subsea and fibre connectivity across over 40 African countries. The network provides global connectivity for the continent through major teleport and switching facilities in Europe, the Americas and Africa.
HTN commenced commercial operations in 2005 and has demonstrated its ability to operate successfully in Nigeria. It has quickly become the leading shared infrastructure provider and the reference point for quality of service in the industry. It is well positioned to remain the dominant provider of co-location infrastructure services in Nigeria, while adapting its business models to the specific requirements of the Nigerian environment
HTN recently increased its portfolio to over 1,000 sites and is growing its managed services business, planning to expand its network to 2,000 fully managed sites by end of 2010. HTN recently launched the highly successful “Lean Operator Model” that helps telecom operators reduce costs and to focus on the merchant side rather than the technological side of the business in a competitive environment.
The parliamentary committee on information technology will next week meet the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) over the mobile money transfer services offered by telecom firms. Igeme Nabeta, the committee chairperson, explained this week that his committee had already held a meeting with the Bank of Uganda over the matter. The Central Bank reportedly said it does not regulate the service "because it involved very little money."
"Our meeting with UCC will determine whether to stop the service or not," Nabeta said. He also recommended that the Government urgently installs an intelligence network system to track all revenue collections from telecommunication companies.
The system, Nabeta explained, would enable the UCC to detect the exact amount of collected revenue for specific taxes.
He was presenting the ICT ministry budget estimates for the financial year 2010/2011 before the budget committee on Tuesday. "This system makes collections from communications companies more reliable, and it detects leakages that will help us to realise more domestic resources for budget support," Nabeta argued.
The East Africa Communications Organisations (EACO) has agreed to register all mobile phone SIM cards throughout the region by June 2012 as a way of ensuring security for East Africans.
EACO brings together regulatory, postal, telecommunications and broadcasting organisations within the East African Community (EAC) with the main objective of harmonizing policies of the communications sector.
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The body reached the decision during its 17th annual Congress held in Kampala. The meeting attracted over 200 delegates from all the EAC partner states.
"The decision to register SIM cards was reached at for security purposes and for protection of our consumers," Isaac Kalembe, the Media and Public Relations Specialist at the Uganda Communications Commission said in an interview last week. "For instance, there have been cases where someone calls you, abuses you and then throws away the SIM card, once registered it becomes easy to track such people."
During the event, Uganda's Minister for ICT, Aggrey Awori, hailed the Congress as an opportunity to crystallise and consolidate ICT development strategies ahead of the regional integration into the East African Community.
"As our Governments discuss ways of enhancing cooperation and regional integration, it is initiatives such as EACO that will eventually transform our sister states into a regional digital village linked to the global information society.
"It is imperative, therefore, that we identify priority ICT-areas and related communication initiatives that need to be addressed so as to foster development of communications in our countries at a regional level," an EACO statement quotes Awori as saying.
Other resolutions reached at the Congress were; the implementation of a postal code project to enable house-to-house delivery of mail; adoption of high-capacity undersea cables in all the member states and establishing a permanent EACO Secretariat.
Uganda was elected to head EACO for one year.
- After almost two months of silence, the Acting Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Engr. Steven Bello, said his major focus was to complete the on-going projects initiated by his predecessor, Engr. Ernest Ndukwe. Bello also announced that having flagged-off the SIM Card Registration project, his administration would review the processes designed to flag-off the Number Portability programme to widen the frontiers of choice available to telecom consumers.
- Workers at Nitel have protested again in Abuja and threatened to cripple telecoms operations countrywide over the non-payment of their salary for 25 months.
- Sierra Leone's leading GSM operator, Africell mobile company has unveiled its mobile registration unit to register sim cards of subscribers across the country. Africell's administrative and human resource director, Abdul Aziz Gabisi told journalists that the mobile registration unit would fast track sim card registration, adding, "We will take sim card registration to the door step of our subscribers."
- MTN Nigeria has announced the achievement of ISO 9001:2008 certification for upholding the highest quality standards in its efforts to provide seamless communication to its subscribers. MTN perhaps becomes the first telecommunications company in Nigeria to achieve this feat.
- Angola Telecom interrupted its international telephone and internet services on15th May and 16th according to Angop. According to an Angola Telecom's note, the suspension comes due to the routine maintenance to be conducted, between Cote d'Ivoire and South Africa, on the system of submarine cable SAT-3 in order to ensure better operation of the system.
ain One Cable Company, a submarine cable company offering open access, wholesale broadband capacity in West Africa, and its system supplier, Tyco Electronics Subsea Communications SubCom, have completed the installation of the first phase of its cable system on schedule.
The installation of the terminal equipment is said to have been completed in Seixal, Portugal and are under way at the system's landing sites in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Main One Cable Company Funke Opeke stated that the Phase 1 of the Main One Cable System spans 6,800 kilometres and would provide the much-needed capacity between the West Coast of Africa and Portugal.
The dual fibre pair, 1.92 terabit per second, DWDM project would first connect Lagos, Accra, and Seixal with onward connectivity to Europe, Asia and the Americas, while Phase 2 of the project is expected to extend to South Africa.
The cable system, which is expected to be ready for service in June 2010, will provide open access to regional telecoms operators and Internet service providers at rates lower than existing international bandwidth prices in the region.
The system will also provide broadband capacity to expand Internet access in the sub-Saharan region, as well as ease the difficulties of switching traffic between African countries without the need to go through Europe.
Opeke stressed that, "We are thrilled to say that the challenge of completing the marine work for the Main One Cable System is behind us and that we will soon be able to concentrate on the critical mission of providing high-capacity bandwidth to regions of the globe where it is long overdue," adding that "together with SubCom, we have met our goals on schedule and we eagerly look towards delivering capacity to our customers and executing plans for expansion of the network."
Vodacom plans to dispose of stakes in two subsidiaries that have been shrouded in controversy over the past year. It said it would sell its 24.9% stake in internet service provider iBurst to enable it to apply for a similar licence from the regulator. Former CEO Alan Knott-Craig was accused of a conflict of interest as his son was the MD of iBurst.
In the other venture, Vodacom said it would withdraw from the Democratic Republic of Congo if it failed to resolve its dispute with its partner Congolese Wireless Network and if the operating conditions there do not improve. If it pulls out, it will be the second failure in Africa after a disastrous venture in Nigeria more than five years ago.
Vodacom bought into iBurst's parent company WBS four years ago to get access to lucrative and scarce spectrum. It spent about R100m to build base stations for iBurst.
Now Vodacom wants to apply for a spectrum allocation of its own, and its investment in iBurst could prevent it from doing so.
Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said yesterday it was in discussion with potential buyers. "Our strategy (to sell iBurst shares) is purely driven by spectrum. But we will continue to have a relationship with iBurst," he said.
In the Congo, Vodacom is involved in a bitter quarrel with Congolese Wireless Network over funding of their joint venture, Vodacom DRC. The matter is in arbitration after the two failed to resolve several areas of disagreement.
The Congo business has declined in the past year because of tough trading conditions. Vodacom has put the brakes on investments in the Congo until the dispute over funding for the business is resolved.
Uys said although there were growth opportunities in the Congo, "we want a stable environment. Over the years I have been positive and still positive about prospects in the Congo." He said if regulatory matters, tax problems and its shareholding impasse could not be resolved "we will have to call it a day ... and move to something else".
An Internet-based gorilla marketing campaign, launched six months ago, has raised $60,000 (about sh120m), a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) chief has said. The acting executive director, Sam Mwandha, said friendagorilla.org is expected to raise $500,000 (about sh1b) more.
On Monday, Hollywood stars Simon Curtis, who tracked gorillas last year, and Corey Gibson, together with Ugandan musicians Maurice Kirya, Isaiah Katumwa, Cindy and GNL Zamba, began an expedition to Bwindi Impenetrable Park to record a documentary in support of mountain gorilla conservation.
Gibson said the documentary would spread awareness about the beasts. There are only about 780 mountain gorillas in the world, located in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of these, more than half live in Uganda. The group will also engage in community activities, particularly natural resource-based ones near Bwindi.
UWA, with the support of a United States Agency for International Development-funded project, have created partnership among different stakeholders to promote conservation and tourism.
Meanwhile, a documentary on mountain gorillas used in the Friend A Gorilla Campaign in 2009 has won second place in the prestigious Tour Film Brazil International Tourism Film Festival, according to a press statement. The documentary starred Curtis and another hollywood big name, Jason Biggs.
- About 7,000 workers who were hired to lay a high speed fibre optic internet cable from Kampala to Rwanda are threatening to destroy the cables over Shs200 million if they are not paid. The labourers are now unemployed following their lay-off by the 23 local companies that were subcontracted by Green Future to trench and lay the Shs16 billion fibre optic cable, belonging to Kenya Data Networks.
- In a keynote address, entitled "Nigerian Youths: A Call to Possibilities" at the 26th Convocation of the University of Port Harcourt, President Goodluck Jonathan promised to relate more often with the youths with a view to sharing ideas with them on socio-economic and political values best for Nigeria, saying that "as part of my contribution to this debate I will set up a Facebook account that will focus primarily on the exchange of ideas".
- In Liberia, cowardly mischief makers, possibly with the backing of some higher-ups over the weekend hacked into the web-site of the New Democrat disfiguring it with a photograph and a message scrawled on it which read: “can you feel it, your rage feeds our power”. This paper was alerted to the hacking when series of telephone calls, some from Germany, England, the United States and Allafrica.com started coming in making inquiries. This is the second time the New Democrat website has been hacked.
- Federal Government weekend launched its own home grown e-Business search engine called Business Index Nigeria (BIN), that would henceforth speedily facilitate the country's e-commerce activities within and outside the country. Executive Director and CEO of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. David Adulugba, said the advantage from this, is the promotion of Nigeria's products and services into the global market for patronage. He said FG's new domain website for searching products and services produced in Nigeria is now www.nepc.gov.
- A project that was meant to make the internet accessible to Johannesburg's library users was not delivered because the contractor, Masana Technologies, went into liquidation. The failure of the project has particularly compromised disadvantaged youths, many of whom use township libraries.
- Ipsos Middle East and Africa launches the latest service in its bouquet of service offerings, ‘Online Research’ which is the latest in online data capturing, calculating website hits (visits) on various local and regional websites. Ipsos measures the number of visitors and visits for each website in addition to calculating the percentage of hits each website receives, and the number of pages that users visit. Researchers can now distinguish the percentage of website viewers and the number of times they viewed the page, the number of pages they visited and the duration of each visit per website or webpage.
The Federal Government has launched the Vision 2020 Information Communication and Technology development implementation blueprint. A document it says if fully implemented, will breach the developmental gap between Nigeria and the rest of the world.
While unveiling the document at the 2010 Nigeria Summit organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), President, Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by the Minister for Science and Technology, Professor M.K Abubakar, pointed that with the unveiling of these blueprint, the nation has entered into the next critical stage which is implementation.
"The document cannot implement itself, therefore it's imperative that NITDA and all stakeholders should properly understand and follow the stated step by step plans of implementation in other to achieve the desired outcome.
"The role of ICT in the sustainability of development cannot be over emphasis in the need to breach the gap between Nigeria and other developed countries of the world.
"Therefore, the event of today and the theme of this summit which is 'National Information Communication Technology For Implementations For Vision 20-2020' as put together by NITDA is very apt going by the present aspiration and need for the nation to be among the 20 leading economies by 2020."
Additionally , the president called on the management of NITDA to develop proper mechanism in other to realize their goals through the implementation of the introduced blue print. He also called on participants to avail themselves of the opportunity provided by the summit to brain storm and proffer a way forward for the nation.
A newly licensed electronics recycling company in Uganda - Second Life - is setting up a facility to manage East Africa's e-waste.
These will include things like obsolete computers, mobile phones, televisions, photocopiers, Mp3 players, fax machines and printers, all known to contain toxic substances dangerous to human and animal health.
The privately-owned company begins with a pilot project estimated to cost between Ush150 million ($75,000) and Ush200 million ($100,000) to cover Uganda only, before receiving e-waste from other East African countries.
Second Life said that it will handle, sort and dispose off hazardous electronic waste in an environmentally friendly way. To sustain such initiatives, governments usually impose a recycling tax on any electronic gadget purchased which, they forward to recycling companies to do that job.
Secondly, managing e-waste sometimes involves ultimately extracting some minerals from the waste, which can be commercially sold. Second Life did not give details of its expected revenue streams, but the government environment watchdog told The EastAfrican they are creating a fund to support initiatives of managing e-waste.
Globally e-waste is a major threat to the environment and causes public health problems but it is more of an immediate problem for developing countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, which are used as toxic dumping grounds.
Studies show that in the next six to eight years, developing countries will be disposing of more old computers than the developed world, which implies that even if dumping stopped massive amounts of electronic waste would have to be taken care of.
The Second Life e-waste facility for the region could therefore be timely for solving a problem that is growing every day but with not much attention from governments.
Two top executives of the Companies and Intellectual Property Organisation (Cipro) have been suspended on allegations of being criminally involved in awarding a R153m information technology contract to a small, unknown company called ValorIT.
This is just the beginning of the clean-up of the rot inside Cipro, an organisation critical to the economy as it accords legal status to companies, which are required to register with it before undertaking business.
The government intends to repudiate the enterprise content management contract. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said in Parliament yesterday the government intended to repudiate the contract on the grounds that the tender process was flawed.
Cipro CEO Keith Sendwe and Chief Information Officer Michael Twum-Darko have been suspended. They faced serious charges, Davies told Parliament's standing committee on public accounts, and others might also be charged.
Steps had been taken to ensure the two men remained inside the country and that the "loot" did not disappear.
The decision to take these steps was based on the findings of a R1m forensic investigation undertaken by the auditor-general's office, which Davies said showed a "pattern of relationships" between ValorIT, its subcontractor Mantra Consulting, Sendwe and Twum-Darko.
Particularly suspicious was the payment in advance of R56m for licensed software - almost a third of the total contract value - shortly after it was signed and two months before the blueprint for the system had been designed.
Davies said the episode showed enormous weaknesses in Cipro, whose executives had not heeded the concerns raised by whistle-blowers. It also pointed to weaknesses in the accreditation by the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) of approved suppliers for the government.
The accreditation of ValorIT by Sita as an "approved supplier" gave comfort to Cipro executives and trade and industry director-general Tshediso Matona that the company was financially sound and able to fulfil the contract.
Molele insisted last night that the contract was "totally above board". He would respond to Davies's letter asking for a response within 10 days to the intention to repudiate the contract. He said ValorIT had delivered what was required under the contract. Davies conceded that the problem was not that the wrong system was acquired, but the way it was procured.
- A rural information and communication technology project has started in Gulu and Amuru districts in Uganda. The project, aimed at equipping residents with skills in the use of internet, was started by Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach-Uganda (Bosco), an NGO under the Gulu Catholic diocese.
- In a move that could revolutionise the provision of medical services in Uganda, Tororo Hospital has computerised its medical records. The eHMIS has been set up at Tororo Hospital to help to computerise the medical data of patients to improve the efficiency of health services delivery to Ugandan health users and move away from a paper-based system the Ugandan health system currently relies on.
- Over 100 academics at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) are undergoing training on Modular Object-Oriented Learning Environment (Moodle) - an open source course management system. The programme, that is being run by the University's Centre for Instructional Technology will enable NUR staff to infuse web technology in their modular courses, deliver online courses and supplement face-to-face courses.
President Robert Mugabe's nephew, Leo, is positioning himself to snap up a 20% stake in Telecel Zimbabwe amid reports of an escalating fight to control the country's second largest mobile phone operator.
Mugabe has reportedly formed a coalition made up of companies and organisations that were members of the Wealth Creation and Empowerment Council (WCEC), which was awarded a mobile licence by government in 1997, to buy the shareholding from Telecel International, which owns 60% of Telecel Zimbabwe.
The remaining shareholding is held by WCEC's consortium, Empowerment Corporation, a company in which Mugabe's Integrated Engineering Group is a shareholder. Telecel International needs to sell a 20% stake in the mobile company to locals to comply with the country's telecommunications regulations. The value of the 20% stake could not be established at the time of going to print last week. Other members of the Empowerment Corporation -- James Makamba and Jane Mutasa -- are also eyeing the 20% stake.
Sources in Telecel Zimbabwe and documents in possession of businessdigest revealed that Mugabe has teamed up with WCEC members -- the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, the Indigenous Business Women's Organisation and the Small Scale Miners Association -- to have Makamba and Mutasa specified for alleged corruption.
Mugabe denies eyeing the stake, but confirmed he was working with WECC to rationalise the shareholding in Empowerment Creation. The Mugabe coalition alleged that Makamba and Mutasa transferred their shares in Empowerment Corporation to their respective companies -- Kestrel Corporation and Selpon Investments -- giving them majority control in the corporation.
In a letter dated April 27 signed by WCC chairperson Sailas Hungwe to Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, the council questioned why the state chief prosecutor had last month dropped US$1.7m fraud charges against Mutasa and others. Mutasa was arrested for defrauding Telecel Zimbabwe, but the state withdrew charges citing lack of evidence.
"In its meeting of 26 April 2010, the council resolved that ...police must investigate other fraudulent matters perpetrated by Jane Mutasa and involving fake invoices that were paid by Telecel for services which were not provided or performed," read the letter. "(Investigate) the conversion of IBWO by Jane Mutasa into her personal company, namely Selpon Investments, without the WCC's approval as per its constitution."
Earlier, WCC had written to Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa seeking the specification of the Empowerment Corporation, Mutasa and Makamba. Chinamasa's office on February 2 advised Hungwe that his ministry was no longer administering the Prevention of Corruption Act.
"The Act has been re-assigned to the Ministry of Home Affairs," read the letter from Chinamasa's office. "Your request will, therefore, be forwarded to that ministry by copy of this letter."
Mutasa last week confirmed to business sdigest the boardroom wrangle within Empowerment Creation saying problems were being fueled by greedy elements.
She said: "Greedy and ambitious individuals who never paid for their shares are the ones causing problems in Telecel and in the wealth (WCEC) council."
Mugabe on the other hand claims none of the members in Empowerment Corporation, the investment vehicle used to form a partnership in Telecel Zimbabwe, paid for the shares.
"Shares were issued out to the organisations which make up Empowerment Corporation based on the value of the licence and there is no one who paid anything," said Mugabe. "Whatever cash was used was a loan from CBZ which was borrowed against the licence and serviced using proceeds from Telecel."
Mugabe insists that there is no way he would have paid for something that was being offered for free.With Makamba specified and unable to exercise his first right of refusal and Mutasa now out of the mobile company's board, Mugabe would be closer to snap the 20% stake.
Mutasa maintains that there were shareholders who failed to pay for their stakes in Empowerment Creation resulting in her exercising her preemptive rights to shore her stake in Telecel Zimbabwe.
Mugabe on the other hand, said there is no way this could have happened as the shareholding was meant to be "as broad-based as possible" when the Empowerment Corporation was formed.
"All the shares should be returned to the original owners as of 1997 and the new stake should be kept under Empowerment Corporation," said Mugabe.
Mutasa said it would be unfair to say she converted shares to her own company as there are other shareholders, Native Investments for example, which also had shareholding despite being owned by individuals.
Two members of the Empowerment Corporation, Native Investments owned by Phillip Chiyangwa and Magamba Echimurenga, a consortium representing veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war, cashed out their shares in Telecel.
The late war veteran leader Chenjerai Hunzvi is said to have cashed out his organisation's shares.
Shareholding in Empowerment Corporation has been changing over the years, amid allegations of manipulation by shareholders as well as the pulling out of others.
It is, however, agreed that as of 1997, Kestrel Corporation, owned by Makamba had 15% while Mugabe's Integrated Engineering Group owned 10%.
Other shareholders including Affirmative Action Group, Magamba Echimurenga, National Miners Association of Zimbabwe, IBWO and the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union had 9% each.
The remaining shareholding was shelved for future determination. According to minutes of an Empowerment Corporation meeting seen by businessdigest, Makamba is said to have sold a 20% reserved for future determination to Telecel International without the consent of other members. According to the minutes, Makamba made a commitment to return both the shares he acquired from Magamba Echimurenga, AAG, ZFU and those he allegedly sold to Telecel International.
Telecel Zimbabwe chief executive officer Aimable Mpore could not be reached for comment last week as he was abroad. Efforts also to reach Makamba over the past two weeks were in vain.
Vodacom is targeting R500m in savings next year, a move that is likely to negatively hit distribution service providers.
Vodacom's direct costs, which includes distribution of starter packs, are R20bn, while R6bn is for network costs, and R5bn goes on staff costs. It expects single- digit growth in revenue, which has been hit by lower interconnection fees.
Vodacom Group CEO Pieter Uys said the company would work closely with distribution partners and there were no plans to cancel contracts. He stressed there would not be any job cuts.
An analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said the biggest savings would likely come from providing its own back-haul transmissions rather than relying on Telkom. He expects Vodacom to trim margins from starter pack distributions. "The target is achievable. There is a lot of cost savings that they can get out of the R20bn direct costs," he said.
The customers of the Angola Telecom, among individuals, public and private institutions, owe up to a total of about AKz 144,6 million to the referred telecommunications company since 2000 in the central Huambo Province, according to local director Adriano José Muteka Muholo.
Speaking to ANGOP, Adriano Muholo said that the main debtors are individual customers with about AKz 72,8 million. Therefore, Angola-Telecom will take legal actions against all debtors that do not pay the referred debts until the end of 2010.
Angola-Telecom in the central Huambo Province has about 1,630 active customers. The technical centre of Angola-Telecom has the capacity of 4000 lines, while the wireless centre installed in Bailundo District has the capacity of 2,500 lines.
Software group UCS will merge its software businesses by the end of the financial year to create an enlarged entity that will boost its market position.
UCS will consolidate the software assets, intellectual property, and research and development activities of UCS Software, excluding the services business, UCS Software Manufacturing and the recently acquired Argility, into a new software business that will retain the Argility name.
CEO John Bright said yesterday that the merger would eliminate duplication in research and development and save costs.
The enlarged business will also incorporate UCS's exclusive agreement with international company Cordys, signed in February. Cordys's technology would be embedded in UCS's software solutions and would target the retail market globally.
UCS has already sold Cordys technology to one of its retail customers. "With the enlarged business and Cordys agreement, we think we will have a competitive urge in the local and international market," Bright said.
UCS has made three acquisitions in the past six months, including a 56% stake in CQuential, which offers software as a service to the supply chain and warehouse management industry. Bright said over time the software component of CQuential would be incorporated in Argility.
Yesterday UCS reported a 9% growth in revenue to R644m, of which 7,7% is organic growth. Profit for the period increased 330,3% to R24,7m. Headline earnings per share rose to 7,1c from 5,2c.
Bright said challenging trading conditions had continued during the period but actions taken by management since the onset of the global financial crisis had been relatively successful in streamlining the company and significantly reducing its exposure to large-scale contracts, which are mainly one-off projects.
UCS had sold two businesses that were exposed to the "lumpiness" of one-off large contracts to give the group "more vision and predictability in cash flows", Bright said.
- Vodafone is in early stage talks about selling its controlling stake in Vodafone Egypt, the country's second-largest mobile phone operator, in a deal that could be worth BP3bn ($4.3bn).
- The Vodacom Group, the African telecoms group 65% owned by Vodafone, has said its annual net profit fell 31% despite higher revenues, largely due to an impairment charge taken in the first half of the financial year. In the twelve months ended 31 March 2010 revenue was ZAR58.54 billion (USD72.3 billion) an increase of 5.6% on the year before. Net profit attributable to equity shareholders was ZAR4.2 billion down from ZAR6.09 billion while operating profit decreased 6.4% to ZAR11.24 billion mainly due to impairment losses of ZAR3.37 billion and a 10% increase in depreciation and amortisation. The group EBITDA margin rose from 32.8% to 33.8% and EBITDA increased by 8.7% to ZAR19.78 billion.
MTN has launched an application that allows its mobile clients free browsing on the new mobile social networking website referred to as '0.facebook.com'.
Officials at Nyarutarama said on Tuesday that '0.facebook.com' is a lightweight site optimized for speed and that the company's standard data charges do not apply for browsing it.
"By sponsoring '0.facebook.com' MTN is enabling their customers to stay connected through Facebook with their friends and family from any mobile Web browser without incurring any data charges," a statement from MTN said.
Facebook is a social networking website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Since September 2006, anyone who confirms themselves to be over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address can become a Facebook user. Facebook currently has more than 400 million active users worldwide.
According to MTN's Senior Manager Sales and Marketing executive, "Facebook has become a part of our lives. Through it, we can stay connected to our loved ones and contacts in a way that enhances the way we usually communicate."
"It eliminates boundaries and time zones, putting all its users in one room at all times. With the launch of '0.facebook.com', we are enabling our customers to make those very important connections free of charge everyday all day at no cost," she added.
Facebook's '0.facebook.com' site is optimized for speed - it is a new faster, lightweight version of Facebook's mobile site 'm.facebook.com.'
Officials said the site does not have graphics or photos. It's pages have been designed for performance on MTN's network. Photos posted on Facebook are only one click away from '0.facebook.com.' To view a photo a person only needs to click on a link to the photo and they will be prompted that they are leaving '0.facebook.com.'
MTN says that, "standard data charges will apply when a person leaves '0.facebook.com' to view photos.
Makolo added that MTN chose to partner with Facebook on this product as a response to the overwhelming demand for Facebook by its customers.
"Facebook is the number one visited site on the MTN network, and therefore we saw the need to give our customers access to '0.facebook.com' to ensure that whatever the situation, they can always stay connected," she said.
"We've tested the product extensively before bringing it to market, and are confident that our customers will enjoy their experience using it," she added.
On the launch of '0.facebook.com' in Rwanda Henri Moissinac, the Head of Mobile Business said, "We are always looking to work with innovative companies to provide simple and fast mobile access to Facebook across the world. Rwanda is no exception, and thanks to our collaboration with MTN, they will now be able to access Facebook for free through 0.facebook.com."
MTN currently boasts of over 1.7 million subscribers and its network coverage has been extends to over 90 percent of the country.
Competition in the mobile phone handset market is heating up with non-branded phones slowly gaining acceptance in the Kenyan telecoms industry. Already established brands are feeling the heat prompting their latest intensive advertising campaigns.
Due to the increasing presence of phones from Chinese manufacturers in the market, multinational companies are spending a lot of time developing strategies to counter the effect of these cheaper cell phones whose affordability is their main attraction.
Others have even resorted to giving discounts and offers on all their phone models in order to try and stem competition.
Rapid Communications Chief Executive Officer Anwar Hussein said in the current market, there is a lot of pressure for manufacturers to provide cheap but quality handsets. "We have a generation of youth that is after affordability and most of them these days want to write more SMSs than to call- hence the growing need for different keypads. It is the world of changing trends," said Hussein.
He says even though the mobile phone industry is one of the fastest growing and booming, one obstacle is the amount charged to get a good quality mobile phone.
Rapid Communications is expected to launch its i-Touch mobile phones in the Kenyan market next month signalling another battle for consumers.
i-Touch has already been launched in Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania, working with Etisilat, Zain and MTN. "We want to achieve the number one status in the non-brand mobile phone segment, as we know that there are already established brands such as Nokia, Samsung and LG in the Kenyan market," he said.
He says that once they are able to build a comfort zone in the non-brand market, thereafter they will look at building a brand, although Hussein is aware that it won't be easy to compete with major firms because they already have a big market share.
"But go to Tom Mboya and neighbouring streets, you will find that most of those shops stock non-branded devices, and many Kenyans are slowly accepting them," he said.
The i-Touch will have features such as touch screen, multiple speakers, speakerphone, Bluetooth, music player and expandable memory at a price almost a quarter of the mainstream brands.
- After several years of endless wait for dual Sim phone from Nokia, the company says it is now ready to launch its first Dual Sim phones in Nigeria. Te much expected device is still undergoing finishing touches in the factory and would be made available in Nigeria before the end of the year.
- There has been a 7 percent, increase in connections for landline phones. The number of landline subscribers at Rwandatel, has increased to 23,000 within the last two previous years. Rwandatel is the sole distributor of the landline services.
- Tigo Rwanda has registered a significant rise in its subscriber base from 123,897 in January, to 272,192 by March. Rwanda's Utility and Regulatory Agency (RURA) is seeking to issue a fourth licence by the end of this year. But according to the regulator's policy, Tigo, the third operator has to first acquire about 300,000 subscribers then the bidding process for another operator will be issued out.
- AFRICA . INX, a new player in the South African ISP industry and the country’s first and only independent network exchange, has announced the appointment of Stuart Hardy as its Managing Director.
NOG-11 AND AfriNIC-12 MEETINGS
23 May-4 June, 2010, Kigali, Rwanda
The African Network Operators' Group (AfNOG) and the African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC) are pleased to announce that the 11th AfNOG Meeting and the AfriNIC-12 Meeting which will be held in Kigali, Rwanda during May & June 2010. The jointly organised two-week events include the AfNOG Workshop on Network Technology (offering advanced training in a week-long hands-on workshop), several full-day Advanced Tutorials, a one-day AfNOG Meeting, and a two-day AfriNIC Meeting. In addition, several side meetings and workshops will be hosted in collaboration with other organizations. Further details are available at the AfNOGand AfriNIC websites.
WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA COM
16-17 June 2010, Le Meridien, Dakar, Senegal
Following 2 incredible years in Nigeria, West & Central Africa's ONLY dedicated event telco returns to Senegal.
Join 700+ decision makers and a panel of 50+ visionary speakers including 25 CEO level operators for a pre-event seminar on Fibre Optics, a 2 day strategic conference and 50+ stand exhibition.
Gain all the contacts, insights and ideas you will need for your operations in the region.
For further information visit Informa's website
COMMON RESPONSES TO A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
17-18 June 2010, BIS Conference Centre, London, UK
With the critical information infrastructure of Estonia coming under attack in 2007, the focus of Cyber security was elevated from an individual perspective to a National perspective. Importantly this incident highlighted the need for developing countries to implement robust and effective Cybersecurity frameworks, without which the entire Cyber World will be at risk.
Continuing with the work carried out by the Global ICT stakeholder community, most notably ICANN and ITU, the CTO’s Cybersecurity Conference aims to:
Create awareness of the many facets of cyber threats and alert stakeholders of the need to adopt robust Cybersecurity frameworks
Build capacity of the key decision makers in developing countries to implement strategies aimed at preventing and responding to the growing menace of Cyber threats
Provide the key decision makers with the means to adopt resilient technical measures, establish appropriate organisational structures and create robust legal/regulatory frameworks
Promote international cooperation in Cybersecurity to help developing countries to leverage the strengths of developed countries
Broker partnerships between the different players in Cybersecurity to facilitate the flow of information, expertise and resources
For further information visit the CTO's website
CAPACITY AFRICA 2010
21-22 October 2010, Nairobi, Kenya
The most comprehensive African wholesale telecoms conference bringing together local and regional fixed-line and mobile operators from across the continent
For further information visit Capacity Media's website
[HIPSSA/CA-5] Calls for Applications for the development of CEMAC guidelines on cybersecurity
For this HIPSSA project's activity implemented in collaboration with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), a team of four consultants will be set up.
The team will be responsible for developing Community Acts (directives) on cybersecurity and ECCAS model laws on cybersecurity.
HIPSSA/CA-5.1: Expert juridique principal spécialisé en matière de e-commerce
HIPSSA/CA-5.2: Expert juridique principal spécialisé dans la protection des données personnelles
HIPSSA/CA-5.3: Expert principal juridique spécialisé en matière de TIC et de cybercriminalité
HIPSSA/CA-5.4: Expert juridique régional en matière de TIC et de cybersécurité
To download the job description, please click on the job's reference number. For further information visit the ITU's website.