MUGABE’S NEPHEW CLAIMS 10% OF TROUBLED TELECEL

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Beleaguered businessman James Makamba’s chickens are flocking home to roost at the worst possible time as it emerged last week that while he languishes behind bars, President Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Leo Mugabe, is girding his loins to reclaim a long disputed significant stake in mobile cellular operator, Telecel Zimbabwe.

The invariably well-turned-out but now hapless Makamba is chairman and founder of Telecel in which Mugabe claims he should have a 10 percent stake, although he could not say how much the 10 percent is worth.

Impeccable sources last week said Mugabe recently met Telecel managing director, Anthony Carter, after the incarceration of Makamba, to discuss the possibility of resolving the shareholding dispute.They also said Mugabe has since lobbied officials in the Ministry of Transport and Communications to help shore up his interest in Telecel.

Mugabe, who had an inglorious exit from the chairmanship of the Zimbabwe Football Association, the country’s soccer governing body, confirmed this development.Carter refused to comment on the developments. "I can’t confirm to you whether I met him or not. He (Mugabe) is not a shareholder. In any case I am not going to comment on matters relating to Telecel shareholders. I can’t tell you anything," said Carter, who has reportedly been questioned by police over Telecel’s financial transactions.

Mugabe, who could not say exactly how he had lost his shareholding in the first place, has engaged prominent Harare lawyers Gula Ndebele and Partners in a bid to retain his lost grip in Telecel, whose entry into the telecommunications industry in 1997 was mired in legal and political controversy. Mugabe this week claimed that he owned 10 percent of Telecel through a vehicle called Integrated Engineering Group (IEG). Mugabe has 80 percent shareholding in IEG while his brother, Patrick Zhuwawo, owns the balance.

The development is the clearest sign yet of the deep alienation between Makamba and other members of Telecel’s founding consortium brought about by boardroom squabbles over the corporate and shareholding structure at the sprawling cellular operator.

The revelations about Mugabe’s behind-the-scenes aggressive push for a 10 percent equity holding in Telecel also came to light at a time when Makamba and fellow director Jane Mutasa are languishing in Harare’s remand prison on allegations of externalising foreign currency. This has raised questions as to why he is waking up to his shareholding in the company only now.

Makamba, a ZANU PF central committee member but whose political career is increasingly becoming perilous, was arrested under the government’s current blitz on corruption. In a rash of impatience with deep-seated corruption, President Mugabe has made radical changes to certain clauses of the constitution to win the war against the graft.

President Mugabe, who is widely believed to be seeing out his last term in office, has since vowed that no one would be spared despite warnings of a likely political backlash against the anti-graft crusade.

Mutasa, the president of the Indigenous Business Women’s Organisation (IBWO), is being accused of externalising USD2,000 while Makamba, whose corporate past is now set for scrutiny following his arrest, is facing 22 charges of siphoning foreign currency into offshore accounts. The Supreme Court has since deferred judgment on Makamba’s bail application and it was held last week.

"We have always had problems with the shareholding structure and as far as I am concerned, the issue of the shareholding structure is being handled by the lawyers. We approached the relevant minister about the issue and it is being dealt with. We want our differences to be resolved. So far, we are going in the right direction. We have been in this game for a long time," he said.

At inception, Telecel International owned 40 percent of Telecel Zimbabwe and the Empowerment Corporation (EC) 60 percent. Mugabe said he invested in EC through his company IEG. EC was a fusion of indigenous groups such as Makamba’s Kestrel Corporation (15 percent), IEG (10 percent), Affirmative Action Group (AAG), IBWO, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, the Zimbabwe National Social Security Authority and the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, all with nine percent each. The company was granted a licence to operate a cellular network under political consideration as government wanted to empower previously marginalised black Zimbabweans.

Cracks began to emerge within the consortium following differences over the shareholding structure. Makamba, who was at one time a business partner to former army commander, retired general Solomon Mujuru, was accused by his erstwhile colleagues of elbowing them out of the company. With strained relations, other partners’ instinct was to work against Makamba. The boardroom squabbles saw the acrimonious pull-out of Chiyangwa’s AAG. The pressure group, well-placed sources said, was paid $14 million for its interest in Telecel.

Giles Munyoro, secretary general of the EC, apparently bitter in the manner in which he believes Makamba elbowed them out of Telecel said: "That is a political licence we got through the Cabinet as the EC. It belongs to all of us. Makamba made some of his workers directors and we lost our shareholding. We need to reclaim our status. We have approached the government already to sort out the mess."

Asked whether the incarceration of Makamba, arrested on February 9, and Mutasa was not going to hinder progress in resolving the shareholding problems at Telecel, Mugabe said: "It’s unfortunate that they have been arrested, but they have not been convicted so that doesn’t hinder progress. Whether Makamba is in prison or not is basically neither here nor there. We are hoping the problems would be resolved soon."

Financial Gazette