They call this indigenisation?

As the last few non-ZANU companies in what is left of the formal economy are under threat, they deserve some attention. Across Africa and beyond, the best known Zimbabwean company is Econet, but why does Strive Masiyiwa live in exile? How did this situation develop?

In 1986 when he, with James Makamba and the late Miko Rwayitare of Telecel International wanted to start a cell-phone network, the government owned the PTC, which controlled telecommunications. If we wanted cellphones, they wanted to be sure that only PTC would provide them and keep the whole system under control.

As Masiyiwa persisted Zanu (PF), through government agencies, tried to play of Makamba against Masiyiwa; that meant Telecel against Econet. When a court order forced them to issue a licence to an independent company, they issued one to each.

Their plan seemed to be to restrain Econet's growth by promoting Telecel. That did not prevent Econet from growing to become by far the biggest network in Zimbabwe, so now ZANU have turned on Telecel. They claimed it had not paid for its licence, but dropped that claim. Then they started talking about “indigenisation”. But the party had actually blocked Telecel from implementing meaningful indigenisation.

Telecel's problem at the start, like most new companies of any kind anywhere, was where to get the money to finance its growth. Telecel used the customary method of issuing shares and stating the price they hoped to get for them. The trouble was that few people in Zimbabwe could afford to buy shares. Telecel answer was to issue 60% of the shares to their parent company, Telecel International. When that firm got into difficulties, the shares, through some change of names, ended in the hands of Vimpelcom, a company registered in the Netherlands.

But when the 51% local holding rule was issued, Telecel proposed arranging for their employees to be given 11% of the company's shares, taken from the foreign-held block of shares. This with the 40% already owned by a local consortium, adds up to the required 51%. Government rejected this plan, from which a lot of Zimbabweans, who already had an interest in the company because it paid their wages, would have benefited. Have they got their own plans for which indigenous people get shares in Zimbabwean companies?

The answer to that question is “yes”. The next question is “which indigenous people are to get shares?” The first answer is “Not Joice Mujuru”. She is rumoured to hold a block of shares through the consortium, but now she's out of favour and Telecel must pay the price.

The second answer to that question is more complex. Two companies aspiring to take over Telecel are: Brainworks which has its registered office in Zimbabwe. I did not find a list of shareholders on their website. Another is Masawara, registered in Jersey, in which one Shingi Mutasa holds 51.3% of the shares; Saviour Kasukuwere is rumoured to favour their getting the 60% of Telecel's shares that are foreign-owned. Neither of these two is a telecom company, though Masawara seems interested in the internet

Would any of these make Telecel any more indigenous than the company's own rejected proposal? But none of them is Joice Mujuru. Is that a good reason in business terms?

But didn't I start by talking about Econet? What has this to do with them? The mafia haven't ignored them. If they rescue Telecel, some in ZANU (PF) want to see Econet sharing facilities like radio masts. That sounds less wasteful, but it means Econet, with the biggest network, would be giving up its advantage over the other operators. Someone in the mafia still wants a monopoly. Would you trust the people who have run down the economy to run your cell-phone network? Would you trust them to run your chicken-house?

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