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‘God does not have a vote’ – Strive Masiyiwa told

Derick Matsengarwodzi   HARARE. – Econet Wireless boss Strive Masiyiwa was harassed for his Christian believes after he refused to pa...

Derick Matsengarwodzi
HARARE. – Econet Wireless boss Strive Masiyiwa was harassed for his Christian believes after he refused to participate in a corrupt deal.  

In 2003, he refused to pay kickbacks to corrupt Nigeria officials, resulting in his company losing a mobile tender – and his entire staff losing their jobs.

The illicit transaction could have rendered him a multi-billionaire.  

High price of corruption
“I had the privilege of making Nigeria’s first GSM phone call back in 2001. It all started out as a very exciting new chapter for enterprise in Africa. Shortly after President Obasanjo was elected, the new government announced an incredibly transparent international auction process for three national mobile phone licenses.”

As per regulations, they engaged local partners. 

“Our Nigerian partners, which included state governments, local banks and high net worth individuals, were financial investors. The largest shareholder had only 10%. That was the written agreement. I managed to assemble a consortium of 22 investors to put up the money needed to bid. The license cost us $285m and was the most expensive license ever issued in Africa at the time.”  

Investment builds a nation
Unlike other businesspersons who harbour selfish agendas, Masiyiwa believes investments are meant to benefit the host country.

“We considered the investment not only about putting together a network, but also about building a nation. We knew it had the potential to transform Nigeria’s entire business and social architecture. Most of our investors had between 1-10% shareholding. Econet Wireless Nigeria had only 5% of the shares, but that was fine because it was 5% ownership of a very big pie.”

As the “technical partner and operator”, Econet was the company with the expertise to build and operate such a business, so they got a lion’s share of the turnover. And soon customers poured in.  

Stand by your word
Suddenly, the tables turned.

“Then came the fateful day when I was told that our company must pay a total of $9m in bribes to senior politicians (in state government) who had facilitated the raising of the money to pay for the license. I refused to authorise the illegal payments. The money would not be paid as long as Econet was the operator and I had signing authority.”

One of intended benefactor of the illegal deal was James Ibori, the Governor of Delta State – a man with a reputation of violence. He was demanding $4,5m. After Masiyiwa remained steadfast, he issued an ultimatum.  

“Pay or I will chase you and your people out of the country.”

Econet Wireless Nigeria was ousted after Masiyiwa declined to pay. And a prominent businessman approached him saying: “Unfortunately for you, God does not have a vote”.

The mobile company vacated Nigeria – and this decision almost sunk the empire into bankruptcy.

God intervenes 
The wheel of corruption began to turn.

“They invited a big international operator to replace us as technical partner and operator. They changed the name of the company from Econet to V-Mobile. Within days of their arrival, the managers of the new operator signed off the payments demanded as bribes.”

However, “a few noble Nigerians had both the integrity and courage to carefully collect all the documentation on the movement of the money, and pass it all on to me,” revealed Masiyiwa.

Masiyiwa then wrote a letter to the United States Department of Justice. The outcome was a prolonged battle against the certified corrupt and the steadfast – a test of character.

Meanwhile, the propaganda machinery went full throttle saying “Econet could not raise the required investment quota.”  Tinzwei

• Derick Matsengarwodzi is a communication consultant, author – and founder of The Aloe Media. An ardent researcher plus media devotee – you can interact with him through Facebook or Follow his authoritative, eloquent, analytical and revealing writing flow on: or

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