It is easy to be dismissive about how far we have come as Africans, but, it is also necessary to write our stories the way we want it written. To eulogize our heroes as they conquer and to condemn the villains on their misdeed.
Not many Africans have made it into the narrative of renowned personalities in the world. It requires an uncommon journey and an uncommon victory to make it into these ranks and one of such people is Tech Gist Africa’s TechPreneur of the week, Strive Masiyiwa. To gauge his popularity amongst the youth of Africa will not do him justice. His relevance as one of the individuals that kickstarted the birth of the African tech scene cannot be overlooked.
Masiyiwa’s sphere of influence is strongest in telecommunications. In Africa, telecommunication, technology and the internet go hand in hand. Unlike the Europeans and Americans that directly receive their internet services from ISPs, which are corporate bodies that specialize in the provision of bandwidth and data transfer. The emergence of mobile internet in Africa began with Telecommunication bodies; a market that new and independent data service providers are now trying to penetrate and share.
Born January 29, 1961 to a bourgeois family in Zimbabwe. Masiyiwa started his Primary education in Zambia but this was cut short as his family had to flee to Britain when he was only seven years old. He was enrolled to a Scottish school mainly due to the influence of their neighbor and since then, has not wavered.
However, like all Patriotic young men, he still held a strong attachment to Zimbabwe. An attachment so strong he was willing to pick up the gun and join in the civil war at the time. Upon speaking to the people at the helm of affairs, he was told that the war was already won and what Zimbabwe needed were people who could make it work. He was subsequently fully funded for a tertiary education and He got an Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Wales.
After a 17-year absence he returned to Zimbabwe as a Telecoms engineer for the Zimbabwean Phone company, ZPTC. Some years passed and he traded off his beautiful car for a disappointing jalopy and got a Barclays loan to start his own Engineering firm. His business grew fast and became a million-dollar initiative in no time.
The 90’s came and it was evident that mobile phones were the future. Masiyiwa looked to broaden his investments and he approached his former work place, the ZPTC, with a proposed Wireless Joint Venture which they refused because the Government held a monopoly over the market. He took the government to court and failed, losing all his firm’s contracts in the process. He took them to court over and over again till he was granted a license and Econet was born.
Through the travails of the court cases, Masiyiwa had built a reputation as a man of the people and a thorn in the Zimbabwean government’s flesh. He had pumped millions into an anti-government Newspaper which was eventually shut down by President Robert Mugabe.
In the year 2000, he went on a self-imposed exile to South Africa. When asked, he claimed his reason was to establish his business as a multinational initiative that spread across the world. Although it can also be argued that he feared for his life since he lived in a heavily guarded complex and moved around in a bullet proof vehicle.
Econet promptly gained wide acceptance through the continent. Establishing in over 20 countries in Africa, truly as a force to be reckoned with. In 2001, Masiyiwa saw an opportunity in the Nigerian Mobile market, and he brought Econet to the country in a diplomatic deal that had Econet Wireless holding only 5% in what they called ‘a fine size of a big pie’. Econet established earlier than their competitors in Nigeria with Masiyiwa making the first ever phone call in the country. The going was smooth till he had a fall out with select members of the government who he claimed were trying to strong arm him into paying a bribe. In his refusal, he was voted off and Econet was absorbed by Celtel.
Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless group is a global entity, with establishments and investments in Africa and beyond. New Zealand, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, The United States, New Zealand, the UAE and China are only some of these countries.
A piece on Strive Masiyiwa would not be complete without talking about his Philanthropy. He is one of Africa’s foremost givers and together with his wife, Tsitsi Masiyiwa, they founded the Capernaum Trust, a Zimbabwean charity that provides bursaries and scholarships to over 28,000 orphaned children. He is also a member of the Giving Pledge, a Bill Gates and Warren Buffet initiative. He has vocally supported campaigns against HIV/AIDS, cancer and Ebola and he is the chairman of AGRA, an organization that supports farmers.
Masiyiwa is as influential as a man can get. Rubbing shoulders with head of states all over the world. In 2014, he made Forbes Magazine top 50 most influential leaders in the world, Fortune magazine’s World Greatest Leader list and countless other publications.
So rarely has a man ever clearly carved out his legacy before he dies and Strive Masiyiwa is one of such rare men. It is truly our honour to name him Tech Gist Africa’s Techpreneur of the week.
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