The Swazi Miracle that is Eswatini Mobile!

Back in 2016 it looked like a dream too impossible when the Eswatini Communications Commission (ESCCOM) called on all interested companies to bid for the Third Telecommunications Operators License. Quite a significant number of people looked across the borders of the Kingdom of Eswatini for a successful bidder, more so when leading international companies registered their interest in obtaining the license; but when the winner was announced as a Swazi on 29 December 2016, it came as a welcome surprise to many Swazis.

A year later, the newly-licensed wireless operator, Eswatini Mobile (then Swazi Mobile), went live and there was a subsequent paradigm shift in the country’s telecommunications landscape. This was consistent with His Majesty King Mswati III’s vision of transforming Eswatini into a First World country, characterized by cutting-edge innovations and world class initiatives. The founders of Eswatini Mobile correctly responded to the King's vision and challenged themselves to introduce another Mobile network in the country.

For a while, Eswatini operated from a different play book and for decades the nation was stuck with one service provider, much to the chagrin of business analysts and economists alike. Thanks to the pioneering work of giants like the late businessman Victor Gamedze and Inyatsi group Chairman Michelo Shakantu, Swazis have a plurality to choose which mobile service provider they want.

His Majesty King Mswati III with Eswatini Mobile founders Victor Gamedze (left) and Michelo Shakantu (right) during network's call test.

Indisputably, Eswatini Mobile now stands with indigenous pan-African operators owned by black Africans such as Nigeria’s Glo and Econet Wireless owned by Nigerian billionaire Mike Adenuga and London-based Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa respectively. This puts the company as a truly competitive business; indigenously owned and run companies such as Eswatini Mobile, Glo and Econet Wireless are putting Africa on the world map and serve to demonstrate that Africans can dream as wide as possible, start businesses and succeed on African soil.

Who would have thought that a Swazi company by ordinary Swazis, among them a former football player from the eastern part of Eswatini, could embark on a E1.2 billion investment and be counted among continental giant networks? Numerous people were speaking in hush tones on the streets, fully convinced that the company would not live to see the following year or two.

Given the cost of running a mobile operator, those who did not believe in the sustainability of the company could not be faulted. This business is capital intensive, from laying down of the technical infrastructure to the costly equipment, office space, advertising and human resources, to mention but a few.

“At the start of this company we had to endure the pain of humiliation from people who were mocking us and, unlike other entities, we did not enjoy government concessions, waivers or tax exemption. I will forever be grateful to the Swazi people who have supported this business – it is their company and it has been fulfilling to see them benefiting from our affordable products,” said the company’s Executive Chairman Michelo Shakantu. He also paid tribute to his partner, the late Victor Gamedze who was the first Chairman of Eswatini Mobile. “He worked hard to see the realization of this dream,” he said. After the demise of Gamedze, naysayers were having a field day – what will become of this crazy dream called Eswatini Mobile? “I had to drop everything and give Eswatini Mobile my attention – this business I had started with my business partner was not going to die under my watch,” says Shakantu.

Today, the company has lived to demonstrate that Swazis are capable of successfully delivering dynamic businesses; they are making serious progress in that regard. Without doubt, Eswatini Mobile is proving that it is a company of grand innovation and technology; it was amongst the first companies in the world to provide the latest technology service, the 4G voice over LTE (VOLTE).

The success story of Eswatini Mobile must also be viewed in the context of attractiveness of Eswatini as an investment destination of choice in Africa. When a home-grown business succeeds, it encourages other upcoming business players who start to believe that they can do it too.

In a country with high rate of unemployment, the company has about 5000 vendors spread across the country, 150 sales agents, 100 agents in 11 shops countrywide, 120 call center agents and 150 full time staff members! These are Swazis who otherwise would have been idling around or sitting at home without income; they are now making a living as a result of Eswatini Mobile. This also means improvement of the country’s revenue base in terms of tax collection.

The consumption costs for consumers have also been reduced and customers now talk of very low data costs. “The other day I was able to make an hour call to someone without worrying about being cut, as was the case before,” said an Eswatini Mobile customer interviewed in the country’s capital, Mbabane. The company has been able to make millionaires through its win-a-million promotional drive where people are encouraged to buy airtime and stand a chance to win a million. The entry of Eswatini Mobile into the Kingdom has been beneficial for consumers who are able to walk into any outlet and get services for both companies from one place.

An airtime vendor on the street under an Eswatini Mobile umbrella while wearing an MTN bib, as a sign that she is selling airtime for both companies. This means the existence of these two companies on Swazi soil is not a question of “either or” for consumers, but gives consumers an opportunity to use both – and that is why a significant number of consumers now have double sim cards and use both MTN and Eswatini Mobile networks. Another exciting element here is the fact that Eswatini Mobile, for instance, has been able to export about 4 of its employees in key positions, to MTN Eswatini within the short space of time of its existence!

A vendor wearing both MTN & Eswatini Mobile bibs. While some felt there was no space for a new entity, time has shown that both networks (MTN and Eswatini Mobile) can work together; these two have demonstrated some cordial partnership for the benefit of the consumer.

Did you know that you can buy MTN airtime using Eswatini Mobile e-mali platform? Can you also believe that through this partnership you can now interchange funds from e-mali to MTN’s mobile money (MoMo) platform and vice versa?

A spaza shop in rural Eswatini selling airtime for both networks. The Eswatini Mobile entrance into the market did not create a ‘corporate war’ between the two mobile network operators.

Even airtime vendors on the streets are seen seated under both Eswatini Mobile and MTN umbrellas, as a sign that they are selling airtime for both companies.

In essence, the Eswatini Mobile story is underpinned by strong political will as exemplified by His Majesty King Mswati’s vision which enabled growth and development of the company within a short space of time. Secondly, this success epitomizes the overwhelming potential of Swazis who can dream and achieve their dreams in the country. Lastly, it means success is not alien to the nation – at the end of the day, a company of this magnitude, established on Swazi soil, is a huge success.