In an interview with Strive Masiyiwa on Nigeria 57 independent anniversary, he explained his experience when he first arrived Nigeria to set up Econet Wireless Nigeria, the first GSM mobile network in the country (now Airtel Nigeria). he explained how he had to serve as the company’s interim CEO for about six months, until the company appointed someone substantive.

Strive Masiyiwa is a London based Zimbabwean businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He is the founder and executive chairman of diversified international Telecommunications, Media and Technology group Econet Wireless. He is a member of 10 distinguished people Africa Progress Panel (APP), who advocate at the highest levels for fair and sustainable development in Africa. As a Panel Member he facilitates coalition building to leverage and broker knowledge, and convenes decision-makers to influence policy for lasting change in Africa.

Human Capital is Nigeria True Wealth not Oil; Masiyiwa

He shared with our correspondence on a particular incident which led me to that conclusion: As many people know, today Nigeria has over 120m mobile phones users. To imagine that I made the first ever official GSM mobile call in Nigeria on 6th August 2001 seems almost unbelievable.

Econet Wireless Nigeria was in a race with MTN Nigeria, the only other operator when, to meet a deadline set by the regulator for 8th of August. We beat the deadline and MTN by two days, and as Interim CEO, I had the privilege to call the regulator to tell him we were “Live”!
“What a moment in my life”, Strive Masiyiwa said.

“It’s something I’ll always cherish. I don’t really care whether I own or don’t own a mobile operator there today. My success will always be measured in terms of my small contribution in kick starting the largest mobile industry on the African continent, and it is Nigeria”.

“Nigeria is one of the most exciting countries in the world, and could be the next China before the turn of this century”, “It was a remarkable experience, and one which will stay with me all my life.”, said Strive Masiyiwa.

Several months before the launch deadline, Strive Masiyiwa had arrived with over 100 engineers and technicians, drawn mostly from Zimbabwe and South Africa. At the time since Nigeria had been delayed by the military governments from acquiring GSM, Nigeria was one of the last markets without this new technology. President Obasanjo, who had just won the election two years earlier, wanted to change that and had issued three licenses, but one had been delayed.

When Econet started operations in Nigeria, the country had no homegrown engineers or technicians with experience in GSM mobile technology, but today Nigeria has more than Southern Africa combined. While setting up the Econet network to meet the deadline, the company used expatriates from other African countries that already had GSM.

The company also began the process of recruiting Nigerian engineers and technicians who the telecommunication company would retrain for this exciting new industry to take over from the expatriate team, which wanted to do in the shortest time possible. Then, the company had literally thousands of posts to fill.

In one instance, Econet Nigeria placed newspaper adverts in all leading newspapers asking for people qualified in electronic engineering, at degree level, and with least five years relevant experience. Strive Masiyiwa said he will never forget the response. “I came into the office to find postal bags, piled to the ceiling!

“I only want to see the applications from people who meet our requirements, and not from chancers who aren’t qualified,” I complained.
“Sir, these are the ones we have vetted.”
“What?! You mean there were more than this?”. “Thousands, sir.”

Then Strive Masiyiwa came up with an idea: “Why don’t you separate for me, the most qualified academically. Set aside people with MBAs, and even PHDs.” A day later, another postal bag of applications was delivered to my office. I was staggered!

There were thousands of people with qualifications in just this one discipline with MBAs and PHDs! Many had qualified in the best universities around the world. There were also GSM-qualified Nigerians working internationally, including in America and Europe, wanting to return home.

Strive Masiyiwa was blown away by the qualifications. He thought to himself: “You can start almost any business or industry in Nigeria. Strive Masiyiwa wish investors would one day discover the wealth of this nation.” Whenever I hear people talk about the wealth of Nigeria in terms of oil, I shake my head to say: “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

The true wealth of Nigeria is its extraordinary human capital, and passion for education. Unleash that and no one can stop them. Strive Masiyiwa said. See Strive Masiyiwa Full Biography