Initialising Telecoms in an Emerging Market
MTN’s presence in South Sudan has proven that with the right attitude and product offering, tough market conditions can be overcome and negative perceptions about the investment environment can be changed
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
When South Sudan became independent on the 9 July 2011, MTN formalised its operations as a separate operating company, expanding its previously limited space in the young nation. As a company in the early stages of its life, MTN South Sudan is now working to address the existing economic development gaps and also improve its infrastructures in a sustainable manner. Top on the agenda as well is MTN’s social responsibility as a corporate citizen.
“Our strategy for deployment in South Sudan is to focus on the basics; namely working on deploying adequate infrastructure such as new telecoms towers and identifying partners to help us increase our capacities,” says MTN South Sudan CEO, Philip Besiimire.
“Unlike traditional markets, South Sudan is one with defining needs. By this I mean that even though telecommunications is in the early stages here, we still have to provide the best and the latest services that match availability elsewhere in the world,” he adds.
Platform for growth
Being part of the South African-based multinational mobile telecoms company, MTN Group allows the South Sudan operation access to tried and tested methodologies and pre-defined technology strategies that help achieve a vision of affordability and access on the continent.
“Those who have encountered our name before will recognise our strong branding and reputation that we have among African audiences as a whole.
“Building a new arm to the business in South Sudan is a huge task, but with equipment supplies and other negotiations done at Group level, and certain expertise from sister countries coming across to provide training, we feel a level of confidence and security in our future here,” Besiimire explains.
With a less than 30 percent literacy rate in the adult population, the most popular and beneficial service for customers in South Sudan has proved to be voice services as Besiimire highlights: “As the majority of the population are unable to read or write, voice services from us are in great demand. Alongside this, we have identified a small but growing demand for data, which is a service that is still finding its feet.
“In general, the overall progress of our services is dependent on the country’s mobile penetration rate, which currently stands at around 25 percent.”
In line with its geographical expansion plans, MTN South Sudan has outlined plans to ensure that 3G is available in key towns across the country. “As a start up with limited resources, we are making sure that we drive network and cell phone growth on all fronts in the most appropriate ways. Subsequently, at this stage it is important to assess whether to outsource parts of the business or conduct everything in-house,” he discusses.
Providers of opportunity
In addition, product pricing needs to be simple and communication needs to be made as accessible as possible to address the current market needs. “It is necessary to make sure that MTN adapts to the cultural differences in South Sudan, therefore the business must be aligned to reflect this. Few companies such as ourselves have entered the market here. Therefore, MTN will have to play more than just a communications and connectivity role; we will embed ourselves into the community through an aggressive corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme,” Besiimire says.
In order to create a digital world for South Sudan, MTN will need to look at how it can use its footprint to connect people and bring the technology to them in vital ways such as enabling access to healthcare, clean water, financial inclusion and so on. “In summary, we are looking at how to assist others by going beyond our traditional sphere of activity in the technology and telecoms space,” he adds.
So far, MTN South Sudan has built three computer labs in local schools, and plans to replicate this across the country, achieving more than a dozen in the next two years. “This is just one example of how we intend to bridge the gap in the community.”
As lack of education is a factor in the country, Besiimire is aware that by moving into South Sudan, MTN has inherited a responsibility to develop skills. “By encouraging young people to attend school and adopt ICT at an early age, it will raise a level of interest in the telecoms sector.
“Simultaneously, this provides children who have felt cut off from the world a way to make the right steps forward in terms of education and get connected with the rest of the world,” he emphasises.
In order to provide the business with the right tools for success, MTN South Sudan has an active national secondment talent exchange programme. “This means we are able to borrow professionals from neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa primarily, both on a short and long-term basis,” comments Besiimire.
Short-term training initiatives are utilised when the company introduces a new product to the market, and long-term training is used to up-skill and equip South Sudan to become a sustainable business environment for MTN in the future. “At present, this method is not sustainable in the long-term. Therefore we are undertaking specific activities as a business to ensure the country has the right skills and its own resources going forward,” says Besiimire.
As a Group with a national presence, MTN South Sudan advantageously has the option to send people to other countries as another method of personal development. With a comprehensive student programme for African university students who seek employment in the sector, the company is also able to offer a three month internship scheme extending across most of its departments, with promise of a further graduate training programme coming in September.
The road to profitability
Besiimire says that a key element to the long-term success and sustainability of MTN South Sudan is to remain relevant and keep up with industry trends in order to set an example for other businesses considering operations in the country: “We have all the right strategies in place to make sure MTN remains in operation here and will provide a return for stakeholders and the government in the long-term. Most importantly for us, the company must meet market demand and keep up with the latest technological advancements to be able to give customers what they want and keep ahead of any competition that may enter the country.
“The digital revolution has only just begun for South Sudan, and we need to make sure we remain at the forefront of telecoms in the country, allowing customers to do everything they require from one device powered by MTN.”
Further to this, Besiimire is keen to explore financial services in the coming years after approval is given. In a country where only five percent of the population uses and has access to banking services, there are clear advantages in connecting people to financial services and insurance via MTN technology. “We remain the only service provider that is able to service the vast reaches of the country, and this drives us forward as an enabler for countrywide communication in a simple and affordable way for the customer,” he says.
Despite the enormity of challenges undertaken in a country that is still recovering from outbreaks of civil war, MTN is proud to have invested its time and money in South Sudan, where organisations such as itself can really make a difference.
“Together with authorities we can tackle the many challenges in South Sudan and we hope our success will set an example to other leading businesses on the continent that we have achieved success, all it takes is tenacity and perseverance; two driving factors that are inherent within MTN,” Besiimire concludes.