MTN South Sudan has spent the past five years working tirelessly to address the existing economic and infrastructural development gaps in the country, with the ultimate aim to formalise and bolster its operations by firming up the challenging building blocks required to do so.
SETTING THE TONE FOR LONG TERM SUCCESS
“MTN now has an impressive 38 percent market share in South Sudan and in order to maintain this leading position, 2016 will be all about the value-add behind the scenes; such as stabilising the grid by installing adequate infrastructure, improving our services, creating additional products and continuing local training regimes,” says Philip Besiimire, MTN South Sudan’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
As part of the South African-based multinational mobile telecoms Company, MTN Group, the South Sudan operations are a relatively new addition to the organisation’s increasingly growing African footprint; incepted in 2011 at the beginning of the country’s independence. Despite the current challenges arising from the Government’s decision to devalue the local currency at the end of 2015, MTN South Sudan is one of few international companies to persevere and see a light at the end of the tunnel, whenever this may be.
He notes: “South Sudan has very specific needs which need to be answered in tandem with stepping into the fray and matching the technologies offered in other parts of the world. When you mix all the social and economic challenges together, it makes this an even tougher task.
“We have barely realised the market potential here, but for this to be fulfilled, we need to help create an enabling and conducive environment.”
Given that telecommunications is in its infancy in South Sudan, MTN has to balance the provision of the best and latest services with a sustainable long-term outlook. Besiimire explains: “Over the past year, we made efforts to improve our backbone infrastructure by deploying 17 new coverage sites and continuing our investments in alternative energy solutions; deploying 25 new solar power sites to replace the more unreliable diesel generators.
“While energy has been an important area of investment, we have made efforts to improve our data services in line with the significant growth we are seeing. Moreover, leveraging our terrestrial links to the country, we have started offering enterprise business solutions.”
MTN South Sudan continues to push-on with its plans to make sure that 3G is available in key towns across the country. As a start-up with limited resources, MTN is making the most of its time and money to drive network and cell phone growth on all fronts via the most appropriate routes to market.
The Company has built some-25 new service centres across the country to complement this data increase, designed to make the offering more accessible to customers, while simultaneously increasing the brand’s presence in the country.
“These centres will have a range of products on sale, such as low-cost, data-enabled smartphones under US$35 and ultra low-cost handsets with a basic internet offering for below US$15. Voice remains the dominant service in demand but we are seeing an increase in data service adoption; therefore, we are keen to venture into financial services to enhance our offering and will do so as soon as we have a license,” he says.
In addition to the huge task of starting from scratch and building the infrastructure required to offer such an impressive range of services becoming of the MTN Group, the South Sudan operations have to also overcome a significant number of social and economic challenges to further stabilise the Company’s footprint.
According to the World Bank, only 27 percent of the population aged 15 years and above are literate; a figure which has still yet to rise above 30 percent.
“Essentially, the overall progress of our services is dependent on the country’s stability. South Sudan’s mobile penetration rate is still low by African standards, which is to be expected for a fairly new market that is recovering from conflict. If the current efforts to stabilise the country are realised, the penetration could easily rocket to 60 percent-plus to rival the likes of Kenya, Uganda and other fast-growing nations,” says Besiimire.
Adapting to cultural differences
To combat some of South Sudan’s core challenges, the Company is ensuring that it helps to grow the country’s literacy figure by investing in all the vital socio-economic areas that directly affect communication across rural areas; which, according the World Bank, could be home to almost 83 percent of the South Sudanese population.
Aligning its business to reflect the wider Group’s desire for community involvement, MTN has to adapt its brand to the cultural differences that South Sudan presents. Moreover, pricing needs to be simple and communication needs to be accessible to address the changing market needs. Besiimire highlights: “We strive to play more than just a communications and connectivity role; we embed ourselves into the community through an aggressive corporate social responsibility programme.”
With a focus primarily on addressing the lack of education in South Sudan, MTN feels it has inherited a responsibility to develop skills through its programmes, encouraging young people to attend school and adopt IT at an early stage to raise the level of interest and education in the telecoms sector for the new generation.
“In 2015, we set up three computer labs in local schools and after seeing firsthand the success from this, we would like to explore other ways to help the young generation improve their ‘digital literacy’. This simultaneously provides children who have felt cut off from the rest of the world a way to make the right steps forward in terms of education, and provides the opportunity to get connected with the rest of the world,” he adds.
This programme is in addition to the Company’s continued emphasis on other areas of national concern beyond its traditional sphere of telecoms interests, identifying healthcare, the provision of clean water and other enabling initiatives as crucial areas to be addressed.
Growing local impact
Yet another string to MTN South Sudan’s bow is its training programmes, specifically its active national secondment talent exchange programme. “We are able to borrow professionals from neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa primarily, to help grow the business on both a short and long-term basis,” notes Besiimire.
While this training provides the business with the right support tools for success, it does not address the need to upskill South Sudanese people. Therefore, MTN South Sudan has a long-term training programme in place which it hopes to grow in time to assist in creating a sustainable business environment for the Company in the future. Running alongside this are short term-training initiatives that are implemented when a new product is launched to the market.
He confirms: “We have ambitious plans to grow the capacities of the organisation from a people point of view. Most of our 200 employees are South Sudanese, however, we continue to rely on external expatriate expertise for the training element. We are seeing a gradual uptake of key positions by local people, but it is a well-known fact there is a skills shortage in this market which, as a Group, we are trying to combat.
“Ultimately, if we are to align with our Group’s vision, we need to improve the local South Sudanese’s digital capabilities, skills and exposure to technology. So for every expat that we bring in, we make sure there is a local understudy.”
With all of the above elements currently underway, MTN South Sudan is doing everything it can to secure the long-term success and sustainability of the leading MTN brand. By making a concerted effort to keep up and invest in the latest industry trends and strategically working to identify and answer the core needs of its customers, the digital revolution has only just begun for this independent nation.
“Overall, while South Sudan is a country of opportunity it has become a question of time frames. We are taking a realistic and measured approach and continue to review the options available to us, identifying what strategies are best for both the country and its people, and our shareholders,” comments Besiimire.
He concludes: “In this market, you have to be agile enough to respond to the fast-changing environment, but also make the right investments while being mindful of the business terrain you are operating in. So far, the MTN Group’s investments have been incremental to our business success and we continue to maintain an optimistic viewpoint for our future in South Sudan.”