By Victor Baatweng
This week we followed with keen interest a transaction in which the local teleco ÔÇô Mascom Wireless could undergo ownership change resulting from a potential multibillion Pula deal amongst some of its shareholders.
Dear reader as you might have read in one of our stories in this edition, fifteen years after losing control of Mascom Botswana, his very first cellular operation ÔÇô Zimbabwean billionaire – Strive Masiyiwa has intentions to buy back the company.
He was the week unveiled as the mysterious buyer that could acquire MTN Group ltd’s stake in Mascom for an estimated US$300 million.
We have a mixed feeling about this. This is so because we know the ability and capability of the Zimbabwean billionaire ÔÇô Masiyiwa. He is a man who turns whatever he touches into gold and as such to have him do business in our shores would be a blessing on its own. We have all read about the story of Masiyiwa who came into Botswana to establish Mascom (derived from Masiyiwa Communications) after his own country gave him headache. The story also reminds us how far we can go as a nation if we are determined to achieve certain set goals. While we admire the persistence of Mr Strive Masiyiwa we also wish to challenge the board of trustees or atleast their representative at the Mascom Wireless board to “make the right call” relating to the fate of the shares currently owned by MTN Group which are said to be up for sale.
Already we have been told that MTN Group has expressed its wish to dispose its stake to Masiyiwa’s Econet. We are not privy to shareholders agreement between the concerned parties but we suspect that BPOPF as the second largest shareholder at Mascom has a saying in terms of who ultimately buys the MTN stake. If that is the case, we are of the view that BPOPF should use its influential position to ensure that whatever the deal signed favours Batswana.
The BPOPF should stretch its financial muscle to ensure that if need be, the 44 percent stake up for grabs is sold to Batswana. This could be through buying and listing them at the stock exchange or simply increasing the Fund’s stake in the company. We are at a critical point of development in our country where we now need active participation of indigenous Batswana in the domestic economy. Gone are the days when we were forced to become spectators. Gone are the days when Batswana were forced to eat crumbs of the bread in their own yard.
As we always note in this space before, the bitter pill that we all need to swallow is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners in some sectors of the domestic economy.
One thing for sure – we cannot change the structure of our economy without a massive increase in the number of Batswana who owns businesses either directly or indirectly. This is a great opportunity for BPOPF to let Batswana become number one ÔÇô as the Mascom slogan goes.
Our number one mission as a nation should be to build a more equal society through sustained inclusive growth. A decision by the BPOPF board to buy the MTN stake and resell the shares to Batswana through public listing will go a long in ensuring that we attain this vision.
We strongly believe that in the face of an underperforming economy like ours, and the challenges to come – our future will depend on amongst other things the capacity of Batswana owned companies. The MTN disposal of its Mascom shares has therefore presented an opportunity for us to allow Batswana to have a controlling stake in a company such as Mascom Wireless. This is a company that has made millions running into billions of Pulas from Botswana and it can only be fair to the natives to be given an opportunity to have stake in it. We therefore call on the BPOPF to bear in mind that our ability as a nation to rethink and reshape how we produce and distribute not just wealth but services will determine how our future turns out. There is surely much work to do going forward. We need to use the levers of entities such as the public pension fund more effectively to affirm the position of indigenous Batswana in the domestic economy. The #Bottomline is that this economy will never be successful until the people are successful. The BPOPF should make the right call and ensure that that shares and the money ends in the pockets of Batswana.