Reginald RichardsonBy Reginald Richardson|May 4, 2022|9 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

Benny goes to tech.

All electronic devices that I use I have assembled myself, says the man who has made history manufacturing the first mobile phone in the country.We meet at the Botswana Digital and Innovation Hub, the countrys Silicon Valley. Its a multi-million-dollar complex seven years under construction, an incomplete section juts out like a festering sore. Signage is sparse. 

“Ah, you also got lost?”’ seems to be the running joke.

We are ushered into a simple plan office with around six desks and chairs, a small corner reception on the one corner, and a small conference room on the other. It is not techie, nor are conventional office aesthetics necessary.

“Hi. Is It Regi?”. A voice from behind a laptop inquires well before the face rises. He doesn’t look geeky and he’s just as spartan as the office. “Did you see the manufacturing plant? Take them to see the manufacturing plant and we sit down and talk. Is that, ok?”

The plant is a product start to finish modern product conveyor manufacturing system from start to finish. A bigger soon to be operational plant made to accommodate bigger tv screens will double that.

Thatayaone Dichaba is the founder and CEO of Dichaba Group under which is found Dichaba Technology (Ditec Mobile) which manufactures mobile phones and Dichaba Consumer Electronic (Dice) original equipment Manufacturer for Ditec. He doesn’t look geeky.

Born 46 years ago in the non-descript village of Tamasane-population just over a thousand now and half that when he was born, Thatayaone was initially dazzled by his first experience in the capital city.

“I was a classic Benny goes to town” he laughs referencing a primary school text tale of a village boy’s first visit to town. His steady success though is a testament that he learned the ropes pretty quickly to become one of the country’s movers and shakers.

“Assembling electronics has always been my hobby. Having started my own computer networking company, the craze soon became the mobile phone and its possibilities. I reasoned to myself that a mobile phone is nothing but a series of electronic components assembled together and that I could do. So, I started working on putting together the country’s first mobile phone handset .”

But it wasn’t easy, he admits.

Forming Ditec Mobile 2011 a subsidiary of Dichaba Group, he secured a loan from the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA) and started focusing on the project. Soon he was armed with 4 cellphone prototypes and ready for production, he beamishly made his presentation before CEDA officials.

“Are you saying you spent all the $40thousand dollars we loaned you on just four devices and you still want more funding?”. A suspicious looking CEDA official asked him. The only way he could unlock more funding was to repay the loan.

“You see in those days CEDA didn’t have industry specific consultants and they were clueless about what went into such prototype development.”

Dichaba says rumour soon spread that he used the loan for the high life, at the time a popular trend of people who got loans through CEDA. Dichaba still drove around in his old Toyota Tazz. Devastated and desperate that every minute that passed rendered his prototypes obsolete he confided in his pastor who immediately donated $1200 and suggested he try markets outside Botswana.

A few days later he hitchhiked to Angola, a country emerging from a devastating civil war seemed just the right kind of market to exploit. Though the trip was not much success it was an eye opener. Dichaba learnt that things don’t come cheap in Angola running out of funds and forcing his family back home to scrounge around to send him $500.

‘Why should we have faith in your product when your own countrymen don’t?’ was one of the many questions that confronted him.

Empty handed except for a plane ticket back home, Angola was not yet finished with him.

“One of the officials at the airport wanted me to grease his palms. I refused. Bribery was alien to me. A few minutes later I watched in shock as my plane taxied out of the runway. I spent the night in the departure lounge. The following day I was on the plane, let’s just say having learnt my lesson,” he punctuates this sentence with a mischievous smile.

There was nothing to smile about when he arrived home though. CEDA had dragged him to court for non-repayment of the loan. He faced imprisonment.

A chance conversation with a friend led to a barter deal; a distributor’s licenses in exchange for an all-expenses paid business trip to Zambia and the DRC.

But it was to be a trip to Uganda that would pull off his first major deal with Airtel Uganda. Product customization to client needs became very popular. Soon after MCell in Mozambique followed then Botswana’s BeMobile, and then South Africa. Ditec products can be found in stores around Botswana. They also launched Di-Apps a free mobile application store, a free platform for developers to publish their works and it comes pre-installed on Ditec mobile phone devices.

Covid 19 hit. Clients suspended contracts. Business ground to a halt. Dichaba pivoted and was soon manufacturing electronic thermometers.

And it seems that journey is well underway.

But Ditec Mobile clearly remains the muscle of the Group reinforced by coming up with the first locally manufactured mobile android phone handset aptly named Pioneer. And it should be so. The broadcasting regulator statistics report shows that in Q3 2021 “mobile cellular telephone subscriptions increased 2.8 percent from the previous quarter to 4,023,009. Both fixed and mobile Internet subscriptions jumped 8.1 percent in the same period to 2,472,260.

Ditec pride themselves with their after sales support and “wait while we fix your device” policy.

From just computer networking to mobile phones, laptops, smart and non-smart TVs, desktops, and WIFI routers the Dichaba Group is spreading its wings far and wide to compete with the likes of Samsung, Sony and the LG’s of this world. Dichaba has set himself a target that before the end of 2022 the first of 14 Ditec franchise stores across the country shall be open. The company already operates a Ditec branded store at Game City one of the biggest lifestyle shopping malls in the city.

What does he think Dichaba Group is worth? “Let’s just set our eyes on the expansion of the company and the impact that it is going to make. When we list in two years then we will all get to know.”

That is a lot on anyone’s plate, then again many of us were skeptical that he could manufacture the country’s first mobile phone handset.