Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|July 18, 2022|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

How Mick Jagger’s classmate laid the ground for a billion dollar deal.

It is a massive deal thats been the talk of Africa all week with telco and tech experts analysing every detail of a Goliaths attempt to swallow a David.

The deal is mobile giant MTN – that already bestrides Africa from south to west and east – wants to take over its smaller competitor Telkom to make it number one in the lucrative  South African market.

For a start, the $1 billion deal will give MTN Telkom’s precious fiber assets to help it roll out its 4G and 5G networks.

It remains to be seen whether the competition authorities will let the deal go through as it could create a duopoly.

If it does go through, it’ll make history and also bear out the foresight of a sage and accomplished African entrepreneur in Nigeria by the name of Pascal Dozie.

Way back in 1998, MTN approached Dozie –the father of Nigeria’s Diamond Bank – to launch their network in Nigeria. You could argue this was an existential moment in MTN’s history that gave them a grip on the West African market.

MTN put its faith in one of the grand old men of African business. Dozie, now aged 83, told me one hot Lagos afternoon he had not had an easy life. He spent many years in exile in London as the Biafran war tore at his country in the late 1960s. At times, he did not even know where his own mother was.

Yet Dozie forged ahead with his education at the London School of Economics, where he studied alongside the long-haired Rolling Stone Mick Jagger who left prematurely to play music.

“We Africans never understood him. In the village, I grew up in you only played music if you had nothing else to do!”

By contrast, Dozie had plenty to do and in the afterglow of his successful banking venture he took up the challenge from MTN in the hunt for investors…

MTN needed the growing West African market to give it the financial muscle to grow across the continent. It offered a 40 percent stake in the company to Nigerians to attract capital.

Investors dismissed Dozie as he searched – after all the Nigerian state struggled to maintain a few thousand landlines how could a private company from the other end of the continent install cell phones? The Nigerians weren’t the only ones to miss the point – years before, experts in South Africa were predicting that mobile phones were a passing fad for the rich and would support no more than  20,000 devices.

Back in Nigeria, entrepreneur Dozie was depressed when he could garner only 20 percent of the investment needed, but kept going. In a leap of faith – taking a great risk – MTN debt funded the rest.

By 2016, MTN had 60 million subscribers in Nigeria and would have found it harder for the current takeover plans if it had not tapped into the huge West African market.

That would not have happened unless a wise entrepreneur by the name of Dozie had not had the foresight to make inroads into Nigeria.