Mr Sunil Bharti Mittal, the Chairman of the Bharti Airtel Group has this past week been on a tour of Africa, visiting countries where the group has affiliates and also meeting both business and political leaders by virtue of Bharti being one of the major investors in the continent.
Mr Mittal was in Kenya where he met President Uhuru Kenyatta. According to a statement by the Airtel Kenya CEO Adil El Youssefi issued after the Statehouse visit, the Bharti Airtel boss pledged the firm’s support for the government’s Digital Learning Programme by provide free internet connectivity for the trial period of the project which starts with 150 schools from February 22.
Already, Airtel Kenya is providing free internet to over 197 schools and 250,000 students across the country with plans to reach 1million by the end of 2016. The CSR program is meant to inspire success in students through free access to internet.
In addition to free internet connectivity, the statement said that Uhuru and Mittal also discussed various opportunities for Airtel to partner with the Kenya government in development projects including youth employment and enterprise development.
In another statement issued earlier in the week where Bharti Airtel top-level changes in its Africa operations, the group announced that its new COO for Africa, Raghunath Mandava, will relocate to Nairobi to take over the group’s commercial operations in the continent. This means that Nairobi will continue being the hub of Airtel Africa operations.
The relocation of the COO from India to Nairobi goes away in long way in dispelling the rumour that Airtel would cease its operations in Kenya due to the stiff competition from Safaricom.
Another indication that Airtel is not about to cease operating in Kenya was Mittal’s announcement that the telco is set to invest Kshs 19 billion (US $190 million) in the country from April this year.
In the last 5 years, Airtel has invested a total of Kshs 25 billion (US $250 million) in network expansion as well its CSR efforts.
Going back to the new management changes in the Africa operations, where the group has introduced a cluster-based organization design with the current 15 African OpCos (or Operations per Country) now being classified into eight clusters with all cluster heads reporting to Raghu, Kenya is its own OpCo or cluster, with El Youssefi reporting directly to the Africa COO.
This is different from other markets. In Cluster 4, which has Uganda and Seychelles, the Airtel Uganda CEO, Tom Gutjahr will continue to lead the Uganda operation and also have the MD for Airtel Seychelles, Amadou Mahamat Dina, reporting to him. Cluster 5, which has Tanzania and Rwanda now has Sunil Colaso, the Airtel Tanzania boss also overseeing Rwanda with the Airtel Rwanda MD, Michael Adjei, reporting to him (Colaso).
For quite some time now, there have been speculations that it’s not a case of if but when Airtel Kenya would close shop and sell to another operator. However, these developments now put those rumours to rest.