Microsoft East Africa: Those who have left following the sale of Nokia brand


For a long time, the Microsoft PR account – locally and regionally – was handled by Bertolli and Associates before it moved to Tell-Em PR. The account later changed its PR agency to Corporate Talk even though Microsoft Devices unit (formerly Nokia East Africa) was at the time still being represented by Hill+Knowlton.

However in late last year, Microsoft decided to bring both its Corporate and devices unit – Microsoft Devices – under the management of one PR agency, a move which saw the then new PR industry entrant Grayling take over the account.

(TOP: Mariam Abdulahi, Microsoft Mobile Devices GM – left – and King’ori Gitahi, the Product Manager display the Lumia 640 and 640 XL during the launch in mid 2015. The two have since left the company).

The move to Grayling came at a time when the firm’s device business unit was facing headwinds both in the local and international market, with reports indicating that the US-based firm was considering the possibility of completely phasing out its devices unit – which produced phones under the Lumia brand.

An article published this week by Trusted Reviews seems to confirm this, stating that “Microsoft planned to finally kill off the Lumia brand – the current Microsoft phone line, formerly of Nokia – in December 2016,” before adding that it’s however “not clear whether that’s happened just yet, but it could mean a Surface Phone may not be far off.”

“Microsoft hasn’t announced any press events for such a device, and even though the company attended the CES 2017 tradeshow in Las Vegas in January 2017, there was no Surface Phone announcement. Microsoft also decided not to make any announcements regarding a new Surface Phone at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress tradeshow in February… A source posting to Reddit in March suggested that the Surface Phone wouldn’t launch until late 2018 or 2019, but that seems a little unlikely…” states the article published by Trusted Reviews on March 20, 2017.

This state of affairs seems to have compelled a number of Microsoft staff – many of who used to work in its Mobile Devices unit in East Africa – to leave the firm and seek opportunities elsewhere. Below are some of those who have left the firm in the recent past:

Mariam Abdullahi: Having joined Microsoft in January 2013 as the Head of Operator Channel for Sub Sahara Africa, Ms Abdullahi was in charge of the firm’s Operator Channel business with the responsibility for building and delivering well-managed partnerships and value-add business relationships with telcos, OEM partners a s well as solution providers.

“As Head of the Operator Channel for Sub-Sahara Africa, my responsibilities included delivering these partnerships within West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean islands. In addition to building long-term partnerships, in this role I was responsible for driving and delivering the yearly revenue targets and long-term revenue opportunities in this Channel,” she stated on her LinkedIn page.

In October 2014, she was appointed GM for Microsoft Mobile Devices East Africa following the acquisition of Nokia Mobile Devices by Microsoft in September 2013. In this role, she served as the site GM for the East Africa Operations with overall commercial and strategic responsibility of Microsoft Mobile Devices in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Djibouti, Rwanda and Somalia. She served in this role for a year till September 2015 when she was made Microsoft’s Consumer Channel Segment Lead for West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands. Ms Abdullahi left Microsoft in February 2016 and moved to a new role as the SAP’s Telecomms Industry Lead for Africa.

King’ori Gitahi: Held various positions at Nokia, beginning with the firm’s regional research arm, Nokia Research Africa whose team was involved in the customization of Nokia phones to fit the local setting. They Nokia Research Africa team did local language customization, provided support to local developers and also collected views before relaying the feedback to those at the head office on what would work well for ad in Africa according to a 2012 post published by Kachwanya. From here, he was appointed Nokia’s Head of Product Marketing for East Africa a role he led till and through the acquisition of Nokia’s device unit by Microsoft. It’s not clear when he left Microsoft but he’s since assumed a new role as the Technical Product Manager, Lenovo East Africa. Lenovo currently markets Motorola devices following the acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google.

On inquiring whether the local Microsoft office still has a mobile devices unit – especially following Microsoft’s sale of Nokia and feature phone business to HMD – and if the market can expect any future devices from Microsoft, Lilian Nganda, Microsoft Communications Manager responded in the affirmative.

“We will continue to develop Windows 10 Mobile and support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950 XL, and phones from OEM partners like Acer, Alcatel, HP, Trinity and VAIO… I will update you on any launch dates as soon as they are confirmed,” stated Nganda.

How soon – and even when – the new Microsoft devices are expected to hit the market remains to be seen. This is more given the fact that if and when they’re launched, they’ll be coming to a market that is currently experiencing the re-entry of Nokia branded handsets although whether the revamped Nokia brand will gain a significant user base remains to be seen.

Away from its mobile device unit, Microsoft’s local office has experienced a number of staff departures, that is part from Mariam Abdullahi and King’ori Gitahi.

Among those who have left the firm since 2016 include Brian Wesonga who served as Communications and PR Lead for East & Southern Africa for over 2 years before leaving in May 2016 to join Safaricom as Corporate Communications Manager; Tonia Kariuki, a long serving staff who joined the firm in 1996 as Finance Manager before leaving in December 2016 to join GE Healthcare as the Chief Marketing Officer, Africa; and Annette Mutuku, the firm’s former Communications Lead for Microsoft 4Afrika Initiatives who left in May 2016 to join GE as the Culture Communication Leader, Africa.