Strive plans to buy back Mascom Botswana for US$300m, seeks control of his first mobile operation

Strive Masiyiwa Mascom

Fourteen years after losing control of Mascom Botswana, his very first cellular operation, Strive Masiyiwa wants to buy back the company back from MTN for US$300 million.

In a statement on Thursday, MTN said it would sell its 53% share in Mascom after failing to gain management or branding control.

“Pursuant to this it announced that it would be disposing of its associate in Botswana, Mascom, for $300 million where its lack of control position and MTN branding meant that the group is not able to execute on its BRIGHT strategy,” MTN said.

The Botswana operator holds an over 50% share of the Botswana mobile phone market with over 1.7 million subscriptions.

Mascom was Masiyiwa’s very first mobile operation, a licence he acquired in 1998. This was at a time when he was still battling to launch Econet in Zimbabwe after a long court fight.

Mascom’s founding years

The name Mascom was derived from Masiyiwa Communications, a name suggested to him by a business partner on the eve of the bidding process. Masiyiwa’s bid beat a field that included more experienced operators such as France Telecom, MTN, Bharti Airtel and Vodacom.

In 2004, Masiyiwa sold a 14% stake in Mascom in a controversial $14 million deal opposed by some Econet Wireless Zimbabwe minorities.

In 2005, Econet was caught in a costly legal row with Altech of South Africa and Vee Mobile of Nigeria. After a shareholder fallout, Masiyiwa bought out Altech for US$85.7 million. Masiyiwa then sold 44% of Mascom to MTN for US$128 million.

However, MTN never got the control it wanted, with management of Mascom outsourced to Portuguese Telecoms via a complex contract. This meant that Mascom could not carry the MTN brand, which frustrated MTN for years until its decision to sell.

In 2017, Masiyiwa forged a joint venture with power utility Botswana Power Company to form Liquid Telecom Botswana.