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Africa’s Telecoms Titans: Airtel Africa


Africa’s Telecoms Titans is a series by Techzim profiling the top 20 leading mobile operators on the continent. Each segment focuses on a specific mobile operator with insights into services provided including marketing and technical competencies.


Airtel Africa B.V: Indian Roots, Pan African Ambitions

Airtel Map

  • Total Subscribers-Africa: 44.2Million
  • Total Subscribers-Global: 220 Million
  • Biggest market-Global: 162 Million subscribers in India
  • Biggest market-Africa: 16 Million subscribers in Nigeria (April 2011)
  • Ownership status: Amsterdam registered subsidiary of Indian based Bharti Airtel
  • Market Capitalisation (Through Indian Parent): $US 30 Billion
  • Annual Revenue (Through Indian Parent): 13 Billion Dollars
  • Annual Revenue (Africa): $ 2,878 Billion
  • Net Earnings (Africa): ~$ 691 million (2011 Full year earnings)
  • Employees (Africa): +6,434 (As of December 2010)

Airtel Africa is a part of the Indian based Bharti Airtel Limited. Bharti Airtel was founded in 1995 and has exploded from an initial 25 000 subscribers (in 1996) to gigantic 164.61 million subscribers (April 2011) in India alone. It has approximately 220 Million subscribers overall (Indian subcontinent and Africa). Airtel India has accomplished the feats of becoming:

  • One of the nation’s top 5 most trusted companies-Economic Times
  • Most Admired Company
  • ‘Powerful Brand’ – Economic Times (the only corporate brand to be awarded the AAA rating)
  • India’s Most Innovative Company – Wall Street Journal
  • Winner of the Mobile World Congress
  • Economic Times Telecom Awards 2011-Customer Experience Enhancement

Airtel Africa won two awards at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2011 Global Awards, they are:

  • Best Mobile Money Product or solution (for Airtel OnLine Pay)
  • Best Customer Care & Customer Relationship Management (CRM) prize

The company’s African assets were acquired from the Kuwaiti based Zain Group at a cash valuation of US$ 10.7 Billion. The company sees Africa as the next growth engine of the world, essentially another India waiting to happen. It has invested heavily in infrastructure and branding as the former Zain Africa was on a decline path in Africa. It is the market leader in 10 of the 16 African nations it operates in and second in 5. Its growth trajectory is built on brand and market consolidation and it competes fiercely on pricing. In what has been dubbed as the price wars, the company has moved into markets like Nigeria by slashing its average pricing by up to 60%. Airtel’s cost efficiencies and consolidated group structure enable it to provide African consumers with services at rates that few can match.

Its key differentiator from other operators in India and Africa is that it is not only a mobile operator but a fully integrated telecoms player. It provides Wireless (2G-3G), Telemedia (Broadband and IPTV), Enterprise Services, Passive Infrastructure Services, and a very interesting DTH package (Satellite TV). Techzim believes that Airtel DTH will challenge DSTV’s continental monopoly in the near future. Unlike the brave few before it, this company has the scale, knowledge and expertise to role out a mass onslaught in this regard.

Brand Competencies:

Airtel is positioning its brand across the continent as being youthful, passionate and positive.  The company’s challenge in this regard is the series of names consumers have had to contend with (Celtel then Zain, and now Airtel). Massive investments into building the brand have been made with aggressive promotions and pricing complementing these. The feel free promotion spearheaded the rebranding effort as it sort to connect with consumers. High profile marketing efforts such as the sponsorship of the MTV Africa Music Awards and the launch of the One8 super group have played a key role in raising brand awareness among young and influential markets. One 8 is an Airtel sponsored music group led by R-Kelly and artists from 8 African nations in which the company operates.

The company is also leveraging on its sponsorship of Manchester United to promote its brand across its operating markets. One of their promotions with Manchester United enables subscribers to win a trip to Old Trafford to train with the team. In keeping with its focus on connecting with consumers Airtel also provides sponsorship in other areas such as cultural, music and developmental initiatives.

Technical Competencies

Sunil Bharti IBM
Airtel Founder and an IBM Representative

Airtel’s technical competencies are built on a holistic foundation. It outsources non core network functions to technical partners like Ericsson, Alcatel Lucent, Huawei and IBM to concentrate on growing and managing its networks. It also seeks to partner with value added service providers across all its markets to provide premium sms, ringtones and multimedia messaging services. The Airtel Africa unit stands to benefit from the Indian parent’s very large critical mass as it benefits from economies of scale when negotiating deals.


Its international infrastructure includes ownership of the i2i submarine cable system connecting Chennai to Singapore, consortium ownership of the SMW4 submarine cable system connecting Chennai and Mumbai to Singapore and Europe, and investments in new cable systems such as Asia America Gateway (AAG), India Middle East and Western Europe (IMEWE), Unity North, EIG (Europe India Gateway) and East Africa Submarine System (EASSy).

The company (through Celtel) was a world first pioneer when it launched its ambitious One Network project. The project enables African consumers to travel to various countries (mainly on its networks) and simply buy local airtime while being able to receive calls from their home country at no extra cost. The company is stepping up its technical capabilities in Africa through an exchange programme in which employees in India and Africa are exposed to both markets.

The Zimbabwean connection

Airtel Zambia’s CEO; Fayaz King is a Zimbabwean

Fayaz is a holder of an MBA (University of Zimbabwe) and a Chartered Institute of Marketing diploma (University of Zimbabwe). Fayaz began his career as a management trainee in Zimbabwe under Lever Brothers (now known as Unilever), he then rose to become a brand manager at the company and its marketing manager. He went on to become a Business Group Head thereafter. Fayaz then joined Innscor as its group Marketing Director in Zimbabwe and operated three businesses after this. His tenure at Airtel Africa began when it was still known as Celtel where he worked as the Marketing Director for Uganda. After this he became the General Manager for Lagos and North Central Nigeria. When the Kuwaiti based Zain group bought out Celtel, Fayaz was seconded to Malawi where he served as the company’s CEO.

His experience spans the whole of Sub Saharan Africa and would be the best leader if Airtel were to make an entrance into the Zimbabwean market. Over and above this, Fayaz can make a significant contribution towards the realignment efforts of the local ICT sector through his wealth of experience.

Airtel Zambia’s CIO (Chief Information Officer), James Museba is also a Zimbabwean.

James is a holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics, an ACCA Certified Diploma in Accounting & Finance. He also holds an MBA. Prior to joining Airtel (then Zain), James was the Head of IT at African Banking Corporation (now BancABC) and the Group IT and Operations Director at Interfin Merchant Bank (now Interfin Bank). He has over 19 years worth of telecom, banking and information technology experience. According to his Airtel Zambia profile, he was responsible for laying the blueprint of an efficient and robust IT and back office infrastructure at Interfin.

James has the experience and the passion for ICT to be able to make a meaningful contribution locally. He is another Zimbabwean that could return should Airtel setup shop locally.

*Thanks to Charles Garanganga, one of our readers for giving us the heads up on these two gentlemen.

Leadership Competencies

Sunil Bharti Mittal: Founder, Chairman and CEO of Bharti Airtel Limited

Sunil Bharti Mittal: Founder, Chairman and CEO of Bharti Airtel Limited

Sunil is one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs on the Indian sub-continent today. He built Bharti Airtel from scratch to conquer the nation as its leading operator. His accomplishments to date include (in random order):

  • Awarded the ‘Global Economy Prize’ by The Kiel Institute(Germany)
  • Business Innovator of the Year BY NDTV (2010)
  • Global Game changer at Economic Times Telecom Awards (2011)
  • Global Telecom Leader award by Voice & Data magazine (2011)
  • Awarded the Padma Bhushan (India’s third highest civilian honor)
  • Co-chairman of the World Economic Forum in 2007 at Davos
  • Transforming India Leader, NDTV Business Leader Awards 2008.
  • GSMA Chairman’s Award 2008.
  • Padma Bhushan in 2007, from the President of India.
  • Asia Businessman of the Year, Fortune Magazine 2006.
  • Telecom Person of the Year, Voice & Data, 2006.
  • CEO of the year 2005, at the Frost and Sullivan Asia Pacific ICT awards 2006.
  • Best Asian Telecom CEO, Telecom Asia Awards 2005.
  • Best CEO, India, Institutional Investor, 2005.
  • Business Leader Of The Year, Economic Times, 2005.
  • INSEAD Business Leader Award 2011

Sunil is also:

  • A member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • On the Indian Prime Minister’s Council on Trade & Industry.
  • On the board of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a leading UN Agency.
  • A member of several premier international bodies – Leadership Council of The Climate Group.
  • Part of the Advisory Committee of NYSE Euronext Board of Directors, International Business Advisory Council for London as well as Rome.
  • An Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers.
  • A holder of a Doctor of Laws (Honorary) by the University of Leeds, UK.
  • A holder of a Doctor of Science (Honorary) by the GB Pant University.

Manoj Kohli: CEO (International/Africa) and Joint Managing Director, Bharti Airtel Ltd.

Manoj is the CEO of the Airtel International Business Group (Airtel Africa). The Airtel IBG is the actual name of its Africa operations which he runs from Airtel Africa’s Nairobi base in Kenya.

Manoj heads the International Business Group which leads the international strategy for Bharti Airtel and he previously held multiple roles as CEO and Joint Managing Director, CEO, and Head of Mobile Services business at Bharti Airtel Limited.

Manoj was the Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) National Committee on Telecom & Broadband. He was member of the Board of GSM Association (GSMA) in 2008. He was the Chairman of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

He has also accomplished the following:

  • Telecom Man of the Year Media Trans Asia
  • Telecom Person of the Year by Voice & Data Magazine.
  • He is a member of the Academic Council of the Faculty of Management Studies & Faculty of Commerce & Business
  • He has been awarded the “Best Alumni Award” by SRCC, Delhi University.

Manoj holds degrees in Commerce, Law and MBA from Delhi University.  Manoj also attended the “Executive Business Program” at the Michigan Business School and the “Advanced Management Program” at the Wharton Business School.

Andre Beyers: Chief Market Officer (Airtel Africa)

Andre Beyers: Chief Market Officer (Airtel Africa)

Andre Beyers-A South African is the Chief Marketing Officer of Airtel Africa. He has overseen the challenges of positioning the brand across 16 diverse African markets.

He is the chief architect of the Airtel brand strategy and says that “cellular is in his veins.”  According to his Airtel profile, his goal is to make Airtel the most loved brand in Africa by 2015 through meeting the emerging needs of customers with innovative, affordable and relevant solutions and connecting customers emotionally with the brand.

Andre previously led Vodacom’s marketing department for seven years including brand and retail strategy and customer segmentation across Africa and he set-up the initial marketing frameworks in Mozambique, Congo, DRC, Tanzania and Lesotho. Prior to that Andre was at FCB, South Africa’s largest advertising group at the time, where he spent four years supporting Vodacom’s Innovation Hub – a unit within the ad agency that was tasked with conceiving fresh ideas for the company.

Social Responsibility Competencies

Airtel has not only replicated its Indian CSR culture but responded to the different needs of the African continent. The company has focused on education as its main area of investment by launching adopt-a-school projects across its operating markets. The company also works with organisations like the Red Cross to address the varying needs of societies. In Kenya alone the company has partnered with the Red Cross to help 25 000 school children from over 250 schools with food donations to schools. East Africa is currently facing one of the worst droughts in its history.

The company believes that the role of education in eradicating poverty cannot be overstated.  According to it, receiving an education is perhaps a child’s biggest barrier to escaping poverty. On this note it works with Ministries of Education across its 16 markets to improve.


It also believes that the power of an education continues to provide benefits to subsequent generations as educated adults tend to marry later in life, have healthier children, be more productive at work, receive better pay in the workplace and generally enjoy greater health.

Furthermore it believe that in Africa It is common for rural youth – especially girls – to drop out or be forced to travel far away from their homes in order to attend school.  The majority of existing schools – especially in rural areas – are overcrowded, poorly furnished and under-resourced.  Historically, in Africa, education has only been available in the cities and larger towns and there’s still a long way to go before that imbalance is redressed. Airtel’s Adopt-A-School project is building on similar experiences in India as it seeks to transform lives.

Techzim would like to thank Michael Okwiri (Airtel Africa’s Communications Manager) for availing his time during the compilation of this profile.

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4 thoughts on “Africa’s Telecoms Titans: Airtel Africa

  1. really big l wish one of them could be a player in this country, we wait to see what happens at Telecel in the wake of Vimpelcom…….we need massive rate cuts on both voice and data, l cant imagine that it is cheaper for me to roam with my Kenyan numbers than using local sim cards… ridiculous…

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