Wednesday, March 26, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
I’m all fired up like the rest of Kenyans. I want a piece of the action when the big pie goes up for grabs this week. Like most anxious Kenyans, I have been waiting to own a part of the most profitable company in East and Central Africa. After all, I have been a faithful customer to Michael Joseph for the past nine years and lately, especially during the elections, I had been spending close to Ks 30, 000 a month on airtime alone.
However, there is something fishy with this big apple. The stinking thing has been around for a long time every time there is talk from the Treasury that the Kenya Government was about to offload 25% of its shares to raise the badly needed Ks 50 billion to bridge the budget deficit.
Last year, despite unfavourable political climate, with elections around the corner, Amos Kimunya, Kenya’s Finance Minister was hell bent on selling off the 25% of the government’s 60% equity. And he was very arrogant about it. Had it not been for the Vodafone shareholders who opposed the IPO going into the market at the time, the arrogance of our rulers would have won the day.
Now we are told the sale must go on this week despite voices of dissent coming from the civil society watchdogs as well as the ODM- the principle coalition partner in the Kibaki administration.
Two issues have arisen that make men and women of honour question the integrity of Safaricom as a company. First there is the mysterious Mobitelea ownership that just won’t go away. A rundown of how this faceless company came to own 10% then 5% of a public company in Kenya, now worth Ks 10 billion has remained a mystery. More perplexing is the fact that the same company is foreign and never paid a dime to have shares in Safaricom!
With all due respect, Michael Joseph, the first CEO to be hired by Vodafone PLC has led the company for nine years even though his initial contract was never to go beyond three years. Earlier plans to have a Kenyan understudy him were scuttled by political interest groups; probably connected with Mobitelea.
His appearance last year at the Parliamentary Investment Committee to explain the ownership of Mobitelea was as baffling as it was obstructive. For Michael Joseph to have said that he did not know the owners of Mobitelea amounted to a CEO saying he has never met shareholders of the company he runs.
Safaricom is basically a Kenyan company that has thrived on the good will of ordinary Kenyans and the Government of Kenya. It has continued to make huge profits year in year out with a customer base now in the region of 10 million. The billions of shillings that have been reported yearly have not come from Vodafone PLC or the Kenya Government; the two principle share holders. Least of all, have they come from Mobitelea. The profits have come from mama mboga, a Masai herdsman, a matatu tout, a village farmer and a little clerk in a government office.
It is therefore disheartening to learn that the company’s CEO has been paying huge dividends to a shareholder he doesn’t even know! What cheek is this? Is Michael Joseph playing with the minds of Kenyans? Does he respect the intelligence of 10 million Kenyans who are his loyal customers?
Now that Safaricom is finally on sale, there is another bombshell hurled at Kenyans. Yes, Kenyans, the real owners through GOK have no first right of refusal. They have to compete with the rest of East Africans while a whopping 35% of the government’s 25% shares on offer have been reserved for the same foreign masters!
When the GOK offered to offload 25% of its shares in Safaricom, we were made to believe that these shares would make Kenyans own the company! What happened along the way? Have Kenyans become East Africans and Britons? Have ordinary Kenyans suddenly become big multinational companies owning everything in this country? Why do we allow ourselves to be duped by a public fraud that has the backing of shameless corporate captains and their accomplices at the stock exchange? Why isn’t Kenya Anti Corruption Commission interested in this naked foreign theft of our national wealth? How come the very individuals who fraudulently sold off our national wealth to unknown faceless foreigners are not being pursued by law enforcement forces or anti- graft authorities?
But again; how could they possibly pursue these criminals that are in fact their business partners if not cousins or accomplices? This is the tragedy that must allow Kenyans to be robbed blind in broad day light without their elected government raising a finger!
Do we have MPs of conscience in this present parliament? Now is the time to raise your voices or forever be damned.