Recently, MTN launched a countrywide campaign dubbed Uganda is home manifested through a reforestation activity across different forest reserves. We spoke with the MTN Uganda CEO, Wim Vanhelleputte to expound more on this campaign.
Q. We have seen a lot of communication about a new MTN campaign called Uganda is Home. What is this about?
A. MTN has embarked on an ambitious project of restoring 220 hectares of forest cover as it further deepens its roots in Uganda, in preparation of the company listing 20% of its shares on the Uganda Stock Exchange, an opportunity for Ugandans to own a part of MTN.
When we first came to Uganda in 1998, we came as an outsider into this market. But Uganda welcomed us. You shared your homes, cultures and everything with us. Simple hellos turned into friendships and as Uganda steadily took shape as our home, those friendships turned into family bonds. And where there is family, there is a home. Over the years, MTN has done things in Uganda with Ugandans to establish and build our roots here. We have invested in democratizing communication, mobile money, data and other things. We have invested in developing our sports and music industries, through the MTN foundation, we have supported government in key areas like health, education, youth empowerment and other government priority areas. All of these were for the purpose of building our roots here. Uganda has trusted us and now government has recently renewed our license to operate in Uganda which for us speaks to the fact that Uganda trusts us and we trust Uganda. The reforestation initiative as well as the overall “Uganda is Home” campaign is a recommitment of MTN to the people of Uganda that the company will continue to invest in the socio-economic well-being of the country besides its business operations.
Q. Okay. So now that makes sense. But then again, we have seen you getting involved in reforestation of Uganda. What’s the relationship between the forest and setting up home in Uganda?
A. This is something that we have learnt from being in Uganda all this time. I believe it happens in other parts of Africa.
When someone sets up a new home, or even when they acquire land on which they intend to build their home, there is a tendency to plant a tree or trees as a statement of ownership, a symbol of establishment of oneself on that land. As we deepen our roots here, we are launching regional MTN reforestation activities across the country because MTN has a national presence. The reforestation activity is therefore a symbolic act for MTN that speaks to the deepening of our roots in Uganda.
Q. How big is the reforestation drive?
So we launched this drive on Tuesday the 24th August at Kyewaga forest reserve in Entebbe where 20 hectares will be restored. As mentioned already, 220 hectares will be reforested, 10 hectares representing every year that we have already been here. We shall be doing 50 hectares inBarifa CFR in Arua, 50 in Kagombe CFR in Kibaale, 50 in Jubiya CFR in Masaka and 50 hectares in Ogera Hills CFR in Serere district.
Q. 22 years is definitely not a small period; can you highlight some of the achievements in that time?
A. when we first came here, telecom penetration was at just 0.28%. Many Ugandans had no access to telecom services. We introduced a business model that opened up telecom services to the masses. For example, we launched with prepaid services, extended network to the rest of the country, introduced affordable entry level handsets like the Kabiriti that some of the listeners might remember, among other things. We changed the financial landscape in this country when we introduced mobile money services which have become to new way for financial transactions of any kind in Uganda and this is a growing service.
We launched our support in industries like the music industry at a time when South African and Congolese music dominated the local industry. Today that is a multi-million-dollar industry employing millions. We rendered our support to sports like athletics since 2004 and today we can all see the results with world records and Olympics medals. Through partnerships, we bring the local football league to sitting rooms across Uganda at a time when fans can’t go to stadia. We have supported football from the national team, to clubs like KCCA and Onduparaka among others.
Through the MTN foundation, we have refurbished and equipped over 30 health centers across the country especially targeting maternal health and today many mothers are having safe deliveries. We have been involved with over 100 schools across the country and many learners are enjoying better education facilities. We have been one of the largest contributors to the government coffers thereby supporting government’s development agenda. Currently, MTN employs almost 1500 employees directly and over 100,000 other indirectly. So as you can see, we have really been building our roots here and are only happy to deepen them further.
Q. Since you are establishing roots here, what plans do you have for Uganda?
A. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, when our license was renewed recently, there was a requirement for us to sell 20% of the company to Ugandans through listing on the Uganda Securities exchange. This was supposed to happened by 2022. So this campaign is in preparation for that. Ugandans will have a chance to become part owners of MTN Uganda. That is something very big. I mean being able to own part of a company that you have helped support over the years.
Our plans for Uganda are to exponentially grow what we have achieved together so far. To begin with, we are committing about USD 350million investment in network expansion and upgrade over the next five years. We are bringing to life to our slogan, ‘everywhere you go’. Ugandans can look forward to clear and crisp network quality and the accompanying services across the entire country. This is just one of many initiatives to grow with and develop the country that has become Home.
We shall also continue engaging with government and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that communication is more accessible and affordable. At MTN we believe that everybody deserves the benefits of a modern connected world and our goal is really to ensure that we deliver on our promise to Uganda.
Q. In a few words, give us your parting shots?
A. First of all, we would like to say that what we have achieved together would not have been possible without the support of our customers. But very importantly, we would like to thank government for providing the conducive environment for doing business, and our regulator Uganda Communications Commission for continually engaging industry players towards a better and more vibrant industry. To all Ugandans, we have come a long way, lets continue working together towards bettering our nation. There is a lot more in store that we are looking to do for the benefit of Ugandans and ourselves and as we go on, we shall be making announcements about the next steps.