Africa’s Telecoms Titans: MTN Group

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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.

MTN Group: Africa’s Leading Mobile Operator

  • Total Subscribers: 147,265 million (As at 31 March 2011-First Quarter Release)
  • Biggest market: 40.211 million subscribers in Nigeria
  • Ownership status: Listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange
  • Market Capitalisation: R 256.2 billion (US$ 37.8 billion) – As of 20 June 2011 JSE Closing Share Price
  • Annual Revenue: R114.7 billion (US$ 16.8 billion)
  • Net Earnings: R12.8 billion (US$ 1.8 billion)
  • Employees: 17 820 as of December 2010

MTN is a Pan African communications company that was founded in 1994 and has over 16 000 employees across the region. The company has its headquarters in Johannesburg-South Africa and is led by a Zimbabwean President and CEO; Sifiso Dabengwa. The company operates in 21 countries across the region and is the most valuable commercial brand on the continent according to a study by Brand Finance UK. The brand alone is worth $4.9 billion.

In 2010 MTN made history by becoming the first and only African company to ever sponsor a Soccer World Cup. It is also one of three African companies ranked in the top 40 Global companies (of 2009) according to a report prepared by the prestigious management consultants AT Kearney for BusinessWeek. The survey was conducted from an initial base of 2500 companies. MTN was ranked at an impressive number 7, ahead of tech stalwarts like (17), Oracle (31) and South America’s mobile giant, America Movil (18).

The company believes that along with access to communication comes economic empowerment.

Technical Competencies:

Mtn’s core operations are composed of 2nd and 3rd Generation GSM mobile networks. It also operates a satellite carrier concern, business products division and an internet services arm. Like most other African and global operators, the company has solid supplier relationships with China’s rising telecoms giants, Huawei and ZTE. Other suppliers and technical partners to the company include Starfish Mobile (Value Added Services) and Ericsson (Infrastructure).

MTN was the first company to introduce prepaid airtime (pay as you go) in the world.

Brand Competencies:

MTN’s brand success lies in the Yello Storm philosophy and its payoff line; everywhere you go. This philosophy is founded on a premise of providing world class mobile communications to all of Africa’s people without any emphasis on class, race, culture or religion. Yello storm’s goal is to ensure the availability of MTN’s network and airtime agents at every few metres of Africa’s various nations.

This marketing approach was perfected during the 2010 World Cup when the company launched its AYOBA and Africa United Campaigns. The colourful vibe of the campaigns was even felt in nations like Zimbabwe where the operator has not yet established a presence. MTN has expressed an interest in Zimbabwe’s Netone, as far as we know negotiations are still underway. The company is also a prominent backer of African sports, arts and cultural initiatives.

MTN’s brand promise is to provide quality and affordable communications to Africa and the region.

Leadership Competencies:

Sifiso Dabengwa, President and CEO

Sifiso Dabengwa

Sifiso, a Zimbabwean, became MTN’s group CEO in April 2011. Prior to this, he was MTN’s COO for 11 years and is part of the tri-factor management credited for playing a big role in the company’s success. The other two are previous CEO Phutuma Nhleko and former Chief Marketing Officer, Santie Botha. He was also MTN’s CEO in Nigeria when the company consolidated its position there.

Sifiso is a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe and holds a Bachelor of Engineering and an MBA from Wits University. According to Who’s Who Southern Africa, his stake in the company at the time of being COO was worth R204 million. Sifiso is one of many Zimbabweans highlighting the abundant human capital the nation possesses.

Phutuma Nhleko

Phutuma Nhleko, Former President and CEO

Prior to handing over the reins, Phutuma Nhleko was the CEO of MTN and played a critical role in leading the company as its chief. He also headed a consortium with BEE management equity in the company. Phutuma was recently invited to join the board of BP PLC (London) as a director. Through Worldwide African Investment Holdings he owns 20% of the rising Pan African energy firm; Engen. Other directorships include Anglo American, Nedbank Group and Old Mutual.

Santie Botha Former CMO

Santie BothaSantie, a South African, is regarded as one of the most powerful marketers in Africa. She directed the yellow storm blitz and refined the brand to a universal identity, transcending diverse markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, Santie attributes her focus and determination as a result of persevering against the challenges of working in male dominated environments.

Santie was South Africa’s business woman of the year in 2010. She is currently the chancellor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Perhaps the finest example of Santie’s leadership capabilities can be found in MTN’s sponsorship and marketing campaign for the 2010 World Cup. Africa United brought the whole continent together to rally behind the 6 continental teams and played a key role in making the overall event a resounding success.

Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment: MTN Zakhele

MTN announced an 8.1 billion Rand (US$ 1.2 billion) broad based economic empowerment offer. This is one of the largest BBBEE transactions ever on the African continent. Beyond equity ownership the company also focuses on economic empowerment with regards to employment equity; skills development; procurement; enterprise development; and corporate social investment.

The MTN Foundation:


School - MTN

As a company rule, MTN’s subsidiaries invest 1% of after tax profit into charitable activities, this added up to a collective amount of approximately US$ 180 million during the year 2010. The company has traditionally contributed to education, health, economic empowerment and cultural activities.

The MTN website:


  1. Mahlabayithwale

    Is it not more accurate to refer to Sifiso Dabengwa as Zimbabwean born. Once you get foreign citizenship you cease to be Zimbabwean. Zanu does not allow dual citizenship.

  2. Charles Garanganga

    its not fair to say that its not accurate, he is Zimbabwean, or if l may ask what about Strive, Fayaz King, James Museba   all in key roles in the telecomms industry..

  3. Charles Garanganga

    nway missed the point there, l didnt realise that MTN is that big, thumbs up for the info, great review…

    1. Anonymous

      Hello Charles, thank you for staying on point. We risk not celebrating an African success over factors we cannot control…Send my regards to Ben. All the best to PAA, look forward to watching you guy conquer Africa!

  4. Mahlabayithwale

    @Charles – Maybe you need to read my post again and understand my question.

  5. Munya Munyarari

    Well I think the point is if he was born in Zimbabwe he is Zimbabwean born. He might not have Zimbabwean citizenship but he is Zimbabwean born. So the question should be on his citizenship not born. Even a person who has American citizenship born in Zim then they will be Zimbabwean born American.

  6. Anonymous

    Update: After publishing this profile yesterday, MTN announced its March to June numbers. Its subscribers have grown to 150 million subscribers (overall). The company had added 7,4 million subscribers to its network during the first half of the year.

    According to Mr Dabengwa, The company does not consider rapid growth as a priority but rather places its energy on ensuring that the best quality services are provided.

  7. Kurai

    Substance over form situation, he is South African in form but Zimbabwean in substance. You choose.

  8. Tapfuma chisvinu

    there is a difference btwn citizenship and nationality. I think its more acurate to say he is a Zimbabwean with a South African citizenshp (that is if he does have it). hez parents are nt south african and his mother didn’t just happen to be in zim while she was pregnant with him and went to the nearest hospital (in zim) when she was due. Simply put, a citizen is someone who permanenly lives in a certain city/country n applying for citizenship is as same as applying for a permanent resi and having tht paper doesn’t mek u south african.

  9. Nya

    You would think that this story is about Sifiso Dabengwa’s citizenship and nationality. C’mon guys!

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