Telecel Zimbabwe accused of stealing VAS concept

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar
Telecel Zimbabwe Headquarters Harare

Telecel Zimbabwe Headquarters HarareJust yesterday we published an article in which we wrote that Econet wireless had launched a value added service (VAS) promotion that is in many ways very similar to a promo Telecel launched just two weeks ago.  It’s an SMS based QnA service where the provider sends questions to subscribers and the subscribers get points for responding with the correct answer. The MNO cashes in on the premium SMS rate on each response, and the subscriber hopes to win daily, weekly and a grand prize. It’s a simple but clever way to make more money by the MNO, hence the title of our article yesterday.

Well, someone says Telecel stole the concept from them.

In an article published in the Herald this morning, two companies – a local one by the name Mobile Connexion, and Jet Telecom – are jointly claiming the idea was stolen from them. The two VAS companies apparently proposed the concept (including the name Mega Promo) to Telecel but have found that Telecel is now running the promotion, with the exact same name, without them.

So Mobile Connexion is demanding US $340,000 from Telecel and says if Telecel doesn’t give in they’ll take the matter to the courts.

Telecel, on the other hand says the concept is generic, that it’s used across Africa already and that they were already working on something similar when Mobile Connexion submitted the proposal. Telecel also says that they never agreed to anything with two companies anyway. Telecel’s Communications and Branding Director, Obert Mandimika, is quoted by the Herald explaining that the concept has been in operation by their parent company in Egpyt (Orascom) for five years now:

We entertained the idea of working with these guys, but nothing was ever agreed. When we went to Burundi we were told by our parent company the concept had been operational for five years in Egypt and was a major revenue earner

On there being no agreement, lawyers representing Mobile Connexion say the agreement was partly verbal and partly written and that Telecel officials had “agreed” to a final proposal which Mobile Connexion had prepared.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard such stories. In fact we get mobile VAS techies narrating such stories to us every now and again. We also get similar stories from executives in mobile companies who also point out the ugly side of engaging some VAS providers. It’s that kind of fallout that is bound to happen as VAS entrepreneurs jostle to eat from Africa’s mobile cake. And it is why Zimbabwean VAS entrepreneurs, and indeed the mobile operators themselves, need a self-regulating VAS companies body. Without it, without an organization whose sole mandate is to make these relationships clear and help resolve and disputes, the rules are not clear, and this will happen again and again.


  1. Simba

    this is the biggest challenge in africa, so many of us have ideas but once you try launching and seeking partnerships you will be ROBBED!!!! its dog eat dog out here, we all the same wateva some1 is doing we all want to do that….. we lack creativity

    1. dread

      Its very difficult to come up with a completely new idea. You might think you have an idea but it most likely would have been tried elsewhere or someone else somewhere has that same idea.

      1. tinm@n

        True! If you truly have something novel, patent or copyright. And when it comes to partners/investors, you really have to be shrewd. If there is no policy on non-disclosure, you really cant claim anything unless you have money for a protracted legal battle.

        Ideas are “stolen” all the time. For this case, it is not novel so one would have a hard time arguing out the case in court. I my youth, I shared an idea and had it implemented by someone who had the capacity, connections and resources. Now I’d rather die with an idea than share it with someone who may not really need me.



        How do I share an idea with a potential partner without them stealing its


        The Complete Inventor’s Guide To Making Sure Someone Doesn’t Steal Your Idea

  2. Pindile Mhandu

    solution: when you have to pitch ideas and have discussions with the MNOs, make sure your lawyer is there to reinforce the legal binding to all your discussions.

    1. harlin

      Have you ever pitched an IDEA to MNO as an unkown Startup/Company with a great idea. A lawyer tends to be the last thing you can afford

  3. dread

    Telecel should pay this guy. If it wasn’t for him they would not have asked their parent company and found out that this was a revenue earner. Now they are making money off the ability of this guy to spot an opportunity and a market which was untapped. Most things will have been done before somewhere or are being done somewhere else anyway. New ideas don’t come easily, but introducing an idea into a market where its not being done deserves recognition. Telecel ngaipe munhu mari yake apa

  4. Tapiwa ✔

    What’s that old saying: “Ideas are like…[bellybuttons], everyone has one, and they usually stink”

    I think there are a few lessons to be learned here:- If your “idea” is so simple that it can be cloned in a few weeks/months by a company (outside its core competence), it’s probably not a very great idea.- Your product should not depend on a platform provided by a (potential) competitor.
    – If you are going to partner with someone, make sure they need you. You need to have a ‘special sauce’ that makes you indispensable.

  5. Harlin

    But they brought it to the light of Telecel . . . . “maybe”

    Finders fee . . . . “maybe”?

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