MTN Rwanda has until recently enjoyed unchallenged monopoly for at least 22 years. Its party, it seems, is increasingly attracting fewer revellers.
Operating a dull and highly inefficient service, the majority South African-owned telecom is feeling the heat from rival Indian-owned Airtel.
In 1998, with the country only attempting to get back to its feet following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the dominant ruling RPF party persuaded South Africa’s MTN Group to provide GSM services in what looked then like a marginal market.
The RPF provided much of the capital required. Ruling party business arm Crystal Ventures, at the time Tristar Investments, took charge.
Since then, despite the coming of three other telecoms in the market, MTN has enjoyed state favour – eating up much of the calls and data business in the country.
Crystal Ventures has since sold down its 49 per cent stake twice, earning $110m. The remaining 20% stake the RPF party holdings firm has been floated on the local bourse.
By the fact of its association with the ruling party, MTN has operated with impunity; going untouched despite daily social media ridicule over its poor network and sluggish services.
Since beginning of October, Airtel has been running a controversial advertising and promotional campaign which has openly been viewed as targeted at MTN.
People on Airtel billboards and posters are shown dressed in yellow trying to run away from a rope held by another on a red/white color. Yellow is MTN’s color, while red is for Airtel.
The discussion on social media is that Airtel has better internet speeds, and a whole lot of other services.
MTN raised its concerns over the Airtel campaign with the Rwandan Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), which also responded in kind yesterday on Monday.
RURA said although Airtel doesn’t name MTN by name, the “design, colour and the content” were meant to “unfairly discredit, disparage or attack” MTN.
It is unclear at this point whether unrelated, but barely hours after the RURA statement, its director general Lt Col Patrick Nyirishema was replaced by cabinet. The new boss is Dr Ernest Nsabimana.
In 2017, Bharti Airtel acquired Tigo Rwanda, reducing telecoms from 3 to 2. Since then Airtel has been slowly eating away at MTN Rwanda’s market share.
As of 2020, Airtel has a combined market share of 46% against MTN with 54%. Yet previously for quite some time, MTN controlled more than 60 percent on its own.
By running to government for protection against Airtel, the team at MTN Rwanda hopes the favour it has enjoyed all these years is still the order of the day; sure the competitor will be called to order, which has actually happened.
Red was becoming too much for the yellow to be seen, and so it was obvious who would ultimately emerge victorious.