African telecoms 'father' dies

Johannesburg - The "father of African telecommunications" is no more.

Miko Alexis Rwayitare (65) died on Tuesday morning after developing complications following a "minor", routine surgery on Monday in Brussels, said a statement issued by his company, Telecel on Tuesday.

Rwayitare is credited with making the first mobile phone call in Africa in 1987 after the formation of Telecel International a year earlier in the then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Rwayitare - who until his death on Tuesday was Telecel's president and chairperson - had built the company into one of Africa's largest cellular companies, with a presence and licences in 14 countries before selling 80% of the company to Egypt's Orascom for US$413m (R2,9bn today) in 2000.

According to the Rwanda Information Exchange website Rwayitare developed the computer maker Hewlett-Packard and accessories firm Xerox's presence in Africa when he was granted their distribution rights, along with those of several other brands before the Telecel venture.

Rwayitare told the Financial Mail in November 2006 that he hoped to deliver a triple play of broadband, TV and voice telephony through his Miko Investment Holdings' 66% stake in Goal Technology Solutions to 1,5m South African homes by 2010.

Said Rwayitare: "Because we all need broadband to run a modern lifestyle, it's essential, like water and electricity.

"The challenge in SA generally relates to building the infrastructure. We plan to use existing power infrastructure to pipe broadband directly into homes."

But Rwayitare's interests were not only limited to telecoms. He established Mikcor Hotel Holdings in Rwanda, which controls a series of tourism-related properties in Kigali - including the upmarket Hotel des Mille Collines (subject of the film Hotel Rwanda) bought from Sabena Hotels for US$3,2m in 2005.

In South Africa Rwayitare was the owner of the Mont Rochelle Winery in Franschoek, being the first black person to own a wine estate after selling Telecel.

Rwayitare was still the vice president of the state-owned Gecamines in his native DR Congo, board member of JSE-listed Immuniti and director of energy firm Exxoteq at the time of his death.

Perhaps as testimony to Africa's information and communication technology challenges, the Rwanda Information Exchange website is still hosted in California, USA. It is that challenge that Rwayitare sought to confront with his many ICT ventures.

- Fin24

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