Zimbabwe’s telecoms giant Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which turned 20 on Tuesday, spent around $1.3bn since 1998 to build its telecoms empire, which it says has seen it not only bring in billions in revenue, but also transform people’s lives in the southern African country.
Econet was founded in 1998 by one of Africa’s richest men - according to Forbes magazine - namely Strive Masiyiwa.
That $1.3bn investment has seen the subscriber base grow from just 32 000 in 1998, to 11.4 million by the company's financial year end in February 2018, Econet says.
In 1998, the company offered only 2G (GPRS) technology. It now offers 4G (LTE) technology, staking its influence on how Zimbabweans are connected to the internet.
In the first quarter of 2018, the mobile penetration rate in Zimbabwe stood at 84.6%, while internet penetration rate had reached 52.1%.
Econet’s mobile internet and data traffic market share grew from 64.6% to 67.1% during that period, with the company having installed 11 000km of fibre optic cables across the country.
Econet, which has invested much more than its other two competitors, also gets the bulk of the sector’s mobile revenues with a share of 84.3% in the first quarter of 2018.
The company’s investment appetite has also seen it dominate the mobile money space, where it has a 96.8% market share and more than 8 million subscribers on its platform. Zimbabwe, currently experiencing a cash shortage, relies heavily on mobile transactions.
Treasury has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the massive investment, after the company paid more than $1.5bn in fiscal and statutory payments since 2009.
Cumulative payments to local suppliers of goods and services since 1998 amounted to $3.2bn.
As technology continues to evolve, the company now fashions itself as more than a telecoms company, as it now offers services in the health sector, educational sector, insurance and financial services.
Despite venturing into these spaces in the last few years, its strong investment appetite that leverages on technology has seen it dominate with 600 000 customers or 28% of Zimbabwe’s banked population now having a banking account within the Econet family.
More than 2 million Zimbabweans are now accessing funeral insurance through its mobile platform, while over 1 million customers receive health tips via SMS every day.
With Zimbabwe’s economy predicated on farming, Econet now offers farming information and weather index insurance to more than a million farmers registered on its platform.* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER