GSMA’s Akinwale Goodluck gives insight into Africa’s mobile ecosystem

Akinwale Goodluck, GSMA, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa conference, took place on the 17-19 July 2018 for the first time in, Kigali, Rwanda at the Kigali Convention Centre where players from across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries convened to discuss the unprecedented opportunity that mobile provides to create and enhance social and economic development in the region.

“The mobile world congress is a really big conference with over 110,000 attendees, and we got feedback that people would like more regionally focused events, and this is what led to the birth of M360 West Africa and M360 Africa which was held in Kigali, Rwanda for the first time this year,” Akinwale Goodluck, GSMA, Head of Africa, said during an interview with CIO East Africa.

He went on to further explain the dynamics of Africa’s mobile ecosystem in the one-on-one interview below.

CIO East Africa: Is spectrum management on the right track in Africa?

Akinwale: I would say that spectrum is fundamental to the objectives of the mobile industry: the affordability of spectrum, the predictability of the issue of spectrum and the availability of that Spectrum are all very key important things that need to happen before we can achieve the industry purpose of connecting everything and everyone to a better future.

So, we need to have well laid out policies by regulators and governments in Africa. We have seen some encouraging trends, we were very encouraged by the recent spectrum auction in Tanzania, in the 700 Spectrum space band, this went quite well, the pricing was reasonable there was more than enough for the operators who put in a bid for the spectrum.

We’ve also seen significant modernization in markets like Nigeria, where the NCC recently promulgated spectrum sharing regulations. We are happy to be of support in helping the NCC to develop those regulations, but it’s a very good demonstration of a far thinking regulatory agency.

I think that the NCC has set the bar very high for other African regulators in the area of spectrum sharing, what spectrum sharing dose is that it helps to put in place spectrum that may be ordinarily sitting on the shelf and allows operators to trade spectrum among themselves albeit making more spectrum available for services.

CIO East Africa: What is the impact of taxes on the mobile ecosystem?

Akinwale: We continue to see a rash of sector specific taxes on the mobile industry. We are seeing a trend across Sub-Saharan Africa where mobile services, internet access and mobile money are being taxed almost like tobacco and alcohol, and this will not go well for the objectives of the industry as the issues around taxation contribute to the problems of affordability, and the fact that our new subscribers coming to the network now are generally from the rural area and have low disposable income, and if we put barriers to entry in terms of affordability then we are not going to meet our penetration objectives and our digital inclusion objectives so it is a big concern.

CIO East Africa: So, what is your stance on government taxing the mobile industry?

Akinwale: I understand that governments need taxes, and taxes are the preferred source of funding government expenditure, but governments should tax profits and not tax revenue, government should not tax the industry upfront, governments should desist from imposing sector specific taxes on the mobile telecommunication services.

The promulgation of a tax in Uganda is of concern, a tax on internet and data access and on several legs of mobile money transactions. Government must look at a tax regime that is predictable that supports broadening the tax base rather than focusing on the same players every time.

We (the GSMA) are engaging several governments on best tax practices, and one of the key areas the GSMA is working on now is to help the industry put together a framework that would allow government to maximise mobile money, not necessarily from the taxation of mobile money but more importantly, expanding the base of government revenue by using mobile money for person to government payment, for business to government payment and also for government to person payment. The focus is that if we can deliver more revenue using the mobile platform’s digital payment opportunities there is greater revenue assurance there is greater revenue assurance and ultimately puts a lot more money into the coffers of local government.

CIO East Africa: What will fuel the growth of Africa’s mobile ecosystem?

Akinwale: Things are looking encouraging but will be a lot better. We will continue to see a fair amount of growth, the compound annual growth rate for Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of unique mobile subscriber’s acquisitions is expected to be in the region of almost 4,8 per cent over the next 3-4 years per annum, and this is almost double what other regions have in terms of growth rate, but if you look back historically it is a lot less than 4-5 years ago when Africa was growing at 8 per cent.

Today the penetration in Africa is about 44 per cent, so there is still a lot of room for growth and a lot of that will come from the rural areas. So, the industry, government and all the players must get the infrastructure economics right for rural penetration, issues around affordability, access, local and relevant content are all things that are going to drive the numbers. We also know that Africa is a young continent, majority of the population is below 16, as they begin to grow and become 17-18 they will be acquiring mobile phones.

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