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Safaricom Ethiopia flies in Michael Joseph as launch looms

Michael Joseph cropped.jpg

Michael Joseph, founder of Kenya’s Safaricom and its pioneering mobile money venture M-Pesa, has flown north to Addis Ababa to supervise the troubled launch of its Ethiopian offshoot.

Safaricom Ethiopia, originally planned to launch in April as the sole competitor to Ethio Telecom, is now expected to start service this month, the company told Capacity four weeks ago.

Now Joseph (pictured), who was Safaricom’s CEO for 11 years from 2000, has stepped down from the chairmanship of the Kenyan company to devote more time to its investments in Ethiopia.

Safaricom Kenya is the main shareholder in Ethiopian start-up, with 55.7%. Others are Japan’s Sumitomo with 27.2%, the UK government’s British International Investment (BII) with 10.9% and Vodacom of South Africa 6.2%. Vodacom is itself a shareholder in Safaricom Kenya.

However, Joseph will also retain chairmanship on Kenya Airways, pursuing his ambition of creating a Pan African Airline with South African Airways.

His role as chair of Safaricom Kenya will be taken by John Ngumi, formerly of the country’s Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation and the Kenya Pipeline Company.

Joseph said: “While there is indeed a right time in any man or woman’s life to take a step back from business and devote more time to enjoying life, in my case, this will probably not happen yet as I will continue to participate in other interesting business opportunities available.”

He launched the pioneering mobile money platform M-Pesa, now available to 51 million users across Africa through Safaricom and Vodacom, its associate in the Vodafone group. Joseph was Vodafone’s group head of mobile money for six years until 2017.

But in Ethiopia, Safaricom – when it eventually starts – will be more than a year behind state-owned Ethio Telecom, whose Telebirr mobile money and digital financial services business, launched in May 2021, already has 21.8 million subscribers, with a total transaction value of 30.3 billion birr ($575 million).

Ngumi, the new chair of Safaricom Kenya, took over on Monday 1 August. Earlier in his career he was a banker with Standard Bank and Citibank.

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