Telecom business must be people-centred

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Ramou Nyass, senior marketing manager at Gamcel, tells SEGUN ORUAME, IT Edge News that Gamcel’s success in The Gambia has proven that government’s commitment to its public telco could guaranty continuous success of its presence in businesss

You have traveled extensively and have seen the collapse of the public telcos in several African countries, Ghana Telecom has been bought over by Vofafone, in Nigeria you see a situation where privatization has practically failed; it has become impossible to sell NITEL successfully. But interestingly in Gambia, we have a different scenario entirely of a government- owned company still thriving in an age of private sector led competition, what is the secret here?
I think it is government policy that is also helping us to thrive. In as much as we are promoting private sector
participation, Gamtel, the telecommunication company has been the best in Africa some time ago, and then we became one of
the best in West Africa. All of a sudden things started to fall apart. Then the government declared in one particular
speech that we want to take Gamtel to those glorious days of being Number 1 or one of the best in Africa. You can see from
that statement that there is a commitment from the highest authority to make sure that Gamtel the telecommunication company
thrives, and I think that is the clue. That is one of the environment factors that can help you when you use it to your
advantage. You are given only opportunity to compete even though your entire competitors are private, you are government
owned and bound by certain rules and regulations that will affect your business, and for example we have the Public
Procurement Regulatory Authority. When it comes to procurement, it is very difficult and you know the telecommunication/GSM
market is very dynamic and volatile, you need to act very fast, and these rules of procurement cannot give you the kind of
speed you need in decision making against your private sector competitors. Apart from that, in the marketing department,
there are certain things you have no control over, what you do is to manage them, that is all you can do. So these are set
rules you must abide by. Government’s commitment has been a very important factor in ensuring that we thrive.

You were talking about Gambians seeing Gamtel as their own; there is a limit that I will want to patronize my country’s
company when the service is not good, that has been the fate of NITEL for example. So in this context how far has
patriotism help?

Number one goal, Gamtel has an obligation toward customers; you must ensure that those services from day one are provided,
and if you can provide those services that they want, that is when patriotism will have advantage. In a market of three or
four operators, and we are all operating 3G or GSM, and we are all giving out airtime, for example, as competitive benefits
to consumers, sustaining customers’ loyalty will depend on how good and trust worthy is your service. At Gamcel, we give
the customers what we promised. For other people competing in this area of product price, removing our competitive
advantage could have been very easy. They can do something good today and fast too, especially when you are not under no
obligation of a procurement authority and rule, you can do what I want to do with a means and remove my competitive
advantage. But what you cannot remove is the loyalty that the customers have toward their own company, so if we are a
company and we are not meeting their needs, they will not consider or be associated with us. Nobody wants to be associated
with anything that is not good. So we are doing our part by telling them we are up to the competition by giving them the
services and make sure you will not have any reason to move them anywhere; if it is network you need in your area, we will
be there; it is important you look for things that matter in the lives of customers. And I think we should move from being
supplier of airtime, we should go beyond and get to the lives of ordinary Gambians and see what matters to them and try to
fill that gap and that is what we are trying to do, if it is education, it does matter a lot to ordinary Gambians,
everybody wants his child to be educated.

 

So the coming of the private sector has not eroded the market strength of Gamcel?
I don’t think so. We had our problems in the past because I remember when Commium was coming in 2007, everybody was talking
about it, we heard of the kind of the strategies, specific roles they are likely to play here. We anticipated these because
usually when a company wants to play up their strategy in other areas and apply it here, it doesn’t work. I knew their
entry strategy worked well in Sierra Leone and I also knew why it worked for them there. I have the privilege because I
spent my childhood in Sierra Leone and I schooled there. I know the Sierra Leoneans and the Gambians are very different in
some ways but we have our similarities. We are very kind and polite people. We can go to any extent to accept people to do
what they want to do; but the Gambians in particular, they are people who are kind and the level of poverty that is in
Sierra Leone is not in Gambia and that has impact on the extent to which you can take them. There is a limit to which the
Gambians will accept your tactics. Our sense of moralities is different in some areas, and that fact matters in the
communication area when doing business. When they roll out in Sierra Leone, they did regional rollout and they said they
were going to give free calls for three months, they did it in key towns and people enjoyed it. They thought they were
going to do the same thing but when they came, all the other operators who were here were already waiting for them. We
didn’t retaliate in the form they expected and their rollout didn’t have much impact on either Gamtel or Africell because
their strategy was already known. Africell was there competing with them. Unlike when Qcell came, that was a different
situation; Qcell came with a better technology, they came with 3G.

If I look at the Gambia telecom market, I am beginning to be persuaded by what you have said. The argument has always been since Africa started liberalizing the telecom sector, government has no business doing business, do you subscribe to that?
I think government should have business in the telecom business because it is a critical sector. It is important government
not only have interest in the sector but also should participate actively. It is very difficult to operate as a public
sector competing with the private sector you have lot of issues to address, a lot of issues taking you behind, but again
regardless of those things, if you do well, you will make it. If you focus more on what the people need that what you need
out of them, you will succeed.

Gamcel operate mobile services, with the coming of the ACE cable, won’t the average mobile subscriber go for mobile
internet and not just voice services?

I think the market is already here for broadband internet because I remember at a workshop here two months ago, the issues
of broadband were tabled and everybody was anticipating that broadband is going to be something that every operator would
need to be able to meet its customers’ needs. And I want to agree with this because we are anticipating in Gamcel or Gamtel
that all the operators will have their own international gateway and that is one big change that is going to alter the
business landscape in Gambia. Currently, everybody is going through Gamtel but when this thing liberalizes, everybody will
be operating on their own and I think we are getting ready for it.

You are in charge of marketing; you draw the roadmap, when you look at what the competition has been like in the last three year, do you think that Gamcel will always have the advantage?
The question is whether Gamcel will continue to have the advantage? I think that time will tell because it is really not
about one factor, our position in the market in the coming three years or in the future; the reason why I say time will
tell is because there are a lot of environmental factors that will influence our future in the market. Number one, if
government decides to privatized Gamcel or Gamtel and sell it off to somebody else, it will affect our position in the
future, if those buyers don’t have that same quality or strategy we have, it can also affect our position.

 


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