Internet giants could do more

January 2016: Cynthia Gordon, Millicom’s Africa CEO, has urged internet heavyweights like Facebook and Google to do more to localise content and make additional investment to drive data uptake in “difficult” emerging markets.

Gordon, who left Qatar-based group Ooredoo to head up emerging markets player Millicom’s Africa unit in August last year, is leading the company’s initiatives around mobile data in Africa, where ‘only’ six million of the company’s 28 million subscribers currently use mobile data.

This is despite 14 million of them having mobile data capable devices.

Speaking to Mobile World Live, Gordon believes internet players such as Facebook, Google and Twitter can do more to help Millicom in Africa in particular, as she hit out at some of the companies in question for having “too much of a developed market view”.

“By having some more resources locally, and by local or emerging I don’t mean places like Dubai, some of the bigger players can really develop those services for markets like Tanzania and Rwanda and encourage more people to get online,” she said.

While noting that Millicom had engaged in some “positive” experiences with Facebook and its free internet.org service in Tanzania, as well as the successful launch of Facebook in Swahili, Gordon said she’d like to see the company and others work “on the ground” with local populations to drive data uptake further.

“Once Facebook can be seen in places like Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we will see those markets begin to progress forward. They need to make the investment in localising content and encourage developers, and to get people online – particularly in markets that are difficult.”

Millicom operates in six countries across Africa; Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC, Chad, Ghana and Senegal. The company also has a presence in eight countries across Latin America, and last year revealed plans around its cable ambitions to build its footprint further in the region.

In Africa, Gordon said the company was targeting growth around three core business areas going forward, including growth in the B2B segment and Mobile Financial Services (MFS), as well as the mobile data opportunity.

She said mobile penetration was as low of 40 per cent “in a lot of our markets. Meaning there is a lot more opportunity for growth in the core business”. The company, which operates under the Tigo brand, also has exclusivity to offer 4G in Tanzania, Chad and Rwanda, which Gordon believes will also contribute to growing data revenues from 14 per cent to a projected 30 per cent by 2018.

However, aside from the challenges in localising content, Gordon highlighted some of the issues Millicom faces in bringing additional internet access to people when it comes to working with some African governments in particular.

Gordon said it is actively lobbying against some African governments over taxes of up to 40 per cent on smartphones, which was proving as yet another “negative barrier to broadband access”.

“Some governments in Africa see mobile as a very effective way to tax people, particularly if they don’t have national insurance numbers or employment infrastructure,” she said.

“This means we end up passing on those taxes, and in some of our markets 40 per cent of our revenues are going to governments, meaning higher prices for the consumers. I am keen to work with governments to make them realise that increased broadband access could actually prove to be one of their biggest GDP drivers.”

She said the problem exists across most markets across Africa, but at “varying levels”.

“I would encourage all governments to have a clear broadband strategy to drive education, employment and take their population at a much better place. Using the operator as a way to tax your population is a short term view.”

ENDS