Kenya’s largest telco has followed up the appointment of a new board chairman with new hires and a corporate reshuffling as it prepares for life under a new administration.
On the heels of the appointment of a new board chairman, former KCB corporate banking director, Esther Masese, and Diageo South Africa marketing head, Zizwe Awuor Vundla, have joined Safaricom as chief financial services officer and director of brand and marketing, respectively.
Masese replaces Boniface Mungania who held the position of chief financial services officer in an acting capacity since July 2022. Mungania will now drive the group’s digital transformation partnerships with Kenya’s national and county governments, as director of public sector digital transformation.
Last week, Safaricom appointed Adil Khawaja, a renowned Nairobi lawyer and managing partner at Dentons Hamilton Harrison & Mathews—Kenya’s oldest law firm—as board chair, replacing John Ngumi who departed in December 2022 after only six months in the role. Ngumi was Safaricom’s first Kenyan board chair, and his tenure, which coincided with that of CEO Peter Ndegwa, was the first time two Kenyans held positions as board chair and CEO simultaneously at Safaricom.
Local media have described the new appointment as part of moves on the part of the telco to “align itself with the new administration of President William Ruto”.
Kenya’s government is the second-largest shareholder in Safaricom, with 35% of the company. Safaricom was originally a department in Kenya’s Posts & Telecommunications Corporation before it was separately incorporated in 1997. Recall that we reported on Safaricom’s haste to preempt the new administration’s proposed review of Kenya’s credit scoring system last year. Safaricom alongside its banking partners slashed the cost for Fuliza, its micro-credit product among other credit product reviews as president Ruto insisted on fulfilling a campaign promise to remove unfairly blacklisted Kenyans from the credit reference bureaus’s database.
The new board chairman will have to navigate Safaricom’s delicate relationship with the government of Kenya, which is keen to use Safaricom’s M-Pesa to deliver its Hustler credit programme and track mobile money transactions, in a bid to boost government revenue. Safaricom has to also contend with the central bank of Kenya’s desire to split the telco from its mobile money business. The central bank has maintained that plans to separate the two are still on course, despite animated protests from the telco.
Khawaja, who received the Order of the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS) from President Ruto last year, in recognition of his work in conservation, will also have to find a way to rejuvenate Safaricom’s C-suite. In recent years, top executives have departed the telco, including former chief consumer business officer, Sylvia Mulinge, who now heads MTN Uganda.
More to the point, there has been speculation about the future of current CEO Peter Ndegwa at Safaricom. On local television last week, he explained that questions about his future are best posed to the board and the new board chair Khawaja. “For me, I plan to continue to play the role that I am playing for the future,” Ndegwa said while reeling out his achievements since he joined the company in 2020.