8 February 2014

Zimbabwe: What Liquid Is Made of

It is not just about digging trenches across town and neither is it about outsmarting each other, but the major objective is to raise service delivery standards, so says one of the leading broadband service providers on the continent.

For Liquid Telecom managing director Mr Wellington Makamure, there are no limits to stretching into the digital era and his company expects to play a leading role in connecting Africa to the world. Under his leadership, Liquid Telecom has become the leading independent data, voice and IP provider in Zimbabwe. Liquid Telecom's main business is to supply data, voice and video capacity via fibre optic, satellite and international carrier services to telecommunications operators, mobile networks, ISPs and businesses of all sizes as well as communication solutions for individuals.

While admitting that some companies were becoming a nuisance and were not covering up the trenches they made, Mr Makamure boasted that Liquid Telecom wanted its presence to be observed though applying best international standards by digging along approved routes, specified depth and marking and properly re-instating and covering up their trenches. A passionate telecommunications engineer cum administrator, the Liquid Telecom boss takes pride in the fledgling company's achievements over a short period of time with an objective of building Africa's largest single fibre network stretching over 17 000km across Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho and South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, the company has so far laid more than 7 000km of fibre stretching across most major towns and cities and the thrust is to make broadband easily accessible to both business and individuals. But who is Liquid Telecom?

"Contrary to widely held perceptions, we are not a subsidiary of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. Econet Wireless Zimbabwe is one of our anchor clients and a major shareholder in the business," said Mr Makamure in an interview. From its humble beginnings in 2010 as a one-man band, Mr Makamure has managed to build a team at Liquid Telecom and the company now employs 260 workers in addition to hundreds other contract workers.

A former TelOne managing director, Mr Makamure has vast experience in the telecommunications sector spanning over more than two decades in various capacities and takes pride in that he left the organisation on his own will unlike his predecessors who were forced out.

"One of the defining moments in my career was when I joined TelOne in 2004. That was a big challenge because I was joining this organisation that has inertia to either stay where it is or to move. My prime objective was that I was determined to turn it (TelOne) around and there were forces from within and without. During my time I maintained what I had found and grew it a bit. I was determined never to lose even a single line as the focus was to increase not to go down.

"I left voluntarily and amicably with the then Minister and the board thanking me for a job well done. Since 1980, until my time, no one had left that job at TelOne on their own will as most of them were either structured out or pushed out."

After taking a short break, Mr Makamure an MBA graduate, moved to the United Kingdom to reunite with his family and it was during this period that he joined Liquid Telecom UK and was immediately tasked to spearhead the company's vision to build the optic fibre link in Africa.

"When I returned to Zimbabwe in 2010, there was absolutely nothing in terms of fibre optic link and I was commuting between Harare and London and I was alone. My good relations with the Government helped me get the permissions to set up in this country and we were on our way.

"What we achieved during the UNWTO General Assembly in Victoria Falls last year was phenomenal and as we are the only company providing bandwidth provision up to the resort town, we received commendations for a job well done. It was good for us, it was good for the Government, it was good for tourism and it was good for development and we are grateful for the recognition."

On open trenches, Mr Makamure was emphatic that Liquid Telecom always marks its trenches and would not expose itself over shoddy work.

"We always try to close our trenches, but unfortunately because we are a major player, whenever people see trenches left open they think it is us, but ours are marked. In some cases some of the trenches are not ours because there are other data companies who are doing things not necessarily linked to broadband. It's a challenge linked to development."

On sharing infrastructure among broadband service providers Mr Makamure said competition was healthy and more players were desirable to improve efficiency. He added that competition brought out excellence. He said that while sharing infrastructure is desirable it was always going to be problematic as each service provider had its business model which did not necessarily converge with the competitor.

Mr Makamure (55) is a keen golfer and married to Rumbidzai Silibaziso. The couple has an adult daughter and three adult sons. They are all guided in their lives by Christian principles and values.

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