Talk of succession at Kenya's most profitable company Safaricom, following the death of Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore on Monday, resurfaced Tuesday with the government expressing a wish for the seat to go to a Kenyan.
However, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications Joe Mucheru said the government would not impose its wish on the company's board.
"My wish is that a Kenyan gets the position but we don't control the business. We have appointed directors to run the business. It doesn't mean that what the government wants is what it gets," said Mr Mucheru.
Mr Collymore, who had led the company for nearly 10 years, succumbed to cancer on Monday morning. He was cremated in Nairobi yesterday.
A memorial service in honour of the man who transformed the telco from a successful firm to a corporate behemoth, will be held at All Saints Cathedral on Thursday.
The Safaricom board announced Tuesday morning that the company's founding chief executive officer, Mr Michael Joseph, would take up the firm's leadership in an interim capacity.
"Mr Joseph will hold the position until the board communicates in due course, on a permanent appointment," Safaricom said in a statement.
"The board is confident that during this transition, Mr Joseph will provide the necessary guidance and leadership to the company and its employees." The question of Mr Collymore's succession arose a few months ago as his contract was due to expire in August. On May 3, he told shareholders that the board had extended his contract by one year to make up for the time he was away for treatment in 2017.
Prior to the extension, Reuters had reported that Collymore had agreed to continue as CEO for another year in May after the Kenyan government insisted that a local be picked to succeed him.
The agency reported that Safaricom had conducted interviews for Collymore's replacement, including a senior banker, before settling on a foreigner within the Vodafone group. "But the government objected, citing an agreement supporting the appointment of a Kenyan as CEO, adopted at a shareholder meeting in 2017."
Eyes will be on the top shareholders -- Government of Kenya (35 per cent stake), Vodacom (35 per cent) and Vodafone with five per cent shareholding -- on the next leader who, Mr Joseph said, must be ready and able to carry on with Collymore's legacy.
"They just need somebody to sort of steer the company as they decide on a substantive CEO," head of research at Standard Investment Bank Eric Musau was quoted as saying. "It is just to get that reassuring hand during this transition."
Safaricom's chairman Nicholas Ng'ang'a said on Monday that although details of Collymore's health condition were not always public, the board was aware of the need to have a succession plan in place for East and Central Africa's most profitable firm.
On Tuesday, Mr Mucheru told the Nation that government was "comfortable" with the appointment of Mr Joseph on interim terms and would let the board decide on next steps.
"They (board members) are the ones that direct the company and government is not uncomfortable at all with the current arrangement. We will wait for the board to decide," said Mr Mucheru.
"They are the ones who must find the next leader. How much time they need and who they settle on is actually in their hands, not government... We are shareholders but we will not get involved in policy decisions." Safaricom will count on Mr Joseph, a 73-year-old dual American and Kenyan national who served as founding Safaricom's CEO between July 2000 and November 2010, to transition the telco into new leadership.
Both Mr Joseph and the late Collymore succeeded at Safaricom in their own different ways.
Mr Joseph grew Safaricom's customer base from as few as 20,000 subscribers to more than 16.71 million customers, led the company in listing on Nairobi Securities Exchange and launched the revolutionary M-Pesa platform.
Mr Collymore turned Safaricom into East Africa's most profitable company with over Sh1.1 trillion valuation and deepened the telcos touch with society through sustainability programmes.