Africa’s top 40 Digital Leaders: #9 – Ralph Mupita

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Digital Africa

By Jaysim Hanspal, Quentin Velluet
Posted on Wednesday, 17 November 2021 14:44, updated on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 09:56

Ralph Mupita, CEO Of MTN
Ralph Mupita, CEO Of MTN

The continent’s top telco is gearing up to get leaner and meaner for its next transformation. Under Zimbabwean CEO Ralph Mupita, South Africa-based MTN Group is betting on mobile money, fintech innovations and building platforms to expand its bottom line. In Nigeria, the group’s biggest market, data revenue is soon set to overpass voice revenue for the first time.

While the Nigerian authorities are stonewalling MTN’s attempts to get a full mobile-money licence –  potentially of one of the last great growth markets on the continent – this was not enough to persuade Mupita and his team to bet big on a licence in Ethiopia this year, after they lost out in a first round to Safaricom.

Mupita says he is planning to continue a divestment programme worth about $1.6bn over the next three to five years.

He ranks ninth in our list of Top African Digital Leaders

Focus on Nigeria

MTN is planning to get out of operations outside of its main focus in Africa, meaning that Nigeria is likely to be centre stage for the telco. But the relationship with the authorities in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, have been fraught over the years and there are no signs of a long-term rapprochement.

Mupita became CEO of the group on 1 September 2020, taking over from the long-serving Rob Shuter. His background is as a high-level manager rather than a telecoms specialist, having studied civil engineering and business administration. He spent more than a decade at financial services group Old Mutual before joining MTN as its chief financial officer in 2016.

MTN has some 277 million customers in 21 markets in Africa and the Middle East. It plans to invest big in technology, for example, with plans to roll out 5G networks in Ghana next year. And investors seem to like Mupita’s style: the group’s shares were up 124% between late August and the start of 2021 – and this despite MTN’s suspension of its dividend payment in order to pay off debt and deal with the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under Mupita’s leadership, the value of transactions on its MoMo mobile-money platform rose 88% year-on-year in the first half of 2021. At the end of 2020, MTN had 46.4 million mobile-money users in its subscriber base.

Spinning off operations

Other investor-friendly options on the table for MTN include spinning off and listing its fibre and mobile-money businesses. Mupita told media this year that “within the core [connectivity business] there are some infrastructure assets and platforms that we believe the market is putting little to no value on”.

Mupita wants to use MTN as a platform to bring other actors into the digital arena. In September, MTN and South African insurance giant Sanlam signed a partnership allowing the sale of the financial services company’s products and investments to mobile customers. Mupita said in a media release that the alliance is focused on ‘driving financial inclusion across the continent and providing customers with insurance and ­investment products tailored to the needs of the African consumer’.

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