African telecom giants out in force in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress

By Quentin Velluet
Posted on Wednesday, 9 March 2022 18:03

At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on 1 March 2022. © Josep Lago/AFP

Titans of industry, continental politicians and global heavyweights are attending the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. We go behind the scenes of this tech and telecoms mega-event.

The biggest event of the telecoms industry is back on track. After the 2020 edition was cancelled and the 2021 version was slimmed down due to the health crisis, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona opened its doors on 28 February to over 60,000 visitors. Even though this figure is still far from the usual capacity of around 100,000 people, the world fair still attracted all the big names in tech and telecoms, including a significant number of African representatives.

Major players

In the telecoms sector, Senegal’s Alioune Ndiaye, CEO of Orange Africa and the Middle East (OMEA), travelled from Casablanca – as did almost the French group’s executive committee – to participate in several closed-door meetings. A delegation of his compatriots from Sonatel, including Sékou Dramé, the company’s managing director, was also present.

By contrast, MTN’s chief executive officer Ralph Mupita did not come to Europe, neither did his colleagues Nompilo Morafo, the director of sustainability and public affairs; Mazen Mroué, the director of information technology, or Justin Williams, the group’s chief information security officer.

The British company Vodafone was represented at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona by its CEO Nick Read. He was accompanied by Mariam Cassim, the director of financial services for Vodacom South Africa. Sitoyo Lopokoiyit and Peter Ndegwa, the heads of the Safaricom and M-Pesa subsidiaries, took part in a panel on fintech and digital inclusion, respectively.

It is worth noting that there was no representative from Airtel Africa; however, its main shareholder, India’s Sunil Bharti Mittal, attended the conference.

Incubator

The French-speaking Maghreb was more discreet this year. Located in the ‘4 Years From Now (4YFN)’ space dedicated to start-ups, the public incubator Algeria Venture managed to set up a stand next to the US cryptocurrency exchange platform Binance, thanks to financial support from the Chinese company Huawei.

It was only Sid Ali Zerrouki – the general manager of this incubator that was established at the end of 2020 – who was able to travel to Barcelona. Senegalese startup LafricaMobile, which specialises in business communication through various messaging services, also has a small stand, which has allowed it to open discussions for a second round of funding.

Every year, the MWC serves as a space for delegations from various countries, made up of ministers and regulators, to meet and exchange ideas. African delegations, who held a series of conferences and meetings on projects and coordinating public policies, were particularly busy on 1 March.

Cloud and artificial intelligence

Meetings were held with Huawei teams, including Philippe Wang, the executive vice-president for North Africa; Mounir Soussi, vice-president of the entity in charge of cloud and artificial intelligence; and Colin Hu, who is in charge of North African commercial activities related to these two fields.

According to our information, Lacina Koné, the director-general of the Smart Africa Alliance, also took part in these discussions, as did Augustin Kibassa Maliba, the DRC’s minister of telecommunications, and his compatriot, Désiré Cashmir Eberande Kolongele, who is the minister of digital economy.

Several of their peers were present, such as Côte d’Ivoire’s Roger Adom and Benin’s Aurélie Adam Soulé Zoumarou, as well as delegations from Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville.

Wamkele Keabetswe Mene, secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), was also in the Catalan capital. On 28 February, he took part in a round table discussion with several figures, including Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market. Their discussions focused on the digital policies that will be implemented to boost growth in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

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