Months before his death in July 1, 2019, Bob Collymore had already started planning his exit as eulogized by his infamous ‘Boys Club’ the leukemia warrior knew his time with Safaricom and the world had come to an end. When the curtains come to close, Michael Joseph, the former CEO of of Safaricom took over from Bob and was to act as the interim CEO immediately until March 31 2020 when the company would’ve appointed a new boss to take over.
Michael Joseph or MJ as he’s popularly known, was called from the ruins of Kenya Airways where he is the chairman and the company that he was to be the miracle savior to continued to drown in billions of losses but here he was back to the company that gave him a corporate gloss.
Bossy in Safaricom’s affairs as he’s been, it’s said MJ who’s dislike for people of color has been a topic of discussion for time and insatiable appetite for kickbacks in tenders took the opportunity to row his lead boys in the house according to media reports.
The replacement process for the late Bob Collymore had kicked off months before his July 1 demise.
However, his death saw increased scrutiny of the process with ‘netizens’ suggesting home-grown nominees including Chief Customer Officer Sylvia Mulinge.
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru would at the time insist on his wish to see a Kenyan take up the top job even as he maintained that Safaricom had free will on choice of successor.
MJ was boxing behind doors, he never wanted a black person to take over ‘their’ company. He openly hurled racist slurs during Bob’s funeral alluding that his liking for him was because he was a white man in a black skin.
Safaricom is 35 per cent owned by South Africa’s Vodacom, the Kenya government has a 35 per cent stake, 25 per cent is traded at the Nairobi Securities Exchange while Vodafone Group has a five per cent stake. So this explain the push and pull in getting the CEO preference.
In the end, Peter Ndegwa, a Kenyan with an illustrious multinational exposure emerged as seemingly the middle-ground choice in appeasing the interests of all concerned parties including those of Vodacom which has historically dictated leadership at the firm.
It is said that Ndegwa appointment was due to government pressure as Vodafone wanted a foreigner in charge to avoid management wars at the helm. And all this was because it had all been foreseen. Sources familiar with the the management rumbles indicate that Ndegwa has been reduced to a flower girl and ceremonial CEO with powerful sanctions allied to MJ who’s also the chairman and non-executive director to the company and Chief Customer Officer Sylvia Mulinge gang up together to sabotage his authority.
A plot has been in the offing to either throw Ndegwa who’s seen as an outsider out since both are seasoned executives or make him have an office but without any tight hold.
There are reports that the relationship between Ndegwa and MJ has hit the rock bottom with most senior staff reporting directly to MJ undermining the authority of Ndegwa as the executive CEO. MJ is said to have constituted a powerful squad in the top management loyal to him and ready to kiss his ring way before Ndegwa joined.
MJ is said to have his hand on the oily procurement department, having been in the company for long Stephen Chege, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer is MJ’s blue-eyed boy. Initially, Chege was thought that he would grow to be a close ally of Ndegwa given both are Kikuyus but deep interests and the paper in deals, the shrewd Officer went right back to MJ’s boots.
Chege is in the center of a questionable prime land deal belonging allegedly belonging to Moi-era oligarch Joshua Kulei. Chege who coincidentally is married to Kulei’s daughter. The web gets complicated, Chege, MJ and Kulei are said to have worked in cohorts to purchase the said land situated next to an international school citing Covid19 related excuses.
Kulei once held stakes at Standard Group before they fell out with the Moi family who’re the grand shareholders. The Moi family incidentally holds shares in Safaricom. Kulei and Moi are said not to be seeing each other eye to eye as the son of the late President feels Kulei took advantage of his late father and yanked his wealth. The Safaricom land deal has therefore generated a lot of heat with sefersl conflicting interests involved.
Land in question is suspected to be sitting on a public land and it gets worse that Kulei has been mentioned in several land grabbing cases. Questions are being raised as to whether due diligence was adequately done prior to purchase and more so if the reputation of the company was considered should it turn out that the land is on grabbed public space
Still at the procurement center, another scratchy deal is another land in Garden City where Safaricom had purchased for the purpose of putting up their Headquarters to save on rent.
Reports now indicate that this transition has been derailed with Safaricom still stuck on its Kimathi Way HQ which happen to be owned by renowned land grabber and shrewd Asian businessman Herbinder Sethi who collects millions monthly from the teleco as the landlord. It’s alleged this is a larger conspiracy by the MJ cronies who get kickbacks from Sethi to keep Safaricom sitting on his property while he uses the proceeeds to service many of his loans. Losing Safaricom as his anchor tenant would send him to early rest as it remains one of the few of his well performing properties though he owns vast from Westlands to CBD.
Before Bob left the world, plans were underway for him to have an insider replacement, it was fir this that she went for Mulinge to take over from him as the CEO.
In 2018, Collymore reshuffled his top management team in Safaricom and rocketed Mulinge into a lucrative position that she holds, this was the boss lady position handling key functions of the company while Bob took a laid back position battling his position. This position was to prepare her for yet a bigger position in Tanzania for the wider scheme of making her the Safaricom CEO eventually. What Collymore saw in her that he was determined to see her take over from him, only the two knows.
Collymore had also appointed Mulinge to be the Vodacom CEO in Tanzania but President Magufuli denied her the work permit. With that plan thwarted, she came back to her former position albeit in disappointment but her hopes weren’t dashed. She amongst other friends knew well it was only a matter of months before Bob dies and being at the helm, she was best suited to take over as the CEO. And ooops, it flopped again and went to Ndegwa, so war on the new CEO was to come naturally out of bitterness of being too close yet not.
The procurement nerve center was also linked to Fibre Space Ltd scandal at Safaricom. Fibre Space Ltd was single sourced to roll out another white elephant project electronic payment in transport sector.
It involved cashless payment system for matatus. The project was launched by Uhuru Kenyatta. It emerged, no request for proposal (RFP) was done nor vendor selection real tendering process undertaken.
The head of business unit Mulinge was implicated in the disappearance of contract documents and payments to Fibre Space Ltd running into US dollars 6.45 million.
The emerging forces of anti-Ndegwa is said to have seen a mass exodus of career employees who don’t want to be involved in cat fights from Safaricom.
Rita Okuthe then chief enterprise business officer left to join Kenya Pipeline Company.
Dilip Pal replaced Illana Darcy as chief finance officer. Darcy held the position in acting capacity and many expected to be confirmed. Darcy took over from Sateesh Kamath who moved to Vodafone business aschief finance officer.
That those marked at Safaricom are looking for greener pastures was recently seen when Sanda Ojiambo left as Head of Sustainable, business and social impact to join United Nations as chief executive officer and executive director Global Compacts Graphic.
The said cartel was responsible for the controversial removal of Peter Arina, then general manager of consumer business years back.
Behind his back we’re told the cartel has nicknamed the CEO as the ‘little man’ given his physical attributes.