It’s time to play by a different (ethical) set of rules (Part 2)

It’s time to play by a different (ethical) set of rules (Part 2)

A brush with President Charles Taylor of Liberia.

When you’re setting up a cell phone network, one of the most critical facilities you have to build is what is known as the Switch Center. This is where we house the huge complex of computers that process calls coming in and out. The equipment is housed in highly secure buildings that cost millions. It takes months to prepare such a facility before you can even install the equipment.

In 2001 after we got the license in Nigeria, we set about trying to find a building big enough to house the Switch facilities in Lagos. It was not an easy task to find the right type of building, and time was running out. We had paid $285m for the license, and had been given six months to set up our operations. Failure to meet the deadline would have resulted in a loss of the license.

Then one day our estate agent came and told me they had found the perfect building. It was actually the Liberian Embassy building in Lagos. The government of Liberia, then ruled by Charles Taylor, wanted to sell the building and move to the political capital, Abuja.

It took only a few days for our people to reach agreement over the price. Sale and purchase documents were drawn up and payment terms prescribed. It was a lot of money, which meant I would have to personally sign off on the payment. As I sat there in my office in Lagos, looking at the documents, I noticed that payment had to go to an account in Switzerland…

“Why is the money not going to Liberia?” I quizzed my staff. Initially, it seemed to be a detail no one had picked up.

___”Is it really our business where they want the money sent?” someone asked.

I refused to sign.

The ambassador came to see me at my office, with an entourage of officials. There was a sense of urgency on their part.

I explained to the ambassador that I wanted a Government of Liberia bank account number, and I also wanted a Cabinet Minute authorising the sale. (A Cabinet Minute usually covers essential matters for consideration by a government cabinet minister, such as purpose, recommendation, background and options. It records the outcome of Cabinet’s consideration of the previous week’s Cabinet committee decisions).

He seemed to agree that my request was reasonable and promised to cooperate.

The following day he called me and said the President’s brother had been dispatched to “sort out the misunderstanding over the account details.”

“Ambassador, there is no misunderstanding. This is government property, and all I want is the necessary documentation to show that the sale has been formally approved by all relevant authorities, and I want an account in Liberia.”

He was now getting quite desperate and agitated, even suggesting they had another buyer in the wings.

I would not budge.

On another occasion, he invited me to travel to Liberia as a guest of the President. He thought it would impress me. Sometimes (not always), corrupters try to dangle the “flattery” of high-level meetings with top leaders or their close family members to reel you into their illegal activities.

“Sorry Ambassador,” I replied politely but firmly, “I have a network to launch. We have paid $285m for the license and have a tight deadline. Please give me the documents I need.”

Of course, by this time I had long worked out what was happening and was already looking for an alternative building. I let them stew for a few days, then told him I was no longer interested and moved on.

We ordered specialised containers to store our equipment and airfreighted them to Lagos. It was a more costly solution than if we had bought the Liberian Embassy building.

Many years later, Charles Taylor was forced to hand over power to his vice president after a civil war in which tens of thousands of people were killed. He was eventually sentenced to a total of 50 years in prison by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone near The Hague, in the Netherlands for his leading role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law.

To be continued.

Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

8 Replies to “It’s time to play by a different (ethical) set of rules (Part 2)”

  1. Afterthought 1.
    The moment I saw bank details of an account in Switzerland with no name, I knew in my heart that this was Charles Taylor’s personal account. That was when I decided I would never sign the agreement. When you’re doing a deal of whatever size, take careful note of all transaction details. If it’s a business deal, make sure all your team does, too. Never let anyone try to “rush” or flatter you into a decision and signature. Sometimes corruption is in the fine print. Let the buyer beware!

  2. i have realized that i should not rush into business deals before i understand them. Looking on on the account number’s issue, i was dissapointed when you refused to sign but wen i continued to read the post i realized that you were right. So its a lesson to me to understand business deals before signing them.

  3. Corruption Kills!

    The solution we used to house the equipment cost us more money than if we had simply bought the Liberian Embassy Building. But this was nothing compared to the fact that Charles Taylor would have used the money to buy arms to maim and kill thousands of people. God spared me a part in Taylor’s ‘blood guilt’.

    When we turn a blind eye to corruption we are exposing millions of people to suffering and even death:
    _Schools are not built or have no books;
    _No proper health facilities;
    _Bad or non existent roads leading to accidents.
    _there is no money to develop things properly.
    This is how we must look at corruption: it kills!

  4. I appreciate self discovery! I think i have tried to do the same in my little way.
    Beautifully, i have the desire to expound my knowledge and since i am fashioned by the maker to altruistic, every opportunity will be wallpapered by an altruistic nature.
    This opportunity i talk of, i have not successfully seen in land of domicile.
    Please help.!
    Jesus could want to pass this way…..(calls for thinking.)

  5. Corruption here in Zimbabwe has become so institutionalised that fighting it is going to be hard. We have a generation of young people who now believe in bribing their way through to anything. The major challenge is that those who must fight it are the perpetrators who guise themselves as sheep yet they are wolves. But still it is a team effort like how we fought Ebola, we can also fight corruption and win

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Twitter Feed