Orange’s CEO for Africa and the Middle East, Alioune Ndiaye, spent a decade as Sonatel’s CFO before the company was acquired by the French telecoms giant in 2006. He spoke to Leaders league about the current state of the telecoms industry in Africa.
Leaders league. What consumer trends are we seeing among the African middle class, as regards telecoms devices?
Alioune Ndiaye. The African middle class exists and like the middle class everywhere, are eager to advance professionally, have the latest technology and be entertained. For us as a telecoms company, feeding that demand has allowed us to connect customers whenever they want, wherever they are. Orange wants to supply the growing demand for internet access and offer innovative cellphone based services that respond to the needs of Africans.
How can Orange contribute to reducing the disparity between African countries when it comes to access to telecommunications?
With 329 million mobile internet users in Africa in 2018, it’s clear that there are serious imbalances between nations. To reduce the disparity, work needs to be done on three aspects. Firstly, the regulatory framework, which needs to be stable and forward-looking. Then there is the skills base, which needs to be improved if Africa is to take control of its digital destiny. Finally, there needs to be a greater level of co-operation between public and private entities. Each year Orange invests €1 billion in our networks in Africa and the Middle East. Our 2G/3G network is available in 20 countries in the MEA zone, and 4G is now available in 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
The telecoms sector is highly competitive. How does Orange stay ahead of the pack?
We are either the no.1 or the no.2 telecoms provider in Africa. Our development model is unique in that it has a strong social aspect. Through the various Orange foundations, we provide education in digital activities, supply villages with drinking-water pumps, schools and dispensaries. There are 75 such projects underway in 11 countries in the region. Our activities are piloted by local Orange subsidiaries and have the involvement of some 18,000 staff. We have built up a loyal client base in Africa by situating our decision-making centers closer to our local markets. We have the largest network of agents in the Africa, with 900,000 people selling our products. Lastly, the Orange Foundation is well known and respected in Africa for the work it does in the community.
Could you tell us a bit about the recent challenges Orange has faced in Africa?
In order to release the potential of the continent, Africa desperately needs a more stable financial regulatory framework. Currently, the rate of tax that telecoms operators pay in Africa and the Middle East is too high. In 2015, telecoms operators paid on average 35% of their revenue in tax and licensing fees across the sub-Saharan region. And yet, according to the GSMA, the countries with the highest level of tax on telecoms operators, are those with the lowest quality telecoms networks.
In 2020 the continent is set to have 660 smartphone users. What does the digital landscape look like in Africa.
It is very difficult to say, but I think most people will be surprised by the level of digital development that Africa will see in the coming years. Africa has little or no existing industrial models for the digital revolution to upend. One in two Africans are under 20, and the new generation in Africa are extremely interested in new technology. The mix of these deficiencies and appetites should make for fertile ground for digital technologies. Historically, conducting business face-to-face has been the norm in Africa. Today, we are seeing a shift towards data driven services. hat said, in a market where the multi-sim is very important, developing additional services will be necessary in order to build loyalty among the client base. Orange will, therefore, need to go from being just a supplier of connectivity to a true multiservice operator.