AfricaLive talks with Godwin Makyao, Founder and Executive Director of Maktech, on Maktech’s successful growth in Tanzania, opportunities as the company expands across East Africa and Southern Africa, and the role of the telecommunications sector in driving entrepreneurship on the African continent.
AfricaLive: Please give us some background on Maktech and how you would define your business philosophy and goals.
Godwin Makyao: I’m the founder and Executive Director of Maktech, which has been around since 2001. Our core business is to set up the necessary infrastructure for mobile networks in Tanzania, and now also in other parts of Africa. Our target is to become the leading telecom contractor in Africa by expanding into new regions. We intend to expand into seven countries by 2024 which will be quite an improvement on the three states we are currently involved in.
AfricaLive: In your opinion, what role is the I.C.T and Technology sector playing in the uplifting of the African continent, and how do you plan to stay relevant in this market?
Godwin Makyao: ICT is pivotal, especially in the SADC region, which is where we are based. The internet is essential in these parts for connectivity and information purposes. Connectivity here means news updates, marketing capability, education, and mobile money. Our people not only need to stay connected locally but also with the outside world through the internet. We all can’t stay connected through road, and very few of us can fly abroad. The internet is, therefore, critical in helping our people learn what’s happening around the world. As a company, we have invested many resources into looking at how we can take connectivity to the most remote parts. It’s not just about connectivity, but also the ability to offer reasonably priced services to the masses.
AfricaLive: You are already working with several partners such as Vodacom, Airtel and Nokia. Which countries are you currently eyeing and what would be the profile of the partners you want to attract?
Godwin Makyao: We indeed have working relationships with Nokia, Vodacom, Huawei, Airtel, and MTN.
These big-name corporations see our collaboration as an opportunity to venture into more African markets. The work we do will lay the groundwork for these big players to come and invest. The last eighteen years have cemented our profile as a powerhouse in Tanzania. Seven years ago, we launched our Mozambique office, and we are now staring at Zambia, DRC, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Botswana. Our aim is to not solely make money from the countries we expand into but to add to the culture. These countries will reap significant benefits if we facilitate the penetration of ICT much quicker.
AfricaLive: There is this perception of risk that creates a challenging environment for African institutions and companies to attract investment. How can we de-risk Africa and Tanzania in particular in the minds of foreign investors?
Godwin Makyao: The perception of risk in Africa comes from historical concerns such as political instability. I know that there are probably questions about the infrastructure and inner workings of governments. These concerns, though valid, are exaggerated because Africa presents more opportunities than risks.
If you consider that we still have hundreds of millions of people barely getting mobile services, then you can see the opportunity. The size of the potential African market, coupled with the saturation of markets across the globe, should have investors sold. The common misconceptions about Africa make it difficult for an outsider looking in. If the outsiders land here and do the analysis themselves, they just could have a change of heart.
AfricaLive: What would be your message of confidence to readers of AfricaLive?
Godwin Makyao: I would encourage foreign investors who have been curious about Africa to come and check it out. The relative peace African countries are enjoying now is an excellent platform for their investment. The African Union is also boosting intra-African trade which will ease restrictions and lower tariffs. All of this makes Africa an exciting place to consider setting up a start-up. It is also crucial that they try and get themselves some local partners. Local partners make it easier for foreign investors to establish a foothold in any country.
AfricaLive: How confident are you about the future of Africa and Tanzania in particular?
Godwin Makyao: I am very optimistic about the prospects of Tanzania and Africa as a whole.
I see Tanzania being an ICT leader on the continent in about a decade. My confidence is inspired by the government’s commitment to improve infrastructure and boost connectivity.
Our government has also cut the business registration red tape so much that you can get it done in two days, as opposed to weeks. Investors also get supported information-wise by the Tanzania Investment Centre.
The corruption that used to plague public institutions is a thing of the past thanks to a new paperless system.
Connectivity will also be enhanced further since the government plans to subsidise any operation that will take the internet to the countryside. We will soon have 4G and 5G in the cities, and 2G and 3G in the rural areas.
AfricaLive: There is a high failure rate for start-ups, especially in the SADC region. What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs, and how can they seek help?
Godwin Makyao: The local entrepreneur must do proper research on what they want to do. If you ask a lot of budding entrepreneurs what they need to get started, they will mostly say capital. That’s not the best way to think about it because their main concern should be problem-solving.
Before they start their venture, they must identify markets for their products. Success belongs to those who do proper research and have a solid business plan, not those who just have the money. A lack of a problem-solving mentality encourages duplication of ideas. That’s how we end up with ten shops selling the same items on the same street.
AfricaLive: What have been the biggest challenges you have had to overcome over the years?
Godwin Makyao: The culture transformation part has been a big challenge. To transform the mentality of employees to adhere to key performance indicators (KPIs) and to stay loyal is tough. We have also had to work hard to instil quality in our staff. Over the years, I have learnt to scout for young talent over older staff with deeply ingrained bad attitudes. Assuring the youth of a future goes a long way in shaping their thinking and transforming them into what we need.
AfricaLive: Is there a mismatch between higher education output and the needs of a business like yours?
Godwin Makyao: There is indeed a mismatch between what they produce and what we need. You cannot take a recent graduate and put them on the telecommunication systems immediately. They need on-the-job training to become a success. Companies must have programmes where graduates are trained on how to work. This is a must because our partners expect the same quality of work they get from the United Kingdom and South Africa. I don’t see our institutions of higher learning catching up anytime soon. Private investors are going to have to fill this knowledge and skills gap.
AfricaLive: What do you do to expand your knowledge base as a business leader?
Godwin Makyao: I am huge on long-distance learning, so I make the time for that. Workshops and trade fairs are also great learning opportunities. Exchanging ideas with different leaders has enabled me to make business moves into Mozambique and Zambia a reality.
AfricaLive: What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Godwin Makyao: Being the first Tanzanian local to set up a telecommunication firm fills me with pride. Five years after I made my breakthrough, other locals came along looking to get into the same business. Having so many people seeing me as an inspiration means a lot to me.
AfricaLive: What makes you proud to be African, and where do you see the continent in the future?
Godwin Makyao: I’m proud of our loving culture and serene environment. Africa will be a global business hub in the next twenty or so years. We may still have some countries that are troubled politically, but for the most part, we remain a stable continent. I see people and businesses coming here to source for organic food and for human capital as well. If we can solve our infrastructural and political challenges, Africa will be a great place to live and invest.