Vodafone in Uganda

Vodafone Uganda has recently been marred in allegations of closing shop, citing lower sales, a high debt burden that has seen the 4G operator embroiled in court battles with suppliers and the like. Its CEO who was unveiled just over a year ago is also said to have thrown in the towel. Vodafone Uganda hasn’t issued any statement regarding this precarious situation though its executive have once in awhile come out to deny many of these allegations.

In recent years there has been a mass exodus of staff from the Kololo based operator, foiled launches, outlet closures et cetera. All these don’t instill confidence in the operator and thus begs the question, is  Vodafone leaving Uganda?

The company on ground is actually Afrimax but brands and trades as Vodafone after the two struck a partner market licensing agreement to get what we know as “Vodafone Uganda” off the ground. This agreement stands up to date

Unlimited data offerings gone bad

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Vodafone launched here with attractive “unlimited” data packages that won hearts of many data enthusiasts. All looked promising until the very attractive offers received revisions that were somewhat not received positively followed by a series of recurrent revisions that exist up to today.

Many have questioned what kind of strategy the company is employing in a competitive telecom environment that is Uganda owing to these revisions. From having a limited 4G footprint , no widely available en masse 3G services (They signed a Mobile Virtual Network Agreement with UTL), confusing data offers where buying a new device is cheaper than renewing your subscription among others. All of which haven’t raised eyebrows like the repeated outages, staff exodus, court battle, asset auctions and internal shake ups happening simultaneously that have brought us here today.

Unstable Network

Vodafone has been faced with severe outages some of which have acted as a catalyst for the exit allegations. The outages are blamed on tower operators and for this case being Eaton Towers, whose arrears Vodafone allegedly hasn’t cleared. These are said to amount to over UGX 2B for a period of two years, licensing fees to UCC are also said not to have been paid according to the same report as well of other supplier like advertising agencies, landlords among others. This according to The Grapevine.

A few Vodafone employees that we have spoken to that prefer anonymity given they’re not allowed to discuss the matter front a temporary network outage, with repeated assurances that it will be restored very soon and thus we have no need to worry.

Chimpreports also adds that former CEO, John Ndengo quit. On why he is said to have thrown in the towel, the Grapevine supplements that he had a fallout with Vodafone Africa Division honcho Lars Stork, who is also said to front former UTL Managing Director, Mark Shoebridge to step in John’s shoes. Vodafone Uganda on the other hand maintains that they’re actively looking for a new CEO and than John Ndengo voluntarily moved on and his tenure was due to expire in February of this year.

Mark Shoebridge was fired from the troubled UTL by government after the entity was on life support throughout his tenure and alarms were raised about his alleged mismanagement of the ailing telco. It was therefore put up for receivership under the stewardship of Bemanya Twebaze who is said to have revived its prospects in so short the time. This is said to be one of the reasons why the senior staffers protested his appointment as the CEO of Vodafone Uganda.

UCC not commenting

However, the industry regulator UCC hasn’t raised any warnings about Vodafone’s impending closure after all they can’t operate if it withdraws their licence. It is also mandatory for UCC to notify the public and other industry players of any imminent closure in the telecom space as was the case with Foris and Smart Telecom. For now UCC is keeping mum about Vodafone’s alleged woes.

Similarly, Smile Communications was ravaged with rumours of closure but they refuted any such claims and they operate to date. Still, UCC was tight lipped about their troubles.

With both Smile and Vodafone marred by closure rumours, it once again begs the question if what indeed MTN CEO said of data only operators struggling is true. Whereas Vodafone Ugandan maintains both data and voice services, the market has responded by using mostly their data services while voice has been given a cold shoulder, relegating the player to purely data services much more like Smile. And so, the categorization.

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