Bernard Wahome, CEO of Broadband Communication Networks, also known as Broadcom, discussed the challenges and opportunities of entering the Ethiopian market in an interview with Khusoko.
Wahome mentioned the highly regulated Forex market as one of the biggest risks but also discussed how Broadcom balances the demands of its clients in different markets through a devolved management structure and fosters a culture of innovation and excellence through its six pillars.
They work with innovative companies and train their employees to deliver high-quality service to their customers.
Who is Benard Wahome?
“I am a go-getter,” he says. With an ambitious objective to improve our customers’ experience using technology across Africa.
Wahome is an engineer by profession in both telecoms and IT, with over two decades of experience in the industry. He is the CEO of Broadband Communication Networks, popularly known as Broadcom, which operates in various countries in East Africa, including Tanzania, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
In Kenya, their main customers are Safaricom, Airtel, Telecom Kenya, and most other telecommunication companies including Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Enhanced Service Platforms (ESPs). They also support regulators such as the Communication Authority of Kenya in ensuring quality of service in the telecommunication sector.
“We also support the mobile operators as far as quality of services is concerned covering the complete ecosystem of the telecommunication infrastructure. Indeed, we have tools in the business that are able to test each and every interface in the organization in the telecommunication industry,” a confident Wahome says.
What is the scope and timeline of the project that Broadcom Kenya is working on for Safaricom in Ethiopia?
Broadcom has been operating in the Ethiopian market since 2022, with vendors such as Huawei and Nokia deploying and maintaining the mobile network for Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia.
In addition, the firm has a contract with Safaricom to deploy the network and expects to support the telco’s infrastructure for several years.
“Broadcom secured the contract with Safaricom due to our long-standing partnership and reputation for delivering high-quality service. We have been partners of Safaricom since 2002.
When we look at our historical performance, we are the company that scores in the region of over 90% in almost all the activities that we do for Safaricom,” says Wahome.
According to Wahome, they are leveraging their expertise and experience of over 20 years in the Kenyan market to deliver quality services and solutions to the Ethiopian market through training and knowledge transfer.
The learning curve
However, entering a new and competitive telecoms market such as Ethiopia presents both benefits and risks.
The Ethiopian market is not an easy one to enter, as it requires an understanding of the local culture and values. Our culture here in Kenya is different. If there is something, some values that you can learn from the country, you learn those values, you integrate with your values, and at the end of the day, come up with something that adds value to the total ecosystem.
“Our business has been to learn the market. And we have now learnt. It is not easy because having been only one telecom operator, the telecom operator could have been doing things in a specific way. Safaricom, on the other hand, has been learning for the last 22 years also. They (Ethiopians) do their things in a specific way of doing that changes management, to change from the thinking of the market that was there before to the new thinking, which is not an easy job. It is still not easy. But I will tell you that we are doing it and it is happening.”
The Ethiopian government launched Digital Ethiopia 2025 to help the country realise its digital potential and leverage technology to build a more prosperous society.
As part of that process, Safaricom Ethiopia was granted a nationwide full-service Unified Telecommunications Service Licence and is the first company in the country to launch a competitive mobile service to Ethio Telecom, which is state-owned.
Highly regulated Forex market
One of the biggest risks is the highly regulated Forex market, which makes it difficult for foreign investors to repatriate their incomes,” he notes.
Wahome hopes that the government will relax the Forex rules in order to attract more investors and drive economic growth.
“We are hoping that the government is going to do something about this Forex, because at the end of the day if they want to attract investors into the country, it is important for them to consider relaxing the Forex rules in the country to drive the economic growth that is required.”
Safaricom Chief Executive Peter Ndegwa also holds the same view that the government of Ethiopia will fully liberalise the foreign exchange market by 2023 to enable them to repatriate dividends.
“The market is stuck from a foreign exchange perspective, but one of the areas that the government has been clear with including with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the partners that support the government are either going through a process of economic liberalization. That also includes currency by 2023 they believe that the foreign exchange will be largely liberalized by 2023-2024,” said Peter Ndegwa in June 2021.
How do you balance the demands and expectations of your existing clients in Kenya, with your commitments in Ethiopia, and other markets?
In addition to these challenges, Wahome also discussed how Broadcom balances the demands and expectations of their existing clients in Kenya with their new commitments in Ethiopia and other markets.
According to Wahome, Broadcom has a management structure that addresses specific markets, with separate management teams for Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. These teams report to the group managing director, who oversees all activities.
How do you foster a culture of innovation and excellence among the employees and stakeholders in both countries?
Wahome discussed how Broadcom fosters a culture of innovation and excellence among its employees and stakeholders in both countries which are anchored on six pillars that enable this to happen: customer focus, product and service excellence, human resources, innovation, green technology, and health and safety.
Broadcom balances the demands of its clients in different markets through a devolved management structure and fosters a culture of innovation and excellence through its six pillars. They work with innovative companies and train their employees to deliver high-quality service to their customers.
“The other thing that we do to ensure customer satisfaction is we have products and services excellence pillars. In this particular pillar, what we do is we make sure of the services itself, we are operating the organization using a quality management system, we are ISO 9001 2015 certified.”
In addition to these pillars, Wahome mentioned that Broadcom has a strong focus on governance, ensuring that all processes are followed and that financial obligations to stakeholders such as governments are met.
They also have a strong commitment to health, safety, and the environment, with systems in place to meet these requirements. For example, they have a system for planting trees every time they do a telecom site and have a goal for their employees to plant 120 trees every year.
In a few years’ time, Wahome expects that there will be “Broadcom forests” across the whole East African region.
As he wrapped up, Wahome says his company is a one-stop shop for all telecommunication services and is committed to going green in everything they do.