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‘GSMA against multiple taxation, encourages ICT sector as enabler’


Akniwale Goodluck

Akinwale Goodluck is Head of Africa, Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.

A solicitor of the Supreme Court, he has had a career spanning investment banking and legal practice.

In the last 15 years, Goodluck has been engaged in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector working with MTN Nigeria for 14 years, seven of which were at executive level concentrating on the management of the regulatory, commercial legal, reputation, corporate governance and stakeholder risks of the telecommunications firm.

An alumnus of the Lagos State University, Nigerian Law School and Harvard Business School, he told ADEYEMI ADEPETUN of GSMA’s plans for Africa and how multiple taxation was affecting telecoms growth on the continent.

Can we know what GSMA activities are all about?

The GSMA is set up to manage the interest of operators, probably, 800 today. But in the last couple of years, we have had a lot of other ecosystem players joined the GSMA, mainly the equipment manufacturers as well as some of the big internet and telecommunications players.

Interestingly, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is a flag ship event where members converged to brainstorm on pressing industry issues .

In the last two to three years, the attendance has been awesome with more than 8000 people from over 105 countries gracing the event.

The convergence, you will note, had let to the birth of M360 series. Happily, the M360 Africa which used to hold in Cape Town, South Africa, before berthing two years ago in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is heading for Kigali, the Rwanda capital this July.

Based on feedback, people are opting for a more regionally focused event that caters for the Anglophone and Francophone nations, hence the inauguaration of M360 West Africa.

Comment on your organisation’s quest for better spectrum presence in sub-Saharan Africa?

We have seen a lot in the spectrum space. Spectrum is critical to the mobile industry and perhaps more critical to sub-Saharan Africa.

For us, we refer to spectrum as the oxygen for the industry and for us to be able to deliver on our vision of connecting everybody and everything, and also for government across West Africa to realise their objective of universal access or service, spectrum has a big role to play.

Spectrum is a big driver for Internet affordability and penetration.

As such, spectrum policy must be right so that is why we are spending a lot of time on resources by advocating best practices.

GSMA advocates that spectrum must be technology-neutral and government must refrain from creating artificial scarcity.


What are governments’ responses to your organisation’s advice on multiple taxation?
I would say GSMA has achieved a fair amount of success in this regard.

We have a big tax advocacy team, which is charged with conducting tax and coming up with best practices in different countries. Affordability is key, and one of the drivers is often the way the industry is taxed.

We definitely oppose when people/government try to tax the mobile industry for instance with excessive excise duty.

For instance, you are taxing mobile like it is a seen product. There are industries over the world that government typically taxed, because it is to discourage certain behaviour. But mobile is an enabler, so it should be encouraged.

How do we improve telephony in SSA in the face of noticeable lapses?

If you look at sub-Saharan Africa, I think Internet penetration ranges from 43-45 per cent and in West Africa, it’s about 47 per cent.

The urban areas are largely covered by 2G, 3G Networks and of course, an increase in 4G network and if you look at west Africa today, we have a total of 29 operational LTE networks and the challenge is now taking services to the rural community.

The rural community most times, often the business case is a difficult one to establish for the mobile operator.

So it is going to take innovation, significant collaboration between government and operators to rejig the model and have the ability to take the services to the rural area.

We need a more regionally adapted spectrum policy, greater investment in infrastructure sharing and we need for government to support infrastructure in rural areas and I am talking about roads, electricity and security.

We need government to incentivise operators to go into these areas that are not profitable. We need government, industries and all the stakeholders in the private sector to work in terms of digital literacy, so we can then solve the problems in some part of Africa.

We actually have coverage but there is very little adoption, so we then begin to look at the problem, these people have Internet coverage here, but they are not using it, they are only using the network for voice, we then find out that one is digital literacy while the other is the often absence of relevant local content in terms of language and content.

There is a lot of work to be done by government to stimulate the demand side so that the people in our rural community can also appreciate that the Internet can make a difference to their lives.

So it’s a partnership but historically you find that government and the universal service provision funds have tended to intervene on the supply side, I think there is need for people to take a step back and look at the demand side and see what can be done.

If you look at some countries in SSA, we are looking at 95 per cent population coverage with LTE, but when you look at the subsequent Internet adoption rate in those geographies is very low.

Can infrastructure sharing work in this region?
Yes, I see that in quite a few countries in the region, we have seen government provide regulation on that. We have equally seen the regulators providing regulations to guide infrastructure sharing.

In some market, it is a bit more advanced and has moved from not only some passive infrastructure but also in terms of active infrastructure sharing, depending on the sophistication of the market.

But generally, you know in terms of the way the world is going, shared economy is what is helping a lot of people to thrive. It is the same thing that applies to the mobile sector, so infrastructure sharing is definitely the way to go.

What do you think is driving the mobile ecosystem in the region?

I think first of all, the mobile sector is a subset of a larger economy. Today, the mobile sector in West Africa probably account for about 6.5/6.7 per cent of the GDP of West Africa. We expect that this will increase.

By 2025, we expect that this will be closer to eight per cent and it is being driven more and more by continued penetration. If you look at West Africa today, we are looking at 176 million unique subscribers.

We expect that a significant amount of subscribers will be added from now till 2025; in essence of about 79 million subscribers will be added to the network. We have seen a decrease in the cost of smart phones, mobile services.

This again is translating to more people getting connected and the more people who are connected, the bigger the eco-system that they build, the bigger the contribution to GDP and of course that adds to the overall growth we are seeing in West Africa.

Africa has got a lot of young people and they are getting connected, their usage and sophistication will be something else. They will not only be adopters but will explore and exploit networks.

Again, it will be a major enabler for job creation, creativity, business, entrepreneurship, the shared economy.

If you look at Africa today, services like Taxify, Uber are doing well. They are all sitting on mobile network infrastructure, helping people to optimise their time.

So you can be a student and at the same time an Uber driver without being disruptive of your life. We are very excited about the opportunities.

It is driving things here. Everybody has found a way for mobile to add value to what they do. Even if it is just in terms of being able to reach people, helping to drive tech start-ups, it is just changing the landscape completely.

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