Monday, August 09, 2010

Chopping up the big green giant (Safaricom)

It’s time to take Safaricom down. It’s time to chop up that green giant into smaller pieces.

In just 10 short years, Safaricom Ltd has grown from a small unprofitable subsidiary of Telkom Kenya catering to the uber rich into Kenya’s largest telecommunications company, ISP, and bank. This behemoth, with its size, information control, and growing database of personal information of its clients threatens our economic stabilty, individual liberties and our sovereignty and  cannot afford to left this unchecked. At the end of this speech, fellow toastmasters you will join my petition to have Safaricom Ltd, be broken up into smaller, more regulated companies.

1.       The first and most obvious reason why we need to break up Safaricom is because of its sheer size. In every category, Safaricom is a lumbering giant. It has over millions of Kenyans using its services and makes billions for its shareholders and government. 


While these numbers may bring comfort to it’s over 500,000 shareholders, we should remember that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. We have already seen our government backtrack from regulating Safaricom’s prices when it complained; it is not therefore a stretch to say that our government may consider Safaricom “Too big to fail”.


The “too big to fail” public policy means that if Safaricom fails to manage its risk effectively and is under threat of insolvency, the government may use taxpayer money to prop up the company.  The TBTF policy which has been applied to America’s biggest companies in the past two years has been shown to encourage laziness, promote rapacious business activities, and increase market nervousness.  It is a policy that can destroy our fragile economy while unfairly promoting corporate interests.


For everyones’ benefit we need to ensure Safaricom remains a robust company and the only way to do this is to break it into smaller, more nimble, more manageable companies which do not have the power to hold our economy at ransom.


2.       If the threat of the giant falling is not worring enough, then this second reason should convince you that the time to break-up Safaricom is now. We all cheered when Safaricom came to town, and happily embraced its services. Little did we know that as we called more, texted more, mpesad more, and surfed more, we were creating an Orwellian Big Brother. It can hear you, read about you, knows who you are, where you are, how you spend money, what information you search for and which friends you have.


We have already seen this power being abused through Premium Rate Service providers affiliated to Safaricom who send us marketing messages for lotteries, or political messages to influence our vote.  The trend from using this power for marketing to using it for political goals is indeed worring. Many Kenyans rely on Safaricom to access information, and it is easy to see how this dependency can be abused to spread propaganda and misinformation.


While the executives of Safaricom may have the noblest intentions, it is a historical fact that power corrupts. We should not wait to act when the company has been corrupted and we are in bondage. The company must be broken now to decentralise its growing power and potential for control.


3.       Threatening our individual liberties is a good enough reason to break the company up, but this third reason takes the cake, on why breaking the company up should be done immediately. Recently our government directed that mobile phone companies register their subscribers to reduce mobile phone related crime. While the intentions are good, the jury is still out on how effective registration will be in curbing crime. The secondary effect is however clear, which is that Safaricom will amass sensitive personal information on a large population of Kenyans to add on what they have already collected. 

The information acquired by Safaricom will rival - in utility - even that of the immigration and National Registry Bureau, as it will be current, in electronic form, and have mobile phone numbers. At 16 million subscribers, we shall witness the birth of the Safaricom nation and whoever controls this data will be very dangerous, and to leave it to a private entity that is majority owned by foreigners is to threaten our social fabric and sovereignty.

I admire Safaricom as a business, and find their services very useful; but I cannot stand by and let the potential for Safaricom’s turn to evil threaten my livelihood, threaten my freedom, and threaten my nation. I ask you to join me today in choosing economic stabilty, choosing individual freedom, and choosing social stability by signing my petition to break up Safaricom into smaller companies.

In conclusion I will ll leave you with a quote from Ayn Rand, substituting the word collectivism with Safaricom

"The greatest guilt of today is that of people who accept Safaricom by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: "But I didn't mean this!"


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 Please note that this was my Project #3 speech at Nairobi Toastmasters. This is a fictional petition and I do necessarily think Safaricom is evil.

1 comment:

startupkenya said...

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