The Republic of Guinea
from Rags to Riches

Mr Marzuki Bin Abdullah, General Manager of Sotelgui Société de télécommunications de Guinée

Interview de

Mr Marzuki Bin Abdullah
General Manager

Monday July, 31st 2000.

Can you give us a brief introduction of your company?

On June 2, 1992 a presidential decree created SOTELGUI and a telecommunications law was enacted. The company was granted independent management authority. The members of the Board of Directors were appointed on January 8, 1993 and the transfer of assets and operation from the Ministry of Communication to SOTELGUI became effective on August 30, 1993. In the July 1993-July 1994 period, SOTELGUI was managed by France Cable under a twelve-month, IDA-financed contract. The purpose was to manage the company while privatization and capital investment plans were being developed. There was considerable concern that these arrangements could bias future contracts for privatization or procurement.

SOTELGUI received technical assistance from the World Bank to create and maintain an effective management team. A staffing plan, including placement, recruitment and separation procedures, was implemented before the end of 1993. An accounting system, providing for independent audits, and a new tariff policy aiming at a 50 percent self-financing ratio of investments in 1994, were also adopted.

The Government of Guinea issued without success in October 1994 an International Call for Bids for private investors to purchase 51 percent of the shares of SOTELGUI. In late 1995, an agreement was reached with Malaysia Telekom regarding the ownership and operation of SOTELGUI.

In December 21st, 1995, we signed a 10 year partnership of 17 million USD, 60% Telekom Malaysia, 40% Guinean government. Our objective is to have an improvement of quality of services. If we use the comparison of figures for the lines, in 1995 we had 9,500 subscribers and today we have 46,000 subscribers, composed with 20 000 fixed lines and 35 600 mobiles phones. Meaning, the mobile are more popular than fixed lines so Sotelgui decided to concentrate more on mobile phones. For the fixed lines we got to share, it's cheaper than mobile and it is a social obligation that's why we put mobile and fixed lines together. We got monopoly in fixed and in mobile we got the competition with two other companies.

What can you tell us about the services you offer?

About the quality of services if you compare to the rest of the world, we are still in bad position. We are getting better, we can maintain a good quality but we need a certain amount of lines to do the expenses and be fruitful. It will take some time because we have to train our staff here, we are going to have our own school to achieve that goal because in my opinion training is very important to increase the quality of our services. The quality of our staff, of our network is a key issue for Sotelgui and to guarantee the increase of market share of Sotelgui in the country. If we want to digitalize our network, we need qualified staff. My target is business comes with social obligations, the first doesn't come without the other one. We need to modernize the local network and we need fiber optic to do that, we need to update our signals, diversify our brands to create value.

We are to extend our GSM services, there is a big potential here as for the internet.

Sotelgui started offering Internet Services in 97 through a project with the USAID's Leland Initiative (an initiative to improve Africa's global Information Infrastructure). Sotelgui signed two contracts with the USAID. The first allowed the installation of the national Internet Gateway in the capital. The objective of the second contract was expanding the Internet access outside of the capital, to secondary/local cities. This part of the project has already been completed in 3 local regions where the USAID group installed commercial ISPs using the new VSAT satellite technology that delivers high speed bandwidth to multiple locations at a shared cost. This technology uses both telephone networks and radio transmission lines to connect to the Internet. Thanks to this initiative, the Internet is now accessible not only in the main city but also in rural regions. The next phase of the project, still underway, aims at connecting more rural cities using the same cheap technology.
What is the potential in figures of this market?

We want to reach 200 000 subscribers (fixed and cellular) we got an obligation with the government to do so and we will try to do our best. Even if you see now, an increase of 10 000 is a lot but I think the market is there, we got to make it possible and get 150 000 by end of 2001.

How much does it cost to create a line?

We are talking about 1, 500- 2000$. So, that's why the more people you can connect the cheaper it will be.

In which product are you going to concentrate your efforts?

:We want to concentrate on prepaid, it is what is the most popular in the world. What is useful is that with Prepaid, the customer knows its limits of communication. This prepaid option is better for the customer and better for the company. The cellular market is open to competition, you need to offer the best network to please the customer, it is what is the most important for us. We are all here to give the best services and we believe in fair competitiveness. A cheap network but with high quality of services

What do you think will be your turnover at the end of the year

We think about 10 to 15 % increase. And even start to make a small benefit.

Can you talk about the internet school, I think it is your idea to create it?

R7: If we have trained-people we can develop the huge market of Guinea quicker. We will give courses in internet and cellular technologies and also on fixed lines to get the most skillful employees and solves the technical problems better and quicker. As I told you it is also a social involvement that we are taking here. In Sotelgui, we want to train the more people possible to improve productivity and raise their level of life, we want to give to Guineans and their children the possibility to work with an international level and be able to work for other foreign companies. It is our duty.

What is your goal concerning your market share?

Well, I would say 100% (laugh). More seriously, I would say 50% as a very wise evaluation. At the moment we have 40% so we think we will target this 50% by mid-2001.

What would you say to our Asian readers who are interested in Guinea?

I would say come, come to Guinea because to me we got bauxite, aluminum, we got everything and the culture also. Being here for only two months, I already perceived the warmth and intelligence of the locals. The market has a huge potential and a report like yours is very important because there are not enough information about Guinea. The Asians will definitively find some interests in Guinea if they are aware of the potentials, I personally think that it is what Guinea suffers the most from, the lack of information. But it is a great country, come!

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Guinea published in Far Eastern Economic Review (Dow Jones Group)
September 28th 2000 Issue.

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