Chiloba latest casualty of 'cursed' CA executive seat

"The board of directors of the Communications Authority of Kenya has this morning October 19, 2023, accepted the resignation of Mr Ezra Chiloba as the director general," said Chairperson Mary Mungai in a statement.

"Mr Chiloba resigned yesterday in a letter to the chairperson of the CA Board, Ms Mary Mungai."

CA has, however, remained mum on the action taken on nine other officials of the authority which the board had similarly recommended that displinary action be taken on account of gross misconduct.

The swift and sudden ouster of Chiloba is similar to the tribulations that faced former CA Director General Francis Wangusi in the last months of his tenure.

Just like Chiloba, Wangusi, now deceased, found out he was a marked man during a special board meeting that he himself had convened.

With 18 months still to go on his contract, the board informed Mr Wangusi that he had been sent on a three-month compulsory leave pending an audit into several hirings and allowances paid to some employees at the CA.

Wangusi went to court and successfully obtained an injunction preventing his ouster and the board backed down, with the two parties settling out of court.

A seasoned technocrat and policy maker in the country's growing ICT sector, Wangusi maintained that the attempt to kick him out of office was orchestrated by the vested interests of personnel at the ICT ministry.

He assumed office in 2012 after the High Court nullified the re-appointment of his predecessor, Charles Njoroge, by then ICT Minister Samuel Poghisio.

Then known as the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the agency was coming out of vicious boardroom wrangles, with some accusing Mr Poghisio of attempting to force through his choice of director general.

In fact, none of the officers apointed as Director General at the CA since its inception have served their full term before they were temporarily or permanently removed from office.

State interference

Chiloba's removal from the CA has lent credence to reports of government interference on the supposedly independent regulator in charge of billions of shillings in licence payments and surpluses that accrue from Kenya's multi-billion-shilling telecommunications sector each year.

This breach into the regulator's independent mandate dates back more than two decades and is directly linked to the control of the billions of shillings that telecommunications operators pay routinely to roll out their services.

A leaked memo from the US Embassy in Nairobi dating back to 2007 blamed then ICT Minister Raphael Tuju and CCK of scuttling attempts by South African-based Econet Wireless to set up shop in Kenya.

"The current mobile market, dominated by Safaricom and Celtel, has come to resemble just that - a duopoly, resulting in a less-than-fully competitive market," explained the US Ambassador in the memo.

"It was thus good news in August when Econet Wireless, a South Africa-based mobile phone operator, was finally allowed to exercise its rights under a much-coveted third mobile licence, which it had won in a tender three years earlier in September 2004.

"It had been blocked from rolling out its network by then-Minister of Information and Communications (and current Foreign Minister) Raphael Tuju."

Mr Tuju attempted to revoke the licence, citing unexplained irregularities in the tender process and while Econet fought him and CCK in court and won, its network rollout was scuttled on account of failing to fully pay for a licence fee.

The government's repeated interference in the independent mandate of the CA has limited its functionality, undermining growth and development in the ICT sector and punishing Kenyans with sustained market inefficiencies.

Chiloba leaves office at a time the authority is at the centre of several key policy changes whose impact will be felt by Kenyans for a long time to come.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal seeking to stop CA from installing a Device Management System (DNS), which some telcos and digital privacy advocates have warned could be used to spy on mobile phone subscribers.

The DMS is installed in the system of telcos and has the capability of logging every device running on the operators' network with their unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.

Privacy concerns

Safaricom had argued in court that CA had failed to address privacy concerns raised by stakeholders, including accessibility to the information in the DNS by the Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards and National Police Service.

During the inquiry into Telkom Kenya's irregular sale, Chiloba could not give a definite answer when asked by MPs to state on the record whether the government had capabilities of spying on Kenyans' mobile communications.

The CA is also under the spotlight on the utilisation of the Universal Service Fund (USF), the kitty meant to fund ICT infrastructure in underserved regions.

ICT operators contribute 0.5 per cent of their gross annual turnover to the USF that currently stands at Sh18 billion.

The interference in CA has also not been of much help in ensuring the regulator effectively executes its mandate.

In the 2021-22 financial year, CA inspected 166 operators out of which only 43 were found to comply with the licence obligations set out by the regulator, a compliance rate of just 25 per cent and the lowest in the past five years.

Data from CA further indicates that out of 180 complaints received between April and June this year, 127 were resolved leaving out 30 per cent.