Bitange Ndemo exits Safaricom in latest board reshuffle

Bitange Ndemo. [File, Standard]

Kenya's Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union Bitange Ndemo has been pushed out of the board of Safaricom in the latest changes at the helm of the region's most profitable company.

Safaricom announced the appointment of Ory Okolloh to replace Ndemo as an independent director and Karen Kandie as alternate director to the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary in place of Stanley Kamau.

"The board is pleased to announce the appointment of Karen Kandie as alternate director to the Cabinet Secretary, National Treasury and Economic planning in place of Eng Stanley Kamau and Ms Ory Okolloh, in place of Prof Bitange Ndemo as an independent director with effect from February 24, 2023," read a statement from the board.

The announcement was the latest in a series of high-profile executive changes at Safaricom in recent months, with sources inside Safaricom indicating that the Kenya Kwanza administration is keen to have more control over the affairs of the country's leading telco.

The board also announced the resignation of non-executive director Linda Muriuki effective February 20.

Ndemo and Muriuki were appointed as directors in 2017 and were still eligible to serve for several more years - with Ndemo further serving as a member of the company's crucial Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee.

According to company reports, Safaricom independent directors can offer themselves for re-appointment for a tenure of nine years from the date of appointment.

At Safaricom's latest annual general meeting in July last year, 98 per cent of shareholders approved the re-appointment of Ndemo to serve as a member of the audit committee, alongside Rose Ogega, Raisibe Morathi and Winnie Ouko.

Sources inside Safaricom state that Bitange was asked to step down on the basis of his public position as an ambassador.

The changes came just weeks after Safaricom announced the surprise resignation of John Ngumi as board chairman, less than six months after his appointment to the role.

Ngumi, a key ally of former President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed just weeks before the 2022 General Election, was replaced by Adil Khawaja.

Last month, Safaricom appointed Esther Waititu as the chief financial services officer. Waititu previously served as the director of Corporate Banking at KCB Group. 

The company is due to close its 2022-23 financial year in March, and start negotiations with regulators over the extension of its multi-billion spectrum licences. 

Safaricom was first issued 2G and 3G Spectrum licences in June 1999 for a 15-year term ending June 2014.

In 2014, the Communications Authority of Kenya renewed the licences for another 10 years to June 2024, after Safaricom paid Sh7.5 billion to acquire the assets of Essar Telecom Kenya, operators of YU Mobile.

Safaricom reported Sh37.5 billion in profit after tax in the 2021-22 financial year, which included Sh98.3 million in total revenue generated within the first month of launching commercial operations in Ethiopia.

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