Telcos war could end up a dull no-contest

Thursday May 17 2018

Airtel Money and Safaricom M-Pesa shops adjacent to each other in Nairobi.

Airtel Money and Safaricom M-Pesa shops adjacent to each other in Nairobi.  PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By STEVE OMONDI
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Two interesting things have happened in Kenya’s mobile telephone industry in the past few days.

First, a local mobile telephony service provider unleashed an unrestrained assault on its competitor disguised as advertisements in the mainstream newspapers for days. They are the kind of commercials that instantly grab the attention of the target audience not so much for the substance of their messages but their no-holds-barred onslaught on the competition.

The aggressor, a company that recently rebranded, practically threw out of the window all the unwritten rules of diplomatic engagement between rivals. Their pitch was a clever presentation masked in colour codes, which, nonetheless, left little to imagination.

Then came the second occurrence, smack dab in the middle of the aggressor’s shadow boxing: An announcement by its target of colossal profits — in billions of shillings to boot — which a respected columnist noted exceeded the annual budgets of at least nine Sub-Saharan countries.

BILLING SHOWDOWN

Reminiscent of the perennial bloody political manoeuvrings in Kenya, the old war drums of the per-minute-versus-per-second billing showdown of yore had been sounded.

In the political context, it brought back memories of 1992 when pro-multiparty democracy champion Kenneth Matiba, who died last month, went hammer and tongs at one of his opponents in the presidential race in a reverse campaign of unprecedented proportions.

Matiba unleashed untold trepidation on Mwai Kibaki’s camp with a series of full-page advertiser’s announcements in form of montages of newspaper cuttings capturing the future president talking out of both sides of his mouth before and after the struggle for the return to multiparty democracy in Kenya had been won.

The paid adverts, to a large extent, succeeded in painting the erstwhile Kanu loyalist Kibaki as a spineless turncoat — an unreliable opportunist who only mustered the courage to jump ship after the likes of Matiba and other perceived dissidents had won the clamour for multipartyism. It was a major hammer blow for the more self-restrained Kibaki.

POLITICKING

More recently, PNU’s derogatory, yet ingenious, “Domo Domo” advertiser’s announcements of 2007, though effectively countered by ODM’s brilliant clapback, was a classic throwback to Matiba’s broadsides of the early ’90s. 

Times have changed though, and even the fiercest of political foes nowadays prefer to impede their opponents in a more concealed fashion. Such brutal politicking is often delegated to court jesters, charlatans and gung-ho ‘keyboard warriors’ who, at a pittance, are ever happy to play purveyors of propaganda with the extras of amassing a few more ‘followers’. Many a busybody has not only made a career out of it but a few who religious stick to their brief have even been decorated with coveted State awards.

Which made the raw aggression of the firm, codename Blue-Yellow, all the more curious. In this age of political correctness, it was a great departure from the dealings in the corporate world, where what often sells is not how much you discredit the competitor’s product but how you package yours.

CHEST-THUMPING

Be that as it may, all the chest-thumping by an up-and-coming Team Blue-Yellow may not amount to much. Team Green have already made their big statement. What we have here really is a no-contest. They really don’t need to show up for the bout — much as Blue-Yellow may be spoiling for a fight. But in the event that they do, the tale of the tape is heavily tilted against the underdog.

A match-up between the two would probably result in a TKO (technical knock-out) or RSC (referee stops the contest). It could yet be the biggest mismatch of all time.

 Mr Omondi is a sub-editor with ‘Nairobi News’. [email protected]