When Celtel, as the first GSM provider in Nigeria was known until recently, first changed its name from Econet to V-Mobile, a popular Nigerian comedian made it the butt of some rib-breaking jokes. In one of the rags, he said the network was living its real name by being the most mobile network in Nigeria. That was some years back. At the moment, the network has gone through so many identity mutations that no one is sure what it would call itself next month. While its hassled subscribers battled to contend with one of its worst service crises about two weeks ago following the complete breakdown of its transmission facilities, the network provider hit them with another special. For the fifth time since it began operation in the country close to seven years ago, it mutated from Celtel to Zain.
Initially promoted by Zimbabweans, led by Strive Masiyiwa, Celtel began operations in the country as Econet, with a motto: Inspired to Change. Indeed, over the years, change, rather than quality service, appears to be the main thing it has given its subscribers.
The first reason for change came when the outfit became enmeshed in a string of high octane internal wranglings which pitted most of the directors against one another. The disputes threatened to tear the organisation apart until new investors came on board. With the change in leadership, Econet became V-Mobile
But before the name gained enough currency, information filtered out that V-Mobile was heading towards insolvency. The rumours took real form a few months later when the telecommunication company began a desperate search for financial salvation once more. For the second time, investors, mostly from the southern Africa axis, came to the rescue. With the new set of investors, V-Mobile became Vodacom. But for many observers, it would not take long before Voda (would) Go. True to prediction, by the time it dished out its first lines under the new name in 2004, it was no longer a secret that another name change was imminent.
Again, when paucity of funds threatened, it went cap in hand, begging more investors to come to its aid. Never short of new money bag suitors, the communication outfit received even more money than it dreamt as petro-dollars from the Middle East rolled into its seamless basin. As it was in the beginning, a new name became an inevitable collateral. So, Vodacom became Celtel, with a slogan: Making Life Better.
While it can be argued that life never quite became better for Celtel or its subscribers, the company trudged on, unfolding and expanding its service to erstwhile uncharted locations across the country. But it was still too obvious that the outfit needed to do more soul-searching, especially in its quest to give other providers a run for their money. While the issue of funds paucity has not cropped up, the new drive invariably necessitated, again, a new identity. That, no doubt, brought the new name, Zain.
Across Nigeria learnt that the new name is that of Celtel’s parent company. We also gathered that rather than being an indication that all may not be well with the group as is being bandied in some quarters, the change is a reflection of the company’s desire to reflect a global vision.