Zimbabwe tycoon: Just say 'No' to graft

AP News
Posted: Oct 21, 2013 2:01 PM

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — One of Zimbabwe's wealthiest entrepreneurs said he has built a massive business empire by never paying a bribe to officials or even presidents who solicited for them.

Strive Masiyiwa's weapon against corruption was the word "No," the 53-year-old devout Christian and member of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's African charity said on a social network posting that went viral Monday.

Two politicians demanded a bribe of $8 million to keep one contract in a country where his Econet Wireless conglomerate earned $30 million a year, he said. "I refused. We were thrown out," he said, not naming the country.

A president in another country asked for an offshore bribe as he "needed something in retirement," Masiyiwa said, adding that he was invited to the state palace where he was asked to "quietly accommodate" the president.

"We have yet to return to that country but we will one day," he said in a series of Facebook and Twitter postings over the weekend.

Another president's son asked for a 20 percent payout on a multimillion dollar investment deal, he said.

"I withdrew our bid. I had no regrets," he said. That ruler and his family lost an election and "we returned to that country and are doing very well."

Masiyiwa's group of telecommunications companies operates in more than 15 African nations. He has also helped pioneer a mobile phone banking system in impoverished African regions where money can be transferred in small amounts through a cheap messaging service.

Masiyiwa first rose to prominence in Zimbabwe after a five-year court battle against the state telephone monopoly that he won in 1998, opening the Zimbabwe mobile phone market to private commercial competitors for the first time.

The anti-corruption campaigner said he has been "viciously persecuted" for his views.

"Some of the worst corruption I have witnessed was not in governments but in the private sector. Some of the most corrupt people I have known were not Africans but we as Africans must take responsibility, individually and collectively, to fight corruption," said Masiyiwa.

In an abundantly resource-rich continent, "We would not, as Africans, need aid if we tackle corruption ... no child would sleep hungry, there would be no injustice, every child will be in school..." he posted.

Masiyiwa's efforts have led to convictions in some cases, he said. In one case, he said a large contract went to one of his firm's largest global competitors listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

"I reported them to the U.S. Justice Department. They admitted their officials had paid the bribes and fired the officials," he said.

One of the corrupt politicians ended up in jail, he said.