The End of Liberia's Cellular Phone Problem is in Sight!
By George H. Nubo
September 4, 2004
Before I left for Liberia in July, one of the first things I considered was a cell phone. I made sure that I got a phone that could work in the country – and I succeeded. I did not have to purchase a new telephone because my wife’s old T-Mobile phone did the trick. The first day after my arrival in Monrovia, I activated the phone and bought a US$15.00 scratch card, assuming that that would solve my communication problem. It didn’t. What it did efficiently was to enable me to experience the problems that our brothers and sisters have to go through on a daily basis. On our way back from the Lone Star office in central Monrovia to Paynesville, we stopped in Sinkor at a gas station opposite what used to be Relda, at which time I decided to try my “new” phone. I attempted to call a friend who works at the Elections Commission not knowing that the Commission was just adjacent to my location. On the first attempt, I was told that the phone was either switched off or the customer was out of the coverage area.
|It seems like everybody sports a cellphone in Monrovia - even cellphones that have been disconnected due to subscribers' inability to buy scratchcards.|
There is no consumer advocacy group. I began to wonder why everybody is complacent. Does it mean that Charles Taylor and the war launched by him have transformed Liberians into compliant subjects? Why nothing, be it public or private, works in the country nowadays? Is it a curse?
With these questions lingering on my mind, I left Liberia. On my way back, though very sick throughout the journey, I started to comfort myself by concluding that our best (I mean true patriots) will return to help rebuild this country. Names of engineers, accountants, professors, computer scientists, information technologists, and you name it, started popping up in my mind. Yes, our best minds could return, coupled with those already in the country could put an end to the problem of brain-drain in Liberia.
And not too long after my arrival in the US, I had the privilege to meet a group of Liberians that have a company that could answer some of my unanswered questions, i.e., solutions to Liberia’s telecommunication problems.
The company to which I am referring is: Liberia Wireless Corporation or LIWICO. LIWICO is a majority Liberian owned company. However, it is open to investors. I was told that during the initial stages of operation, LIWICO plans to focus on “Cellular Services in the 900 MHz range, using GSM technology” in Montserrado and nearby counties like Mount Gibi and Bassa, and will eventually expand its operation to other counties. In addition to Cellular Services, LIWICO intends to add Internet service provision to its menu.
Since competition promotes choice and quality services, LIWICO will be a competitor to Lone Star, a company many believe owned by Charles Taylor, his associates and their foreign partners. Based on the information I gathered while in Monrovia, Lone Star appears to have a monopoly over the cellular phone business in Liberia. One individual I spoke with said that during the Taylor administration, roadblocks were erected that made it very difficult for other companies to compete with Lone Star.
According to Mr. Eugene Bedell and Mr. Steve Olu Adams, part-owners of LIWICO, one of the company’s aims is to provide high quality GSM and American style customer service, which seems to be foreign to Liberians. It plans to provide employment opportunities for Liberian technicians residing in the US who are desirous to return home. It will also recruit and train Liberians on the ground to serve in their company. These gentlemen believe that their company will have an enormous impact on the Liberian economy. And based on their projection, LIWICO will pump millions of dollars into the Liberian economy annually.
After they provided me with all they were going to provide to the Liberian consumers, I then proceeded to find out the background of their management team. Find below brief backgrounds of the individuals that make up the partnership of LIWICO: James Elliott, MD, Mr. Eugene Bedell and Mr. Steve Olu Adams.
James Elliott, MD is currently the President of a Maryland based Pathology Corporation in the United States. He has over ten years of management experience and serves as Clinical Assistant professor of pathology at George Washington University Medical School. Dr. Elliott is Chairman of the Board of Directors of LIWICO.
Eugene Bedell is currently the President of Advance Telecom Process LLC, (ADTELP), a Virginia based telecom consulting firm. Prior to ADTELP, Mr. Bedell held several high level positions in telecom and finance areas, which includes Vice President of Client Solutions at Teldata Control, Senior Manager at MCI, Senior Manager at IBM and Vice President of Finance of Virginia Neurological Center. Mr. Bedell holds a BS in Economics and a MBA in Finance. He is the President and CEO of LIWICO.
Steve Olu Adams is currently serving as President of A&S Technical Services. Also, he serves as Senior Enterprise consultant to the US Defense department; Director for Enterprise Services for the Wabash Corporation, a multi-million dollar IT venture in Atlanta, Georgia USA. Prior to his current working arrangements, he worked with the multi-national corporation Unisys System and Technology group, where he served as the director for Latin America, Pacific, Asia and the Caribbean. Mr. Adams’ previous work experience includes the IBM Corporation, where he held several mid-level technical managerial positions. Mr. Adams has a bachelor degree in Management Systems from Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia and a Master's degree in Information Systems from George Washington University, Washington, DC. He is a Senior Vice President of operations of LIWICO.
What I gathered from our discussion was that, even with their knowledge, expertise, secure funding and their laudable effort, they had some difficulties in Liberia. For example, LIWICO was granted a license and given a spectrum to operate GSM and Internet services in Liberia, but they learned later on that there were other companies that were given the same frequency allotted to them. As a result, a moratorium was put in place to delay the operations of these registered telecom companies by the Post and Telecommunication Ministry in order to make the necessary corrections.
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