Kalungi's Lens: MTN and growth of Ugandan corporate culture

By Kalungi Kabuye

Back in the day, corporate people became the country's celebrities, and featured almost every week in the mushrooming tabloids.

Mtn20 350x210


In the beginning, and that means the late 90s, MTN came to Uganda.

Of course there were brands before this, big brands, too. Like Bata and Coca Cola and all the beer brands. We knew they were there, and probably had some friends or colleagues working there. But it was no big deal.

And then along came MTN. Several personalities came together to make working in a corporation the coolest thing since sliced bread. There was Erik Van Veen, the South African working as the Marketing Manager. On his team were the likes of Aggrey Kangonyera, Phillip Besiimire, Patricia Sentongo, Van Veen's personal secretary Sheila Kangwagye and others that made up what many referred to as the ‘dream team' of marketing.

They threw the best parties, and invited everybody. They became the ‘happening people' of Kampala, and everybody wanted to be like them.

 ctober 23rd 1998 resident useveni officially launched the  network in ganda with a call to resident elson mandela of outh frica October 23, 1998: President Museveni officially launched the MTN network in Uganda with a call to President Nelson Mandela of South Africa


 ggrey agonyera iddle then  romotions anger and imba elecoms atrick itature at a promtion at andos  2001 2001: Aggrey Kagonyera (middle), then-MTN promotions manager, and Simba Telecom's Patrick Bitature at a promotion at Nandos


Corporate people became the country's celebrities, and featured almost every week in the mushrooming tabloids. We knew the type of cars they drove, who they hung out with, and who was dating who.

These MTN people used entertainment to sell the company to Uganda, and managed to be part of every big event happening. They carried out launches in each major town in the country, and it became the biggest party that town had ever seen. Some wag said they caused inflation wherever they went.

The Arua launch was quite a memorable one, for not only did eastern Congo also take advantage of the new network, some of the MTN staff acquired temporary ‘Congolese wives'. Unfortunately they failed to leave town unseen, and some were pulled off the buses to answer for 'services' they had neglected to pay for.

MTN seduced the media wholesale, made them parties, and invited them to boat cruises. Some of the media folks started referring to themselves as the ‘happening media', as opposed to the other, boring guys who did not hang out with the MTN people.

hillip esiimire r with rane anks rancis akurugusi after signing yet another deal  20032003: Phillip Besiimire (right) with Crane Bank's Francis Kakurugusi after signing yet another deal


 ormer acting ayor od ampala arah kongo with ggrey agonyera  2001 2001: Former acting Mayor of Kampala, Sarah Nkongo with Aggrey Kagonyera


For many years MTN was one of the main sponsors of the rejuvenated Miss Uganda, and again carried the party to the regional pageants. At times it seemed the girl that won the ‘Miss MTN' title was more visible than the actual Miss Uganda.
One of the popular entertainers at these pageants was the Obsessions dancing group, and up to now some of those MTN guys are still obsessed with the girls, and the women the guys. They were tabloid fodder, and they loved it.

Being among the corporate class meant the girls looked up to you, and no one was more corporate than the MTN guys and girls. The guys got all the girls, but the women scared off the usual Kampala guys who couldn't keep up with their style.

Like local funny guy Harry Sagara put it, "…Nga these guys enjoyed life. Someone would think the ladies would never get pregnant! And the men would never get hen-pecked!

 xplaining the new phenopmenon of a mobile phone  ct 21st 1998 October 21, 1998: Explaining the new phenomenon of a mobile phone


 es you had to pay for beeping  ugust 2000 August 2000: Yes, you had to pay for beeping


 he original  booths  1998 1998: The 'original' MTN booths


 illy uwonge and colleague trying to find network in riwara  after the  launch in rua  uly 2000 July 2000: Tilly Muwonge and a colleague trying to find network in Ariwara, DR Congo after the MTN launch in Arua


 usan sibirwa l with  trying to sort out a iss ganda selection mess  ugust 2002 August 2002: Susan Nsibirwa (left) with MTN trying to sort out a Miss Uganda selection mess


 he happening press with  staff were very glad to arrive safely rua for the  launch  uly 2000 July 2000: The 'happening' press with MTN staff were very glad to arrive safely in Arua for the MTN launch

 alon attendant liver akanwagi after winning airtime cards at an  promo  ebruary 2003 February 2003: Salon attendant Oliver Nakanwagi after winning airtime cards at an MTN promo

  telephone vendor at artyrs day  2001 2001: A 'telephone vendor' at Martyrs' Day


alt='' July 2000: Head of the 'dream team', Marketing Manager Erik Van Veen delivers gifts to the Omukama of Bunyoro during empango celebrations

alt='' Miss Uganda Victoria Nabunya. MTN was part and parcel of the rejuvinated pageant run by Sylvia Owori


 onnie ankya as iss  in 2002 she often was more visiible than the actual iss ganda Connie Nankya as Miss MTN in 2002. She often was more visiible than the actual Miss Uganda


 hillip esiimire m and eter ematimba hand over a cheque to a winner in a joint  and uper  promotion Phillip Besiimire (middle) and Peter Sematimba hand over a cheque to a winner in a joint MTN and Super FM promotion


 arty everywhere you go  threw the biggest parties wherever they went  ira 2000 Lira 2000: Party everywhere you go. MTN threw the biggest parties wherever they went

 atricia entongo extreme left and the first ustomer are crew  eb 2001 February 2001: Patricia Sentongo (extreme left) and the first Customer Care crew


 pril 2003 eter ematimba and ggrey agonyera at a campaign launct at 7 ooper oad April 2003: Peter Sematimba and Aggrey Kagonyera at a campaign launct at 7 Cooper Road


 he  crew mesmerised by the bananacovered hills opf anungu before the anungu launch  ov 2002 November 2002: The MTN crew mesmerised by the banana-covered hills opf Kanungu before the Kanungu launch