Celebrating Africa’s Unsung Heroes: Miko Rwayitare

On September 25, 2010, African Leadership Academy hosted its first annual “Africa’s Unsung Heroes” day, an event designed to highlight the significant contributions made to Africa’s growth and prosperity by people who have not become household names.

For the first event, Miko Rwayitare was chosen to be the celebrant. Miko was a visionary entrepreneur who not only brought cellular technology to Africa – thereby bypassing the copper wire problem – but also recognised that Africa’s problems must be solved by Africans. He saw the best solution to this as being the creation of an “Academy of African Excellence,” a university that would bring together the brightest youth of Africa, and not charge tuition fees, however he passed away before he could realize this goal. As part of Unsung Heroes Day, ALA students read a case study about Miko Rwayitare and the challenges he faced as an entrepreneur.

Born in Rwanda in 1942, Miko was educated in the Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Germany. He quickly rose to prominence in Zaire, becoming the Vice President of Marketing for Zaire’s parastatal mining industry. A few years later he started his first business, a distributor for HP and Xerox in Zaire. It quickly grew to cover much of central Africa.

In 1986, Miko founded Telecel, Africa’s first cellular service provider, in Zaire. It quickly expanded into many countries, becoming the predominant cellular service in sub-Saharan Africa.

A decade later, Miko joined the United Nations Advisory Panel on Poverty. He worked with the organization to identify and combat the root causes of poverty.

Around the same time, he moved to South Africa and founded MikCor Investments Holding, a holding company for his many business start-ups, acquisitions and investments.

In 2001, Miko purchased the Mont Rochelle winery, making him the first black African to own a vineyard and wine label.

In 2005, Miko bought GTS, a technology start-up working to deliver broadband Internet through the power grid. Also in 2005, he purchased Hotel Des Mille Collines (more famously known as “Hotel Rwanda”) in Kigali.

Miko Rwayitare was developing his planned “Academy of African Excellence” when he passed away unexpectedly in 2007.

Among those joining his family and ALA to honour Miko were his former business partner, Joe Gatt; friends such as Aimable Mpore and Nicolas Bwakira; Tayo Oviosu, founder of Pagatech; and many members of the current and past telecoms industries across Africa.

As part of the celebration, Sandra Kimokoti, a second year ALA student, was chosen to represent all ALA students in expressing our appreciation for Miko’s contributions to Africa and to recognise the struggles that he faced by being a visionary. Her presentation can be viewed here. A first-year ALA student, Theko Lekena, addressed the future of telecommunication technology, with an emphasis on holography and its benefits.