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Wangusi: The CA boss with thick skin

Francis Wangusi
Outgoing Communications Authority Director General Francis Wangusi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

Will the board of the Communication Authority (CA) have the last laugh in its latest bid to replace its director-general Francis Wangusi?

This remains to be seen after the board of the CA appointed its Legal Services Director, Mercy Wanjau, as the acting DG pending the competitive recruitment of a substantive boss.

This despite a pending civil suit by the Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) which has questioned the legality of the board to make such an appointment.

In the suit before the Employment and Labour Relations Court, Cofek argues that there is no legitimate board in place at the authority to oversee the planned recruitment to replace Mr Wangusi.

Cofek urged the court to intervene and put an immediate stop to the unlawful purported recruitment of Mr Wangusi’s successor, stating that it was being conducted in a shadowy manner and single-handedly by the chairman.

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Interestingly, it was Cofek’s suit in 2011 that brought Mr Wangusi to CA’s helm albeit in an acting capacity after successfully dashing the dreams of then chief executive officer Charles Njoroge’s reappointment. The current suit is set to be mentioned on Tuesday next week.

Mr Wangusi acted for a year before being confirmed in 2012 followed by a December 11, 2013 presidential decoration that gave him the Moran of the Burning Spear medal for his role in championing digital migration.

While private broadcasters moved to court to protect their heavy investments in equipment, Mr Wangusi won with the digital migration allowed to go on and a free-to-air signal distribution licence given to the aggrieved private broadcasters.

Riding on the successful migration that saw Kenya discard analogue broadcasting and joined the rest of the world in beaming TV and radio broadcasts via digital signals, Mr Wangusi easily won a second three-year term amid a fierce challenge during the recruitment exercise that attracted 29 applicants.

Mr Wangusi fell off with some board members a year later after he accused some members of soliciting bribes from Airtel, Kenya second largest telco to enable them deliver a favourable verdict on Airtel’s application for a 4G licence renewal.

Mr Wangusi and CA chairman Ngene Gituku claimed a board member went to Airtel to solicit bribes in exchange for a favourable decision on the licence fee.

In 2017, the thick-skinned CEO attempted to install a ‘spy gadget’ to monitor conversations and read text messages sent on mobile phones but it created concern that this was part of a grander government plan to curtail citizens’ freedom of speech during the sensitive political season.

In November, 2017 Mr Wangusi found himself going up against broadcasters once more after he ordered them not to air live the confrontations between police and supporters of Mr Raila Odinga. The broadcasters called his bluff.

Mr Wangusi, a trained engineer with a degree in space sciences, is a veteran of the telecommunications sector having been inherited by the then Communications Commission of Kenya from the now-defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation.

He was promoted to Director-General in 2012 at a time of transition from the analogue to digital, figuratively in politics and literally in the broadcasting sector.

But his second term’s ‘bromance’ with CA chair hardly lasted as he (Wangusi) was sent on a three-month compulsory in 2018 over alleged irregular staff promotions. Mr Wangusi moved to court and obtained an order reinstating him to the job.

Mr Wangusi later accused the board and the ICT ministry of defying the court order and locking him out of office, prompting the contempt suit, which the authority denied.

The CEO later settled the matter amicably with both parties promising to work together as a team.

Mr Wangusi was in the limelight when CA granted Jamii Telecommunication use of a newly freed band of telecom spectrum that he said was a sign that the industry was moving from the traditional position of “fearing competition.”

In early 2017, Mr Wangusi denied claims that they planned to tap calls mobile phone calls and read text messages saying that they planned to target the big fish who may be suspected of crime or any other activities that may cause disharmony.

Mr Wangusi said proliferation of illegal devices had forced them to snoop on private phone calls in a bid to arrest cybercrime.

The ‘tapping’ plan was outlawed after the court ruled against it saying that would only happen for select individuals and after CA obtains a court order.

And as his second and final term came to an end Thursday, the CA board appointed Mercy Wanjau as the acting CEO pending competitive recruitment.

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