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James Makamba Zimbabwe Telecoms Mogul - Zimbabwe Today
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James Makamba Zimbabwe Telecoms Mogul

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Dr James Makamba is an African businessman and philanthropist whose career successes span decades. His career began in Zimbabwe in radio broadcasting and his business acumen saw him rise to prominence as an entrepreneur whose interests include retail, telecommunications, mining, agriculture, property development and investement, professional consultancy and digital publishing.

He sits on the boards of Telecel Zimbabwe, IBBAMO Foundation, JHL Investments, Thurlow & Company, the Kestrel Corporation (Pty) Ltd, African Business Connect, Makamba & Associates, and Anglo African Minerals.

James Makamba with business Partner Miko Rwayitare, founder of Telecel

James Makamba was the owner of Joy TV and has a controlling share in Telecel Zimbabwe, a telecommunications company. James is a multimillionaire

James Makamba is an entrepreneur with a diverse portfolio of interests covering telecommunications, broadcasting, retail mining and consultancy.

He came to prominence in Zimbabwe as a commercial broadcaster and later an insurance advisor. He then established a thriving consultancy business which represented international corporations in various sectors of the SADCC economy.

Makamba served as a senior consultant to Lonrho and as the Deputy Chairman of Lonrho Botswana. He worked closely with the late founder of Lonrho ; the legendary Tiny Rowland. In that capacity, he assisted international companies to establish themselves in Africa in diverse sectors including : hotels, mining, motor-car distribution and aircraft sales. At the same time, he created a successful retail business throughout Zimbabwe. Later, Makamba partnered with Telecel; Africa’s first mobile phone network. He is currently the Chairman of Telecel Zimbabwe and a board member of Telecel International.

Inspired by the historic Presidential election of Barack Obama, and particularly the role which a strong educational background played in President Obama’s success; Makamba founded the Ibbamo Foundation (Inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama) to assist talented, underprivileged African children to fulfill their potential through higher education. The foundation also seeks, through education and mentorship, to prepare young Africans for future leadership roles.

Makamba is married to Irene and they have four children. He currently resides in the United Kingdom.

Makamba  left Zimbabwe and now lives in a multi-million pound property in the lush Knightsbridge area of London.

Knightsbridge Mansion





Although he is now the chairman of Zimbabwe’s third largest cellular operator, owner of a supermarket chain, and a successful commercial farmer, James Makamba’s roots are in rural northern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was called in colonial times. He was the youngest of ten children whose father earned a living grinding maize and ploughing land for his neighbours. James Makamba grew up in a village that was the command centre for the guerrilla war for independence.


So, both in personality and the achievements he has carved out for himself, he is the archetype of the self-made millionaire.


He always insisted on being his own boss, learning an early lesson from his father who left the police force to earn his own living in his own way. Barely out of his teens when he became a freelance radio presenter and a DJ, he refused full-time employment at the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation, preferring to find his own programme sponsors andlanding blue chips such as Pepsi.


By making his own deals, he began to build a network of business contacts that would enable him, throughout his life, to identify and seize opportunities. In almost every case, he pioneered markets.


Makamba’s abilities as an entrepreneur were clearly demonstrated  when, during the 1980s, one of South Africa’s oldest and largest financial services companies, Old Mutual, began an expansion drive that, by the end of the decade, would see it listed on five international stock exchanges and having acquired substantial companies in Europe, the United States, and Asia.


Although it had opened an office in southern  Rhodesia in 1927, Old Mutual was not particularly active in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.


Makamba realised that the combination of Old Mutual’s new focus on expansion and its lack of penetration of the African market represented an enormous business opportunity. He became a consultant, selling insurance and investment products to individuals and organisations. Astutely, he built on the already extensive network of contacts he had but was also enormously successful at cold calling. So much so that, within a record eight months in 1980, he had generated one million American dollars’ worth of sales. According to research, most of the top insurance consultants globally reach the one million dollar target only in their second years in the business. As a consequence of his feat, Makamba qualified as a member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT).


James Makamba Early Days



Known as the premier association of financial professionals, the MDRT is an international, independent association of nearly 38,000 of the world’s leading life insurance and financial services professionals from more than 450 companies in 79 countries. The MDRT requires its members to demonstrate exceptional professional knowledge, strict ethical conduct, and outstanding client service. MDRT membership is recognised internationally as the standard of sales excellence in the life insurance and financial services business.


Makamba was also consistently among Old Mutual’s top 25 consultants. His achievements in the insurance industry are all the more remarkable because he was one of the first Africans to become active in the sector. He had no African mentors but he has since become a mentor for others in the sector.


When Makamba entered the field of television broadcasting, he once again broke with convention. At a timewhen most countries had only national television broadcasters, James Makamba leased the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s second colour channel and turned it into the country’s first – and only – independent television service.


He shifted gear into global entrepreneurship when he becamea consultant for Lonrho plc,a London-based conglomerate with diverse interests across Africa. At the request of the CEO, Tiny Rowland, he took on the Boeing agency in Africa and pioneered jet air travel in many African countries. Makamba’s talent for pre-empting future trends enabled him to guide the procurement panel at Air Zimbabwe into a choice of the Boeing 767 rather than the more obvious 747, because it had much lower running costs and would bolster the airline’s profitability.




official visit to KuwaitOfficial visit to Kuwait

Speaker of Parliament Ndebele 

second from right next to Enos Chikowore,

The Speaker of Kuwait Parliament, The Zimbabwean Ambassador to Kuwait,

James Makamba and Air Marshall Josia Tungamirai

Seeing possibilities where others don’t, particularly on a global scale, is one of the traits of an entrepreneur. Having the will to pursue them and the executive ability to convert them into wealth is another.Having the drive to work impossible hours is also a given.


However,, there are several of James Makamba’s personality traits that go beyond those typical of entrepreneurs. The first is his remarkable ability to build and maintain over lengthy periods constructive relationships with people from all walks of life and areas of influence.


Although he held public positions within the ruling Zanu PF party, James Makamba’s friendship with an opposition politician, the veteran nationalist James Chikerema, resulted in his being introduced to Tiny Rowland, then Chief Executive of Lonrho. Rowland was a shrewd deal maker who made healthy profits for Lonrho, especially in Africa. He was was to become Makamba’s mentor in international business.


At the time that Makamba was introduced to Rowland, he also met Thurman McKenzie, one of the founders in Atlanta, Georgia of M&M Products. The products included the Soft ‘n’ Free line of beauty and cosmetic products designed specifically for black people. McKenzie had joined one of the annual trips to Africa arranged for American businessmen by American activist and diplomat, Andrew Young, to encourage investment in the continent.


Makamba’s extensive business network and obvious drive persuaded McKenzie to award him the distribution rights for M&M Products for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. Makamba approached Rowland for financial backingfrom Lonrhofor setting up an M&M marketing and distribution company in Botswana and, impressedby Makamba’s drive and vision, Rowland agreed. Once again, Makamba was to pioneer a market. This was the first time cosmetics created for black people had been made available in Africa.


Some years later, Lonrho refocused its business objectives on other industries, exiting cosmetics. Makamba sold Soft ‘n’ Free to South Africans. The M&M deal, therefore, represents a pivotal point in his career. It was his first international initiative. Through Lonrho, he was exposed to big business across a range of sectors on the African continent and, eventually, as a consultant to Lonrho, to global business. It was also his introduction to business in South Africa, a country for which he has developed a deep affinity over the years.


Partnering with James Makamba in setting up the M&M distributorship in Botswana had given Tiny Rowland insight into Makamba’s negotiation and relationship-building talents as well as his inexhaustible energy. He engaged him as a government relations consultant for Lonrho plc initiatives across Africa, among them promotion of the Mercedes Benz franchise in sub-Saharan Africa, establishment of tea plantations, the building of railways, and the development of tourism and agriculture.



The Legendary Lonrho PLC CEO Tiny Rowland


from left Herbert Munangatire, Chris Parvin, Robert Dunlop, Veteran Nationalist, James Chikerema, John Mapondera and James Makamba at Lonrho Headquarters in Harare

James Makamba on a Parliamentary visit to Kuwait meets the speakerJames Makamba on a Parliamentary visit to Kuwait meets the speaker

When Lonrho was appointed by Boeing to be their agent in Africa and Rowland appointed Makamba as Lonrho’s sales executive for Boeing, he asked that Makamba base himself in London. He also persuaded him to accept the deputy chairmanship of LonrhoBotswana.


In 1993, with Nelson Mandela having been released from prison in 1992 and South Africa’s historic first democratic elections due in 1994, Makamba’s entrepreneurial instincts told him it was time to consolidate his South African business activities by setting up an operational base in South Africa.


During this time, the Zimbabwean government was awarding three cellular operator licences. Makamba formed a consortium of Zimbabweans, including war veterans and indigenous groupings, through which he could partner with Africa’s first-ever cellular services provider, Telecel, to tender for one of the licences. When the licence was awarded, Makamba became chairman of

Telecel Zimbabwe as well as chairman of the consortium. He also became a member of the Telecel International board.

James Makamba with Telecel Africa Founder, Miko Rwayitare

Judith Aido A Business Consultant from Ghana, Miko Rwayitare, James Makamba at Pritikin Health Spa in Santa Monica California USA 


During the negotiations for the cellular licence, Makamba developed an enduring friendship with Telecel International’s founder, the late Miko Rwayitare. A Rwandan, Rwayitare brought cellular technology to Africa by obtaining the first ever concession in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) and building it into the continent’s largest cellular operation. Makamba believes that Rwayitare’s determination and vision have had a profound influence on his own approach to obstacles in business and in life.


One of the other significant differences between James Makamba and many another self-made millionaire is his passion for and commitment to his fellow Zimbabweans. In his Telecel consortium, for instance, he included grass roots organisations ranging from war veterans and indigenous business women to miner’s unions. This ensures that men and women in the street can participate in the extraordinary capacity of the cellular industry for wealth generation.


He also aligns his business ventures with African innovation. Hence his collaboration with Africa’s first cellular services provider, Telecel International – paying forward what another African self-made millionaire started.


Reflecting on his business journey, Makamba says: “God doesn’t give us all the same gifts. Very few of us are able to create wealth. When you are given that gift, as I was, and the community and your family have made sacrificesto ensure that you can put it to work, then you have a responsibility to use it to create more wealth.


”Wealth is not just a good thing, it’s essential – because it’s an empowerment tool. Without it we can’t rid Africa of malaria or Aids, equip villages and towns with electricity and telecommunications, create jobs, and make businesses sustainable. It’s vital that young people are adequately prepared for participation in and appreciation of the generation of wealth.”


– Source


 Work with Tiny Rowland




Not many captains of industry simultaneously draw the amount of wrath and adulation as did the longstanding chief executive officer of LONRHO, Tiny Rowland.

I was introduced to Tiny Rowalnd in the mid 1980s after securing a franchise to distribute M&M Products of Atlanta, Georgia,USA, whose brand names include the popular Sta-Sof-Fro and Sofn’free

Ambassador Andrew Young had lost his job as secretary to the UN of the Carter administration after holding an unauthorised meeting with Yasser Arafat, the then leader of the PLO and icon of Palestinian liberation.  Andy, as he was popularly known, returned home to Georgia and secured election as mayor of Atlanta. He used this platform to promote trade between Atlanta-based business and the continent of Africa. It is under one such trade mission to Zimbabwe that I secured the said franchise.


LONRHO PLC became my financial partners in the venture,which led to the building of both a business and personal relationship with Mr Rowland. Tiny Rowland belonged to a generation of old buccaneer businessman whose handshake on a deal stood the test of time, unlike today where a man may not be as good as his word, even in a contract. Tiny Rowland used to say that you can’t concludea deal by telex (the 1980s version of e-mail). Ultimately, you must look a man in the eye to conclude the deal.

My inspiration is drawn out of Tiny’s work ethic. He understood politics and politicians was exceptionally humble for a man of his stature, wealth and fame. He understood the authority bestowed on an elected official: be it a cabinet minister or a head of state and this influenced the nature of his deal-making. He controlled some of the most valuable franchises in Africa for example Mercedes Benz, De La Rue and Heinrich’s Chibuku, Boeing, John Deere and for some time controlled 25% of the London based store Harrods.

Tiny was tireless in all his endeavours; he funded both guerrilla movements and governments in Africa and boasted a string of powerful associates among them Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Dr Hastings Banda  Joshua Nkomo John Garang and Colonel Gaddafi and Oliver Tambo, to mention but a few.


JOHANNESBURG – The UK-based business tycoon, James Makamba pre-launched Ibbamo Foundation’s Africa chapter at a glamorous event recently held at The Venue in Melrose Arch. The pre-launch party attracted scores of celebrities, captains of industry, opinion leaders and various stakeholders, Author, designer and speaker on the issue of Personal Innovation, Timothy Webster also graced the occassion as guest speaker.

IBBAMO an acronym for (Inspired By Barack And Michelle Obama) is a non-profit organization limited by guarantee, founded by Makamba in 2009 and has registered charity status in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. The foundation seeks to invest in the future of South African children through empowerment of young people of high school going age, by providing them with innovative multi-dimensional programmes that build capacity.

The organization’s key objective is to empower young South Africans and allow them to capitalize and make use of the various opportunities that this foundation will create for them. This exercise seeks to enhance the quality of life and create employment opportunities for disadvantaged young people, through the provision of mentors, skills development programmes and education in its broadest sense. The expectation would be that once these young people are equipped with the necessary skills and information, they would be in a firm position to solve the challenges facing their communities, and become a force of internally driven development.

Programme Director, Agnes Hove Chiweshe said the foundation currently has private funders and is open to more role players coming on board not just financially but skills wise. “As a foundation we feels that such an initiative will impact a lot of children from disadvantaged backgrounds hence we are looking to increase our pool of mentors by inviting professionals in non traditional fields like photography or even plumbing. The thing is there are lots of children whose real passion and dreams are never realised because of improper career guidance and the lack of a full support mechanism for these children to follow their real dreams and not what society dictates”

The foundation will soon be rolling out its first leadership training program in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West where 100 grade 9 students, aged between 15- 17 years in each province will be identified and taken through an extensive leadership development program for five days, and a one day study skills course. The students will be assessed at the end of the program and assisted with the development of a career plan. They will also be required to draft and implement a community development project that will impact their community. These will be assessed, and prizes awarded for excellence. The students will be required to identify mentors who will work with them. A limited number of those who excel in this program will be awarded scholarships.

“This programme will amongst other things emphasize the importance of developing and uplifting one’s own community and discourage the current trend where a young person’s aspiration is to be educated and leave their township communities to go and live for example in Sandton or Rosebank. We are saying let’s cultivate a culture of community leadership where we nurture and produce community leaders who will champion development and growth in their own communities,” explained Chiweshe,

The foundation is calling on volunteers to come on board and be a part of the foundation’s programmes, support the cause and possibly sponsor in anyway they may deem necessary.

“The key message we want to put out there is to say let’s take charge and act on the current challenges faced by the youth in high schools, and because they are about to get to tertiary level it is therefore key that we make that phase smooth and appropriate towards what they are passionate about. Challenges like unemployment, despondency, poor planning for the future, peer pressure risk, often destroy a potentially solid skills base hence Ibbamo Foundation has designed multi-stakeholder youth development programmes to complement current efforts by government and private stakeholders in building a strong youth capacity base.” Chiweshe said.

She said, “As Ibbamo Foundation, we have high expectations of the young people who are our beneficiaries. Through our programmes, the Ibbamo Foundation is committed to ensure that all beneficiaries achieve a high enough standard of achievement to have real options either to progress to higher education or follow the career path of their choice. As future leaders of the continent, young people have an important role to play in the future of Africa and that alongside the structured education curriculum there is a need to foster a socially responsible leadership mindset from a young age.”

Who is James Makamba?


 Insights from early Broadcasting career in Rhodesia 



James Makamba on his entry into Politics

Tendai Dumbutshena Speaks about James Makamba

Fellow Zimbabwe Entrepreneur Speaks about James Makamba

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