TIC Mag publie la Tribune libre de la Camerounaise Rebecca Enonchong, fondatrice et directrice générale de AppsTech.
Elle raconte son expérience avec la société MTN Cameroon qui a traîné de payer les prestations réalisées par son entreprise en 2003, soit depuis 13 ans. A cause des mésententes. Au terme de compromis non respectés et de longues batailles judiciaires, elle obtient finalement gain de cause, malgré les suggestions des avocats de MTN Cameroon qui lui demandaient d’abandonner l’affaire. AppsTech réussit au finish à bloquer ses 2,5 millions de dollars des comptes bancaires de MTN Cameroon. Mais les dommages enregistrés par sa structure sont plus élevés que cela, estime-t-elle.
D’après la CEO d’AppsTech, en 17 ans d’activité et avec des clients dans plus de 50 pays dans le monde, elle a rencontré uniquement deux conflits juridiques avec des clients. Et tous ces deux clients sont malheureusement basés au Cameroun, son pays d’origine. En octobre 2016, elle écrit une tribune libre pour raconter cette expérience avec MTN Cameroon. Aujourd’hui,
« It has just been a few days. Already, our bailiff, our lawyers are feeling the pressure. You see, as usual, MTN* portrays itself as the victim. I have heard the song so many times. “Crooked AppsTech” which has seized their bank accounts even though MTN has paid them everything. We are used to it and we are ready for it. You see, it is said that justice delayed is justice denied but in truth justice delayed is still justice and I intend to ensure that my company, AppsTech, finally gets the justice it deserves.
In 2002, while AppsTech was the epitome of the American dream, building a global clientele?—?story here, MTN Cameroon invited us to bid for a big project implementation. The RFP process, including very extensive due diligence, took almost a year. We were the best. We beat our competition, all huge multinationals and after meeting our clients, our bankers and our staff in three countries, MTN signed a contract.
Our American dream turned into an African nightmare. For MTN, the signed contract was nothing more than a piece of paper. They respected nothing. None of it. Nada. Nearly every single article in the contract was breached by them. MTN would do what it wanted to, when it wanted to and how it wanted to and pay what it felt like paying, when it felt like paying. Yes, we heard “for Africans, we have already given you a lot of money.” … as if it were charity.
Our very best engineers, most Black African, traveled from the US, France and worked tirelessly to deliver a state-of-the art system, the first of its kind in the region. They did so under extremely difficult, sometimes impossible conditions. Racist insults, sabotage, withholding of key project materials were all fair game. Overcoming all obstacles, our team completed the core project in the fall of 2003, many months late. The system worked without a hitch from day one. Congratulations abounded. Yet, as we attempted to complete the final phase of an auxiliary system, our efforts were thwarted. In fact, in the very last days, our team was summarily removed from the apartments MTN lodged them in, the project vehicles taken from them by MTN in the middle of the night, and their mobile phones suspended. The one member of our team that was spared this treatment was the one that was illegally recruited by MTN despite the fact that it was a violation of our contract, and despite our protests. Our entrance to MTN was blocked and well of course, our outstanding invoices, over $3.2 million, went unpaid.
For months, we wrote to MTN Cameroon management and to the board of directors. My September 2004 letter to Cyril Ramaphosa, then Chairman of MTN. Finally, after a few meetings in March of 2004, MTN agreed that it owed the money. However, because of the amount, we made some concessions as to how the funds would be paid. Basically, we would provide a few additional services and MTN would pay half immediately and the rest over time. In apparent good faith, they did indeed begin to make a few of the smaller payments while their lawyer was drafting an agreement.
Then on April 8, 2004, a date that for me was the defining moment in this matter and showed MTN’s true colors, their lawyer comes to my office in Douala unannounced. He stated that he had been told to draft an agreement but refused. He told his client not to pay. In a conversation that I will never forget, this young and up and coming lawyer looked me in the eye and said:
“Becky, you’re a smart girl. Just let it go. There is nothing that you can do. We are the best litigators in the country and if you attempt to go after MTN “we will destroy you.”
Toadd insult to injury, he admired our office and said that I could come help him “decorate” the new law chambers he would soon be moving to. It’s telling that after being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for this case, this same law firm later sued MTN for $6 million more.
A few days later, I received an official letter from MTN saying that no amicable arrangement was possible.
I won’t go into every single of the legal proceedings, but we did eventually go to court (in Cameroon, yes I know but we had no choice), filing two separate procedures. One for the unpaid contractual invoices and a separate one for damages related to all of the other contractual breaches. In May 2005, the court awarded us $2.5 million for the unpaid invoices. The case for damages, in which we were claiming $16-$18 million was still pending.
So to be clear, in addition to NOT paying $3 million that was due for work we had performed, MTN had caused us a lot of damage through other contract breaches and belligerent behavior, for which we also sought redress in a separate case.
The case for damages was more complicated. How do you assess the damages to our reputation? How do you calculate the revenue lost from missed opportunities? How do you quantify mistreatment of the staff, recruiting, and all of the other contract violations? What value to be attributed to the sabotage? How much was the delay in payment worth? We knew that it would take more time, especially since no judge really understood the technology business.
So in late 2005, we settled the case for the damages in which we were claiming $16-$18 million for $1 million. In exchange, we would withdraw the case from court and agree not to file additional lawsuits. This would cover legal fees and taxes but not much more. However, the judgment for the invoice was already final it was not part of the negotiation and it was not included in the agreement. In fact, the then CEO and the legal adviser insisted that they would pay it immediately. “Our main issue is just getting out of court,” they said. Days, then weeks, then months went by and the excuses were multiplying. Then tragedy struck, MTN’s CEO and legal adviser both perish in a Kenya Airways crash.
We waited a respectable amount of time before contacting the new CEO. But letter after letter was ignored. Finally, we wrote to him and said that we would execute our judgment if we didn’t hear back from him. We didn’t hear anything and we did what we had to do.
For three years, MTN used every trick in the book and finally, the funds that had been blocked through our execution of the judgment were released. This is the execution of the judgment and not the judgment itself. So we will keep executing.
In the end, this is money we worked for. It is money that we earned through our blood sweat and tears. I don’t even want to imagine what AppsTech would be today as a company had MTN simply paid its invoice back in 2003 when it was due. The loss is so great. It is so profound. It is so lasting and significant in all of its implications not just for us, but for an ecosystem we have been so busy building since 2000.
Yes, MTN will use its normal political influence and other methods to do what it has always done: Try to get out of paying what it owes. Better to pay lawyers and lobbyists right?
I tell all the startup entrepreneurs I meet to never give up. I am following my own advice. One day, one day, we will have justice. »
PS –This is a very short summary of what this case is about. I have written hundreds of pages on the entire story that I might publish as a series of blogs or as a book. MTN is Africa’s largest mobile phone company.
Rebecca Enonchong is an African Tech Entrepreneur. Founder & CEO @AppsTech. Board member @ActivSpaces @VC4Africa cofounder @CameroonAngels @ABANAngels
Tribune libre initialement publiée sur Medium le 24 octobre 2016.