Phone monopoly is big prize in Ethiopia sell-off

    ADDIS ABABA/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Within the weeks since Ethiopia introduced sweeping privatization plans after a long time of state management, overseas businessmen have been beating a path to Belachew Mekuria’s workplace.

    FILE PHOTO: A department of state-owned Ethio Telecom is seen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 26, 2018. Image taken July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Maggie Fick

    “Everyone seems to be right here. MTN is right here, Safaricom. I imply everyone seems to be coming,” the brand new head of the Ethiopian Funding Fee (EIC) mentioned of the stiff competitors to enter the beforehand off-limits telecoms sector.

    “A number of them. Together with U.S., by the best way,” Belachew, an affable lawyer who’s the primary port of name for overseas buyers, mentioned with a smile following a night assembly with an government from Kenyan cellular operator Safaricom.

    Of the industries going through privatization – the federal government will even open up Ethiopian Airways [ETHA.UL], the state logistics agency and the facility monopoly to personal funding – Ethiopia’s state telecommunications monopoly is the prize due to its big protected market.

    However the type liberalization takes and the pace with which it’s carried out will hinge on competitors between the federal government’s two prime priorities: elevating overseas trade and creating jobs.

    Since coming to energy in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 41, has turned Ethiopia on its head with a dizzying drive in the direction of openness.

    On the diplomatic entrance, he has made peace with neighboring Eritrea and is pushing for reconciliation with exiles.

    Turning to the financial system, Abiy goals to loosen the federal government’s tight grip on strategic sectors after a long time of socialist central planning and authoritarian rule.

    The influence of the reform push in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation might be big for multinationals, which are presently restricted to a handful of sectors. 

    Worldwide telecommunications companies particularly are excited on the prospect of getting into one of many few African telecoms sectors – one which serves a inhabitants of 100 million – nonetheless protected by a state monopoly.

    “Know-how firms and telecoms firms need to get in as rapidly as attainable. It’s a uncommon factor,” Andrew Kitson, head of telecommunications analysis with BMI Analysis, informed Reuters.


    These firms have been eyeing Ethiopia for years.

    Reuters reported this month that Safaricom, whose guardian firms are South Africa’s Vodacom and Britain’s Vodafone, is in superior talks to introduce its in style M-Pesa cellular cash service there.

    MTN, which operates in 24 nations in Africa and the Center East, final month mentioned the Ethiopian market “could be a pure match”.

    FILE PHOTO: Prospects obtain help from a workers member at an Ethio Telecom department in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 16, 2018. Image taken July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Maggie Fick

    France’s Orange, whose subsidiary Sofrecom gained a two-year contract to handle state-owned Ethio Telecom in 2011, can also be .

    “If the state opens a course of to denationalise or search a associate for Ethio Telecom, we’d be within the operating. That’s sure,” a supply near the matter mentioned.

    Vietnam’s state-owned Viettel, which operates or holds licenses in Mozambique, Burundi, Cameroon and Tanzania, is taking a look at alternatives in Ethiopia, an organization official mentioned.

    Different potential suitors embrace Etisalat and Zain from the Center East, Kitson mentioned.

    A Zain spokesperson was not instantly obtainable. Etisalat didn’t reply to a request for remark.  

    Although the competitors has already begun, nobody but is aware of what the last word prize shall be.

    The federal government is but to selected consultancy companies to advise on the general form of privatization, which can embrace valuation of Ethio Telecom.

    Potential situations outlined by authorities officers embrace the sale of a minority stake, opening up the sector to competitors by means of the granting of latest licenses to a number of telecommunications operators or a mixture of each.

    The primary possibility would assist tackle what is maybe Ethiopia’s most quick problem.

    “They want new sources of overseas trade now and a technique is to speak in confidence to overseas buyers. I don’t assume it’s a scarcity of technical experience inside the nation that’s driving this,” one telecoms government informed Reuters.

    For the previous decade, the federal government has centered on rising its gentle manufacturing and garment sectors to create jobs and industrialize the largely agrarian financial system.

    However regardless of heavy state funding in infrastructure, exports have been sluggish to take off, creating an acute greenback scarcity.

    The central financial institution governor final week declined to present Reuters the present degree of overseas reserves however economists imagine they hover between one to 2 months of import cowl.

    Promoting a bit of Ethio Telecom, which boasts over 60 million cellular subscribers, may present much-needed overseas trade, particularly if the deal comes with a pledge to keep up the monopoly.

    It’s a mannequin Ethiopia has used earlier than.

    In two transactions in 2016 and 2017, Japan Tobacco Worldwide (JTI) purchased greater than 70 % of Ethiopia’s Nationwide Tobacco Enterprise Share Firm.

    Slideshow (2 Photos)

    Although the corporate solely had annual earnings of round $15 million, the federal government included a 10-year monopoly, in line with a rival bidder. JTI paid virtually $1 billion for the stake.

    Investor curiosity in Ethio Telecom might be dampened, nonetheless, as soon as it’s pressured to open its books to bidders.

    “We’ve received no concept how large this firm is, what its liabilities are, what its weaknesses are. All we all know is what number of subscribers,” Kitson mentioned.

    The federal government has additionally made clear the state will keep a majority stake and management of the board, which may discourage buyers.


    Abiy is working exhausting to ease the foreign exchange scarcity, by encouraging the massive diaspora to ship dwelling, and courting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for deposits into the central financial institution.

    Success on that entrance may give the authorities extra choices.

    If the principle objective of privatization is to foster competitors to enhance providers as a lift to the financial system, the federal government could need to take one other tack.

    “You can not develop the manufacturing sector with out environment friendly telecoms and less expensive telecoms providers,” the EIC’s Belachew mentioned.

    Although it wouldn’t generate the identical quantity of overseas trade, licensing different operators may enhance authorities revenues by means of spectrum license charges and taxes on cellular providers and SIM card gross sales.

    With one of many lowest cellular penetration charges in Africa – round 60 telephones per 100 inhabitants – there may be loads of scope for progress.

    The federal government could balk, nonetheless, over fears Ethio Telecom, presently Addis’ important money cow, would wrestle to maintain tempo with worldwide competitors on costs and repair.

    A center manner could be to stagger liberalization, beginning with the sale of a minority stake in Ethio Telecom and, as soon as the partnership has matured, opening the market to new gamers.

    For all the passion, each from Ethiopian authorities and firms, little has been determined.

    The federal government should nonetheless set up the our bodies that can oversee its privatization scheme. It then should rent monetary advisors and perform a valuation of property earlier than inserting them on the public sale block.

    It might be two years or extra earlier than new buyers enter the sector, analysts say.

    However the present momentum is encouraging, observers say. And officers like Minister of Public Enterprises Teshome Toga are fast to play up the federal government’s willpower to observe by means of on its bulletins.

    “Within the final 20 years we’ve divested absolutely or partially privatised 377 enterprises,” Teshome informed Reuters. “The one distinction now’s we’re venturing into large enterprises.”

    Extra reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Enhancing by Giles Elgood

    Recent Articles

    Related Stories

    Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox