TELECOMS

MTN Signals it is Keen to Get Into Zimbabwe

MTN has confirmed that it is eager to enter Zimbabwe, and may make its move by taking control of the existing mobile operator, Telecel. It took the unusual step of declaring its interest ahead of firming up any precise moves by exhibiting at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo this week.

Spokeswoman Nozipho January-Bardill said last week plans were still at a preliminary stage, but operating in Zimbabwe was definitely high on the agenda. "We have always said we are looking for value-enhancing opportunities, and Zimbabwe presents us with one," she said. "Zimbabwe is our neighbour sitting there waiting. The government is embarking on a reinvention of itself and has opened up to South African companies to go in and operate there."

Asked if MTN was most likely to enter through an acquisition or if a new licence might be issued, January-Bardill said: "It's not an answer I can give right now. We will see what is available. Some governments are very slow at opening up completely, and don't always tell you exactly what they are doing, so we will see once things are clearer."

The country is already served by three mobile networks: Econet and Telecel and government-owned NetOne. Hurst believes MTN's most obvious route is to buy the 60% of Telecel owned by the Egyptian operator Orascom. The other 40% is owned by the Empowerment Corporation of Zimbabwe. Orascom has taken a decision to re-enter the Sub-Saharan market and may not now be willing to sell its Zimbabwe subsidiary.

However, Bardill said: "Orascom has hinted that it would like to get out because it wants to concentrate on north Africa and the Middle East. With three mobile operators already in place, I think it's going to go in through an acquisition rather than a new licence."

Business Day

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