Burundi plans Onatel privatisation this year


Burundi plans to privatise its main state-owned telecoms company Onatel this year to make it more competitive, government officials. Onatel runs a landline network, GSM and Internet services. It launched its mobile phone service in 2004.

"The government's wish is that the entire process of privatising the company ends in December 2009," Transport and Telecommunications Minister Philippe Njoni told reporters.

He said the aim was to make Onatel more competitive against other operators within Burundi and across east Africa. "The best way to achieve this ambitious goal is to give more space to private investors in the company," he said, adding the authorities had yet to decide how much of the firm to offload.

An international consultant would be named soon to advise on the breakdown of the proposed sale, said Jean Marie Nzomukunda, who heads the board in charge of privatising state companies.

Last week, the tiny central African country's telecoms regulator said the number of mobile phone users in Burundi grew 78 percent to 480,000 last year, mostly due to better network coverage and more competition in the sector.

It said it expected subscribers to rise to 700,000 by 2012. The coffee growing nation of about 8 million people -- which is struggling to emerge from more than a decade of ethnic war that killed 300,000 people -- had 270,000 subscribers in 2007.