Zain joint venture buys 31% stake in Wana

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Kuwait’s Zain Group announced on Saturday it has agreed to buy a 31% stake in Moroccan fixed-wireless and mobile operator Wana via a newly established joint venture. Zain Al Ajial, a 50/50 joint vehicle with Morocco’s Al Ajial Investment Fund Holding, will pay MAD2.85 billion (USD324 million) for the stake in Wana (full name Wana Corporate, formerly Maroc Connect), a consolidated subsidiary of Omnium Nord Afrique (ONA), Morocco’s largest conglomerate. ONA owns 51% of Wana’s shares, with the remainder listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange. Alongside the equity investment Wana and Zain will enter into an operating framework agreement that will allow Wana to access Zain’s expertise, purchasing power, products and services, including the ‘One Network’ local rate international mobile roaming network.

Wana last year overtook Maroc Telecom as Morocco’s largest provider of fixed telephony services in terms of subscriber lines. Using the Bayn brand name, it reached 1.685 million lines in service at the end of 2008, although its connections are mostly based on limited mobility and fixed-wireless CDMA technology compared to the former monopoly telco’s copper wireline local loops. Wana also competes with Maroc Telecom and Meditel in the cellular market, and had signed up 435,000 3G mobile subscribers by end-2008. It aims to gain a much bigger slice of the mobile segment after gaining a 2G operating licence in February 2009. It is also in second place behind Maroc Telecom in Morocco’s broadband internet market, with 147,000 subscribers by the end of September 2008. Wana is expected to announce a new investment strategy by the end of this quarter.

Zain’s CEO Saad Al Barrak said in a statement on Saturday: ‘With 22.5 million mobile customers representing about 70% penetration, Morocco is an exciting new region for Zain to extend our footprint to 23 countries.’ The foreign investment will assist Wana in deploying a new GSM 1800MHz network with a target of launching commercial 2G mobile services in the second half of 2009. Karim Zaz, CEO of Wana, said: ‘We are extremely pleased to partner with Zain and Al Ajial in this new chapter of our business. Our new investors provide us with the right combination of long-term financial investment and operational resources to help us achieve our objective of making Wana a leading telecom operator in Morocco.’ Waleed Al Fehaid, Chairman of Zain Al Ajial, commented: ‘The new GSM licence along with the offerings Wana launched in the past year provided a very attractive long-term investment opportunity.’ Zain’s new partner Al Ajial Investment Fund Holding was established in Morocco in December 2006 and now manages funds worth MAD5 billion (USD600 million) in sectors including infrastructure, manufacturing, agribusiness, tourism and real estate.