Airtel Africa has confirmed that it will not bid for the opportunity to be an MNO in Ethiopia, where government plans have been announced to invite tenders for two new operator licences.
The Ethiopian government also has plans to sell a minority stake in the state-owned company Ethio Telecom within nine months.
According to Reuters, the Airtel Africa CEO, Raghunath Mandava, suggested that the company, of which India’s Bharti Airtel is the majority owner, sees more room to grow in some of the 14 African countries it has already invested in.
He pointed to a need to expand market share in Nigeria, Congo, DRC, Tanzania and Kenya as reasons why the company is not looking at bidding for an Ethiopian licence.
In some ways this is not surprising. Nigeria in particular has the largest population on the African continent and Airtel clearly feels it offers room for growth, even though Airtel Nigeria is already the group’s most profitable unit.
This market has not been without its problems, however – most notably the disruption caused by regulator demands to add valid National Identification Numbers (NINs) to every SIM card registered in the country. By late last week, Reuters notes, Airtel Nigeria had collected NINs from only around half of its customers, with the 9 February deadline fast approaching. Despite this, there appears to be optimism that the deadline will be extended.
However, Ethiopia, is the continent’s second most populous nation, and, until recently, one of the last remaining closed telecoms markets on the continent, and Airtel’s apparent lack of enthusiasm is not shared by other big names.
In fact, as we have reported already, among would-be players that have expressed interest are a consortium of Vodafone, Vodacom and Safaricom. There have also been bids reported from Etisalat, Axian, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom SA, Liquid Telecom and Snail Mobil.