International telcos line up to enter Libya; post-election time-frame mooted

10 Apr 2012

According to a special report by Reuters Africa, a number of international telecoms giants are keen to enter Libya’s underdeveloped communications sector, but will only discover how they can do so after the war-torn country’s first free elections, which are set to be held in June. Communications Minister Anwar El-Feitori told Reuters: ‘At least three or four [foreign operators have expressed interest in entering Libya], but we will leave it to the next government to decide on that’. To date, UAE-based Etisalat, Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) have all expressed an interest in entering the market, which is widely acknowledged as one of the major business opportunities created by last year’s uprising, which saw Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship toppled. El-Feitori has promised that Libya will open its telecoms market to fresh competition ‘when we have the rules for the competition and when we have the right infrastructure for that as well’.

El-Feitori estimates that around 20% of the mobile base stations operated by wireless incumbents Al Madar and Libyana were damaged during the conflict, with the most severe destruction occurring in Zlitan, Misrata and Sirte, all of which experienced scenes of heavy fighting during the eight-month war. He added: ‘We worked on getting the services back to normal and now we’re almost there. There is a big demand in telecom services’. Each firm is thought to have around 1,000 base stations in operation.

The general manager of Libya’s stock exchange, Ahmed Karoud, told Reuters last month that pre-war plans to list shares in Al Madar and Libyana would now go ahead in 2013. These listings may present an additional opportunity for foreign companies to buy into the two mobile state-owned operators.