Bruno Nabagne Kone, Cote d’Ivoire’s minister for ICT, has issued a number of small-scale wireless players with an ultimatum: agree to merge within three months or risk see your licences stripped in 2016. Speaking at a meeting chaired by President Alassane Outtara in San Pedro, Mr Kone noted: ‘It is not the outright withdrawal of licences … the proposal is to form a coalition, with the help of the state, to form a fourth operator. For over a year we have alerted the operators concerned. This is not something that will surprise them. These licences expire in 2016.’ The companies in the firing line have been named as Aircom (Cafe Mobile), Comium (Koz), GreenN Cote d’Ivoire and Warid Telecom, while MTN, Orange and Moov have all been exempted from the stipulation.
While the suggestion arguably makes sense on paper, TeleGeography notes that any kind of merger process is likely to face a number of significant hurdles. Market minnow Aircom had its concession rescinded in October 2014 for under-performing, and has no subscriber base to speak of, while cash-strapped Comium has been actively seeking a buyer for several years; Vietnam’s Viettel Group was previously linked with a takeover for the struggling cellco, although no deal materialised, and the company turned its attention to other African markets. Meanwhile, Warid Telecom – which agreed to pay XOF30 billion (USD65.25 million) for its licence back in July 2006 – complained that it was not allocated sufficient wireless spectrum to facilitate a commercial launch, and remains a footnote, rather than a genuine player. Elsewhere, GreenN will likely feel particularly aggrieved at the turn of events: since emerging unscathed from the chaos of the Libyan civil war, holding company LAP Green Network has overseen a genuine turnaround in Cote d’Ivoire. As such, it seems likely that LAP Green may end up spearheading any kind of Ivorian merger.