Niger is set to merge national state-owned telecoms operator Societe Nigerienne des Telecommunications (Sonitel) and its mobile arm SahelCom, in a bid to combat rising competition from the likes of international giants Bharti Airtel and Orange Group. Reuters cites Telecommunications Minister Abdou Mani as saying that the merger aims to streamline the two companies’ technical and financial resources. He added that the government, which has invested XAF85 billion (USD147 million) in Sonitel since 2012, will complete the deployment of the company’s fibre-optic network and other new technologies to encourage privatisation of the combined national carrier.
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that in December 2001 a 51% stake in Sonitel was sold by the government to Dataport, a joint venture between Libyan Arab African Investment Company and China’s ZTE. In February 2009, however, the government said it was renationalising the stake held by Dataport, allegedly due to poor management and failure to meet the terms of the privatisation agreement. In May 2011 – two months after a deal to sell a stake in the company to Libya’s LAP Green Network was cancelled – Niger began looking for a new buyer for Sonitel, but in April 2012 parliament voted to keep Sonitel in government hands.