South Africa-based wireless carrier MTN Group has identified Ethiopia as a potential new market amid rumours that the nation is keen to open its telecoms market to private investors. Bloomberg cites the group’s chief executive Rob Shuter as saying: ‘There are a few large markets that are under-penetrated and where there is scope for a number one or number two operator, like Ethiopia,’ and that MTN would obviously like to ‘participate, in some way’. If realised, the move would dovetail with MTN Group’s strategy to focus on African markets where it can become a major player, or where the potential exists to exploit mobile banking and other data services opportunities. Shuter has looked to pull MTN out of countries that do not fit these criteria (e.g. Cyprus and Botswana). ‘We have about one third of our capital in assets that we’ve identified as not long-term strategic,’ the CEO stated.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in June 2018 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed revealed plans to open its state-run telecoms monopoly Ethio Telecom to private domestic and foreign investment. At the time, the EPRDF coalition backed its own calls for necessary economic reforms in the country to sustain rapid growth and boost its exports. ‘While majority stakes will be held by the state, shares in Ethio Telecom … will be sold to both domestic and foreign investors,’ it confirmed. Hot on the heels of the development, MTN Group said it was excited by the potential opening up of the Ethiopian market, while another South Africa-based company, Vodacom Group – itself majority owned by the UK’s Vodafone Group – said: ‘Vodacom has said on many occasions that Ethiopia is an attractive market so it follows that there would be interest. Naturally this is dependent on what might become available and if it fits within our investment parameters.’