Long-Isolated Ethiopia To Take Major Step to Open Phone Market

Ethiopia will start accepting proposals for two new telecommunication licenses from Friday, a major step toward opening Africa’s second-most populous country to international operators.

Eyob Tekalign, the state minister responsible for the privatization process, confirmed the move even as the government wages a military conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region.

Ethiopia has been looking to auction the licenses since mid-2018, though the complexity of the process and challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic have caused a series of delays. MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest carrier by subscribers, said last week it sees the investment case weakening due to uncertainty over whether international tower companies would participate and a mobile-money license be included.

Operators will be informed on Friday about the terms of the auction and what the government expects from them in terms of financial and technical offerings.

South Africa’s Vodacom Group Ltd. has said it’s monitoring the conflict between the government and Tigray before making its final decision, having earlier said it would bid in a consortium with Vodafone Group Plc and Kenya’s Safaricom Plc. Orange SA is another to have expressed an interest.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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