Bharti Airtel has dismissed reports that it planned to pull out of three unprofitable markets in Africa, but has confirmed that it would consider merging with competitors in some countries.
The Economic Times reported last week that Bharti was looking to sell off tower assets in five African markets as well as exit to exit Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. The operator has countered that it is looking into strategies that will enable its units in these markets to turn a profit, with acquisitions a potential option.
Airtel also reaffirmed its intention of becoming a top two operator in each of its African markets. The group is present in several markets across the continent, offering telecom and financial services. Its Q3 report saw increases in subscriber numbers, profit margins, and adoption of its Airtel Money offering across its African footprint.
While Airtel is technically second place in Kenya with 7.4 million connections at the end of Q3 2017, its market share is just 18% - well behind that of Safaricom. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, Airtel Money is struggling to gain traction in the market with 1.5 million users, compared to 22.6 million users for the market leader’s m-Pesa service.
In Tanzania, Airtel is jostling for second place with Tigo. It has 11 million connections in the market, just 2.5 million shy of market leader Vodacom. Going by connections, Rwanda is one of Airtel’s smallest African markets – the operator has 1.6 million, meaning its rivals MTN and Tigo both have around 2 million more connections.