It would be, to say the least, a reasonable excuse for delaying plans for telecommunications liberalisation, but the authorities in Ethiopia have reportedly insisted that the ongoing Tigray conflict won't hold up plans to auction telecommunications licences or a planned sale of part of Ethio Telecom.
According to Reuters, Ethiopia expects to go ahead with the sale of a minority stake in state-owned communications monopoly Ethio Telecom within nine months. Tendering for two new communications licences will start, as scheduled, on 1 December.
The opening of a big, but so far state-run, telecommunications market in the country whose population, at around 115 million, is second in size only to Nigeria on the African continent, has been predicted to attract a lot of interest – and create many jobs.
However, there is now a military offensive going on in the northern state of Tigray, which was launched on 4 November. Could that distract officials?
Apparently not. Reuters quotes a senior adviser at the ministry of finance who expects no delays, even though the Ethio Telecom stake sale in particular has been held up more than once so far for what might be considered less pressing reasons.
Some big players, including Safaricom, MTN, Etisalat and Orange, are all rumoured to be interested in the planned sale of two new licences, but, with or without conflict, they will have to be patient. After the December start for the tendering process it will apparently take three to four months for investors to submit bids.
The partial privatisation of Ethio Telecom will take even longer, and, after a number of delays and disputes, notably the decision to suspend the entry of foreign telecommunications infrastructure companies into the country, it will be interesting to see whether the process runs smoothly from now on.