Ethiopia sets February 2021 deadline to sell new licences

Ethiopia sets February 2021 deadline to sell new licences

Ethiopia’s government is aiming to sell two new mobile network operator licences by February 2021.

The move is part of a government push towards liberalising the country’s telecoms sector which will also involve selling a minority stake in state-owned incumbent Ethio Telecom, which has long been the sole player in the market.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government intended to hold auctions this year, but the process was stalled by multiple factors including the Covid-19 pandemic, issues around regulation, and a delayed national election, reports Bloomberg.

Eyob Tekalign, the state minister of finance, said: “We have a February, January timeline for both processes. The reform is fully on track.” In mid-2018, Abiy promised that the telecoms sector would be at the heart of a push towards privatisation in a bid to boost the economy via improved connectivity.

Candidates for the licence include Orange, MTN and Vodafone. The French firm is considered a forerunner according to Bloomberg’s report, and an Orange spokesperson said that the group was readying its proposal.

In a statement, MTN said: “The Ethiopian authorities have said that 12 directives will be issued that will enable us to put together a business case and an investment case…This is still work in progress and we have not yet made any decision on the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, arranging the sale of a 40% holding in Ethio Telecom is proving harder than anticipated for the country’s government – partly due to the size of the stake.

Ethiopia has a population of over 100 million and many companies view it as one of the last major markets yet to be liberalised. Tekalign noted that the value of the spectrum had been finalised, and that there is “very, very strong interest across the world -- companies from Asia, Europe, Africa.”