The restrictions on offering mobile money services that have been a condition of the recent licence applications in Ethiopia have occasioned a lot of comment. Now Kenya's president has got involved.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged Ethiopia to open up its telecoms sector to private mobile money business investors.
It is of course true that Ethiopia is allowing new entrants into its telecoms sector; last month authorities awarded the country’s first private operator licence to a consortium that included mobile money pioneer Safaricom. However, only the incumbent, and (for the moment) state-owned operator Ethio Telecom is allowed to offer mobile financial services. Foreign operators are barred from involvement in mobile money services – at least for now.
Another licence bid – from the MTN Group – was rejected as too low, but MTN’s CEO Ralph Mupita has said an improved bid is possible. However, his company may not bother with a second try if mobile money services are not part of the license. Take-up of the new Ethio Telecom mobile money service Telebirr, meanwhile, has been impressive: over three million people have already signed up, according to some estimates.
Meanwhile, in the more competitive Cameroon market, a new mobile money service is on the way. By the end of 2021, Viettel Cameroon, operating under the brand name Nexttel, will launch its mobile money services. It will be called Nexttel Possa (wallet) and will be launched in partnership with UBA Cameroon (United Bank for Africa is one of Africa's leading financial institutions). It will compete with existing offerings from MTN and Orange Cameroon.