e& eyes Ethiopian expansion


Positive discussions could see the Emirati operator become the third national telecoms operator in one of Africa’s largest markets

According to reports, Etisalat Group (e&)’s CEO Hatem Dowidar has been engaged in virtual discussions with Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance, Dr Eyob Tekalign, on the topic of becoming the country’s third telecoms operator.

“Etisalat has expressed its interest to enter the Ethiopian telecom market,” said the ministry of Finance in a statement.

The government further noted that e& has expressed a willingness to work alongside government and the wider telecoms market to actualise investment opportunities in the country.

The discussions reportedly concluded with an agreement to continue negotiations directly in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in the coming weeks.

Until relatively recently, Ethiopia remained one of the last telecoms monopolies in the world, with both mobile and fixed line broadband customers served solely by state-owned Ethio Telecom.

In 2020, however, led by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the country began the arduous process of liberalisation, seeking to introduce two new telecoms operators into the market via an auction process.

The following year, a consortium comprising Safaricom, Vodafone, Vodacom, CDC Group, and Sumitomo won the first of these licences for around $850 million, launching commercial services as Safaricom Ethiopia in October 2022.

The second licence, however, went unsold, despite considerable interest from African telco giant MTN. Since then, the Ethiopian government has faced numerous delays in relaunching the tender process but insists that it still wants to find a third national telecoms operator.

The latest announcements from the regulator suggest that this process will recommence in June this year.

It is worth noting that e& is not the only major telecoms players to have expressed interest in taking the remaining Ethiopian telecoms licence. Earlier this month, executives from both Orange and Veon were reported as having held similar meetings with the Ethiopian government, opening the door for a highly competitive licence auction later this year.

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