Ethiopia gets two bids including MTN to enter revamped telecoms sector
INTERNATIONAL - Ethiopia announced Monday it had received two bids for licenses that would end the government's monopoly over its stunted telecoms sector, one of the last closed markets in the world.
The shake-up of the potentially lucrative sector -- currently dominated by state-owned Ethio Telecom -- is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's economic reform agenda.
The bids came from South Africa's MTN and a consortium including Kenya's Safaricom, Vodafone and Vodacom, according to a statement from the Ethiopian Communications Authority, the government regulator.
Several other firms that had earlier expressed interest -- including France's Orange and the UAE's Etisalat -- did not submit bids.
But Brook Taye, senior adviser at the finance ministry, told AFP he was "very content" with how the process had played out so far.
"Our aim was always quality over quantity, so we would have loved to have so many other companies to participate but at the end of the day all of them have their own reasons," he said.
Some companies might have been put off by a central bank directive preventing foreign-owned firms from providing mobile financial services, while others might have chafed at restrictions on developing independent infrastructure, Brook said.
Ethiopia also has a reputation for extended internet shutdowns during periods of social unrest and more innocuous events like national exams.
While Abiy's government has said it will award two telecoms licenses, Brook said there was no guarantee the bids received Monday would be successful.
Officials will now begin reviewing the technical and financial specifics of the bids, and Brook predicted a final decision would be announced within two weeks.
The licenses are expected to bring an infusion of cash, jobs and infrastructure investment.
Ethiopia's telecoms reforms also include a plan to sell a stake in Ethio Telecom, a move they hope will make the firm more efficient.
"Hopefully in about a year, no more dropped calls in the middle of an important conversation, or messages from your telecom operator saying... the person you called is not in the coverage area and whatnot," Brook said.