Ethiopian telecoms uncertainty grows due to ongoing armed conflict

The ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia has led Safaricom, whose license-winning consortium in the country gives permissions for operations to begin next year, has reportedly evacuated its employees.

Safaricom plans were expanding to the point where it had seconded staff to run Ethiopian operations for products and network development, that were in readiness to begin operations next year. This includes gradually reducing Kenyan expertise and build the local workforce as the business grew.

The Safaricom consortium, which also includes British development finance agency CDC Group and Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, won a license, that has been awarded for an initial period of 15 years, to offer mobile services in Ethiopia with a bid of $850 million. Earlier this year, the state-run telco Ethio Telecom was the only telco to offer mobile services in the country.

Ethio Telecom reported an 18.4 percent rise in full-year revenue ending June at $1.29 billion and a 22 percent jump in subscribers to 56.2 million.

However, the employees of Safaricom left the country on Wednesday and Friday, according to the Business Daily Africa website.

The situation is chaotic with a number of nations already advising their citizens to leave Ethiopia, whilst the Tigrayan rebel forces and their allies saying they were 325 kilometers from the capital. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has ignored international appeals for a ceasefire.

In parallel, the government is fishing for a minority stake in Ethio Telecom and a second new license, having both new entrants be permitted to offer mobile money services, a sector in which Ethio Telecom has made some major accomplishments lately.

The Ethiopian Communications Authority (ECA), Ethiopia’s telecommunications regulator, has invited a request for proposals for the second license, to be delivered by 20 December. This was the second time this happens for the fact that the last bid was deemed too low.