Phone monopoly is big prize in Ethiopia sell-off
In the weeks since Ethiopia announced sweeping privatization plans after decades of state control, foreign businessmen have been beating a path to Belachew Mekuria’s office. “Everyone is here. MTN is here, Safaricom. I mean everyone is coming,” the new head of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) said of the stiff competition to enter the previously off-limits telecoms sector. Of the industries facing privatization – the government will also open up Ethiopian Airlines, the state logistics firm and the power monopoly to private investment – Ethiopia’s state telecommunications monopoly is the prize because of its huge protected market. Since coming to power in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 41, has turned Ethiopia on its head with a dizzying drive towards openness. On the diplomatic front, he has made peace with neighboring Eritrea and is pushing for reconciliation with exiles.
International telecommunications firms in particular are excited at the prospect of entering one of the few African telecoms sectors – one that serves a population of 100 million – still protected by a state monopoly.