MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone company, is “actively” seeking to enter Zimbabwe as the nation’s coalition government starts rebuilding an economy devastated by a 10-year recession.
The company may start a new operation or buy an existing business, Tim Lowry, MTN’s vice president for South and East Africa said in an interview in Johannesburg yesterday. MTN has had “engagements” with the government and mobile-phone companies operating in the country, he said.
“We’re not sitting back,” Lowry said. “There are two options. One is to acquire something and to recapitalize the business. Or the other is to start as a greenfield” operation.
Zimbabwe’s economy contracted 40 percent between 2000 and 2007 after President Robert Mugabe seized white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks, slashing export earnings and leading to shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange. Mugabe agreed this year to share power with the Movement for Democratic Change, enabling Zimbabwe’s coalition government to secure $1 billion in credit lines from African lenders.
“There are lots of moving parts in Zimbabwe,” Lowry said. “We need to make sure the conditions associated with that are good for MTN shareholders because we are not in government donation mode. ”
Zimbabwe has three mobile-phone operators, the largest of which is Econet Wireless Holdings Ltd., followed by NetOne Cellular Ltd. and Telecel Zimbabwe. MTN may buy Telecel, Business Day said April 29, without saying where it got the information. The Zimbabwe government is considering the sale of its majority stake in NetOne, ITNewsAfrica.com said May 5, citing the company’s Chief Executive Officer Reward Kangai.
Econet CEO Strive Masiyiwa declined to be interviewed for this article. NetOne’s Kangai could not immediately comment when contacted by Bloomberg News on his mobile phone and didn’t answer four subsequent calls to his phone, which wasn’t taking messages.