Oh boy, here we go again. Here’s how the story is being told. MTN wants a slice Zimbabwean telecoms and it’s been sniffing around for potential investment opportunities that could lead to it acquiring an interest within our borders. Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve heard it before.
A new report in the Financial Gazette has it on record from authorities in the Ministry of Finance that the regional mobile network operator has been in the country for at least two weeks, with “top-level executives” having been engaged in talks with faces from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, ZESA Holdings and some odd banks. (POSB has been identified as one).
This is not the first time MTN has been in our neighbourhood. First it was Telecel that was a prime target for acquisition, then the MTN/NetOne deal came into play and it lingered for over a year with Bharti Airtel also cited as another interested party in our state-owned mobile network operator.
We know how the story ended then. The deal didn’t happen, apparently because some members of our inclusive government weren’t hot for the deal at the time.
Now the same script is being acted out again, with a somewhat different cast. We’ve got MTN expressing an interest in the sector, meeting with the right people (notice how key aspects of African telecoms like financial services are represented in that cocktail of people courted by MTN) and creating a buzz around “much needed foreign investment”.
It’s easy to dismiss it as another “MTN Returns” thing, but with what has been happening with the Telecel Zimbabwe ownership story, it just might be worth taking a bit seriously. Not too seriously, just a bit.
Seeing that Vimpelcom is in the country to iron out issues surrounding its stake in Telecel (to sell what can and should be sold actually) and a government that says it wants to make reasonable decisions that ensure the continuity of a telecoms enterprise, this could be the one time when MTN is given a slice of the local market.
It would be prudent at the end of the day to have a player like MTN on board because with Vimpelcom out of the picture, the entire roster of current and potential investors left in Telecel doesn’t look geared for long-term investments in telecoms.
With all the hype that might follow the possibilities of MTN in Zimbabwe, I wouldn’t expect any investment from the African giant into a local telecoms operator to cause an immediate disruption in the market dynamics. That would have only happened if MTN, not TelOne, had been awarded the fourth mobile network operator licence.
If and when MTN does invest in local telecoms, perhaps, its impact will extend to insight on product diversification into anything that’s more than just mobile money. I’m getting ahead of myself here though. The best thing right now is to wait and see how it all unfolds first.