It’s been two months since the Minister of ICT, Supa Mandiwanzira, made a presentation to the Parliament of Zimbabwe outlining the reasons behind the cancellation of Telecel Zimbabwe’s operating licence.
One interest piece of information shared at the time was that Vimpelcom, the majority shareholders in Telecel Zimbabwe, had offered to sell its stake to the Zimbabwean government. Yesterday, in an interview on local radio, the Minister mentioned the same offer, and there has been a report in Newsday citing sources from within the government that are stating how the State has accepted the offer.
On the surface, there is some merit behind such a move. The government gets to bail out a company that has been faced by challenges relating to licences, ownership and meeting the local empowerment regulations that limit foreign ownership. This becomes a definite offer, rather than long winding negotiations with other foreign players.
Whatever chaos that has existed within the Empowerment Corporation structures that involve control will be put to rest, and Telecel won’t have to operate whilst constantly looking over its shoulder because of licence irregularities. And let’s not forget how this dovetails into that Infrastructure Sharing debate, granting the State even more control over more infrastructure.
However, there are other things that aren’t making sense in all of this.
Why would the government want to control yet another mobile operator when it is failing to profitably manage the one it already owns outright? How would this complement the plans that are already underway to activate the mobile network licence held by another government operator, TelOne?
Then, of course, there’s the one sticky issue – our government isn’t flush right now. Even if this transaction is to be financed by licence payments made by Telecel and any other cheap credit we can secure from our friends in the East, there are a lot of operational and strategic challenges that Telecel will face because of this.
While no official communication has been made by Telecel Zimbabwe regarding this, (or confirmation for that matter.When we spoke to Telecel officials yesterday, they did not confirm any of this) it will be interesting to see how this deal will be executed and its impact on local telecoms.