Ethiopia said Friday it would grant two telecom licenses to private firms and sell a minority stake in Ethio-Telecom, the sole operator, as the government opens sectors long closed to outsiders.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced last year plans to privatise a swathe of industries and allow foreign and private investors into key state-owned companies in an effort to attract new players to the economy.
State Minister of Finance, Eyob Tekalign Tolina unveiled plans “to sell up to 49 per cent stake in Ethio-Telecom to private firms and give telecom licenses to two private telecom operators”.
“Ethiopia plans to make Ethio-Telecom a first-class service provider,” he told reporters in Addis Ababa.
“The government plans to open the sector to competition in addition to partial privatisation, to improve Ethiopia’s digital footprint”.
It is estimated Ethio-Telecom, the country’s only mobile and internet provider, has north of 40 million customers.
Eyob declined to detail which firms had expressed interest in the telecom offer, but stiff competition is expected from foreign multinationals keen on entry into one of Africa’s largest markets.
Ethiopia is Africa’s fastest-growing economy but faces soaring debt, poor-performing industries and a foreign exchange shortage.
The government owns most of Ethiopia’s major industries, and foreign businesses are kept out of banking, retail and other key sectors, unlike other rapidly-growing African economies.
In another reversal of long-standing policy, Ethiopia will also open parts of its agricultural sector to outsiders.
Eyob said several state-owned sugar projects would be sold, with foreign firms given the option of direct sale or entering joint ventures of public-private partnerships.
“Ethiopia has sought investment from foreign buyers located in Europe, Asia, and even African countries. The Ethiopia Ministry of Finance and Economic Co-operation expects the privatisation of, at least, five to six sugar factories within six to twelve months,” he said.
The country has, in recent years, invested billions in the sugar sector to meet fast-rising local demand and to bolster export revenue.
But the sector has been dogged by allegations of mismanagement and corruption and many state-run mills have suffered major losses.