Bharti Airtel, parent company of Airtel Ghana, has disclosed that it will be exiting 14 African countries, including Ghana this year.
The other countries include Nigeria, Congo, Chad, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Bloomberg Quint, which dropped the hint, quoted Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal as saying “the move would pare the size of operations in the continent and could be completed within a year…some of Bharti’s businesses in 14 African nations would be affected.”
The move lends credence to earlier rumors that Airtel and Tigo would merge in Ghana this year and be taken over by Orange, a French telecoms giant.
Further checks with executives of some telecom companies confirmed the move, revealing Orange had even approached them to offer them jobs in Ghana, while an anonymous executive from Tigo Ghana indicated the merger was unavoidable.
Two years ago, when Airtel began talks to sell off its operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville and Sierra Leone to Orange, the company had stated that it wouldn’t be exiting Africa.
But mobilityarena.com reports the sale of the 14 operations in Africa has become necessary because Bharti Airtel is faced with poor performance across those markets and that is shoring up its debt portfolio.
Bharti’s African Unit, for instance, lost $91 million in the quarter ended September 2016, compared to a $170 million loss same period in the previous year.
The Indian global telecoms giant is therefore looking for ways to pare net debt equivalent to about $12 billion by September this year.
In Ghana, Airtel recently instituted charges for services it used to offer for free, and made a failed attempt to take more money from its value added service partners, and the VAS folk suspended services in protest against a 80-20 percent revenue share arrange in favour of Airtel.
Indeed, since MTN went 4G in Ghana last year, there have been moves by Tigo and Vodafone to join, but Airtel, which is part of the top four telcos in Ghana, is pretty much silent about 4G LTE.
In Nigeria, Airtel is the only one of the big four mobile operators that is yet to launch a 4G LTE network.
Back in Airtel’s home country, India, Reliance Jio, is reportedly giving Airtel a big run for their money in a fierce price war that is reportedly depleting their gains.
As part of moves to reduce it debts, Bharti is also considering selling it 73.5 percent stake in its tower unit, Bharti Infratel Ltd., but a decision is yet to be taken on whether to sell minority or controlling shares.
Airtel, whose market value in Ghana, is estimated at almost $200 million, is the fourth biggest operator out of six operators in Ghana with a subscriber base of 4.68 million, representing a market share of 12.54 per cent.
Its data subscriptions are a little over three million, representing some 15.71 percent market share.
By Samuel Boadi