13 Oct 2009

Africa still very much the centrepoint of M&A activity

The failure of the MTN-Bharti was only annouced a couple of weeks ago, but the South African group is not wasting time to move on: rumours say that it is looking towards its rival Zain. Zain group caught the eye of a number of potential investors recently (including Vivendi, which is now turning to Latin America for expansion), and is now the object of interest from an India-based consortium which includes no other than Bharti. So, will the previous friends become rivals in a bid for a stake in Zain? If MTN does get a interest in the group, will it not create competition issues in the many African countries where both groups have strong operations?
On another front, Indian operator MTNL is trying to build its position in Africa too. According to my colleagues at Global Mobile Daily, MTNL'schairman, R.S.P. Sinha, "told local press that his company had expressed interest in buying state-owned Zambian operator Zamtel and had already signed a nondisclosure agreement with the operator". The interest of several Indian operators in Africa makes sense. They are renowned for running low-cost operations for low revenue markets, which would suit the continent.
With these never-ending M&A talks, it looks like the face of Africa's telecoms is shifting. New players are about to make a strong impression, not just from the investment side, but also from the vendor side. As relations between operators and their suppliers are changing to become more partnership-based, large vendors may take a more important position on the market. And although Ericsson is still the major player in Africa, it seems that the Chinese vendors are keen to grow their presence (they certainly made their mark at last week's ITU summit, benefiting from the absence of the major European and American companies).