Phone Monopoly Is Big Prize in Ethiopia Sell-Off

ADDIS ABABA/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - In the weeks since Ethiopia announced sweeping privatization plans after decades of state control, foreign businessmen have been beating a path to Belachew Mekuria's office.

"Everyone is here. MTN is here, Safaricom. I mean everyone is coming," the new head of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) said of the stiff competition to enter the previously off-limits telecoms sector.

"A lot of them. Including U.S., by the way," Belachew, an affable lawyer who is the first port of call for foreign investors, said with a smile following an evening meeting with an executive from Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom.

Of the industries facing privatization - the government will also open up Ethiopian Airlines [ETHA.UL], the state logistics firm and the power monopoly to private investment - Ethiopia's state telecommunications monopoly is the prize because of its huge protected market.

But the form liberalization takes and the speed with which it is carried out will hinge on competition between the government's two top priorities: raising foreign exchange and creating jobs.

Since coming to power in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 41, has turned Ethiopia on its head with a dizzying drive towards openness. Read more...

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