HARARE – Zimbabwean born telecoms billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa has reassumed control of Botswana cellular firm, Mascom after spending US$300 million to snap a 53 percent stake previously held by MTN.
MTN announced the transaction Thursday, days after rumours of a possible exit by Africa’s largest telecoms firm swelled across the continent.
Mascom holds over half of Botswana’s mobile telecoms market with over 1,7 million subscribers, according to official data.
Its purchase by Masiyiwa further consolidates his influence in Africa’s telecoms markets, where he already controls the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed Econet Wireless Zimbabwe and Liquid Telecoms among his key investments.
MTN said the decision to spin off its Botswana operation came because it had no management or branding control.
“Pursuant (we will be) disposing of (our) associate in Botswana, Mascom, for $300 million where (MTN) lacks of control position,” MTN said.
Through a new strategy meant to refocus Africa’s biggest telecoms firm, MTN Group chief executive officer, Rob Shuter has been working out a strategy to reduce the number of countries in which the company operates.
“We are simplifying the group, we are reducing risk, and improving returns,” Shuter told Bloomberg on Thursday.
“That will generate some returns that will be helpful for our gearing and other priorities,” he added.
While Shuter initiated a review of MTN’s then 22 markets a year ago, the Johannesburg-based company had to date only completed the sale of its Cyprus operation.
Shuter has been trying to sharpen MTN’s focus on growth areas and evaluate where it doesn’t need a presence.
Some markets, such as South Sudan and Syria, have been ravaged by conflict, making them candidates for an exit.
Others have been affecting MTN as a result of domestic regulations and interventions by governments, while some are said to be too small when compared to MTN’s largest markets.
These included Botswana, where MTN’s subscriber base, at 1,7 million, at the end of September 2018, was a drop in the ocean compared with its 225 million subscribers across Africa and the Middle East.
The Botswana operation is one of only three country units that MTN operated as a joint venture.
Others are based in Iran and Swaziland.
MTN, which has each shares trading on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, purchased 44 percent shareholding in Mascom in 200.
It co-owned the operation with local investors.
The carrier would also like to sell its Liberia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau businesses in West Africa, according to a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday.
Paris-based Orange SA is a competitor in all three of those countries as well as Botswana, Bloomberg reported.
The telecoms billionaire’s return comes 14 years after he relinquished control of Mascom, which was his firm mobile phone company.
The name Mascom was derived from Masiyiwa Communications, a name suggested to him by a business partner on the eve of the bidding process for the licence. MTN shares jumped the most in almost three years on Thursday, after Africa’s biggest announced the disposal.