The hyper-optimism of the African mobile “gold rush” seems to have calmed down. This is due partly to the global financial situation, but more to the realization that while Africa may in fact be the last place where lots of people don’t yet have mobile phones, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or profitable to try to put them in their hands. This realization is inevitably leading to entrances and exits from the continent. A lot of press attention recently has been given to some of the more colorful of these possible re-alignments, notably the prospective sale of some or all of Zain to … well, to someone, and the twice-failed merger of MTN and Bharti. (On the former see “Zain: Leaving Africa So Soon?” and on the latter, see “MTN: Sticking to Africa After Failed Bharti Deal?” two recent publications from Strategy Analytics’ Emerging Markets Communications Strategies service.) Meantime, somewhat more quietly, Vodafone has established a strong presence in Africa, both directly and through its 65% interest in South Africa’s Vodacom. We would not be at all surprised if Vodafone in the next year or two takes advantage of a down market to acquire some new properties in Africa. Currently, the major regional market conspicuously absent from its portfolio is Nigeria, where Vodacom passed up an opportunity to enter the market in 2004. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao has recently expressed interest in Nigeria, describing it as “a prized and valuable market that we will be glad to operate in." In short, we should be looking for more red on the African map.
Tom Elliott