You’re reading it here first: The licensing process in Ethiopia is reaching its final stage. Telecom Review Africa has learned from various sources that the Government of Ethiopia has released the final version of the tender documents today. A meeting was held end of last week with the companies that have shown interest to participate in the tender which will allocate two new telecom licenses in Ethiopia. Telecom Review Africa understands that the government, and the organisations supporting it in organising the tender, have provided interested companies with the main changes made to the draft Request for Proposals (RFP), as well as the progress made on the definition of the regulatory framework due to regulate the activities of the newly liberalised telecom sector. They also handled questions from investors.
Below, we present to you rapid fire questions and answers with Philippe Vogeleer, one of the project co- leads representing the Global Partnership for Ethiopia, which includes Safaricom, Vodacom Group and its parent company, Vodafone Group. The partnership has the support of the CDC, the investment arm of the UK government, Sumitomo Corporation, one of the largest trading and business investment companies, and the United States’ International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). These international partners want to work together to help transform Ethiopia into a modern digital economy serving the needs of the people of the country, with the help of dozens of local companies and organisations already associated to this global partnership.
Why are you interested by this tender?
Ethiopia is a very large country, with a lot of potential but offering today relatively limited advanced telecom services. We are very impressed by the macroeconomic plans and the digital strategy of the government, both of which aim to use digital to transform Ethiopia into a unique modern nation.
The government’s aspirations to develop via digital infrastructure and services are quite inspiring to tech companies, and we have seen the organisers of the telecom licence auction working tirelessly to try to make the process attractive to top companies. All contenders are under a non-disclosure agreement about the terms of the RFP, so I cannot give you details about that. That said the organisers told us last week that we are allowed to talk publicly about our impressions about the transformation project presented to us, so it seems fair to me to commend the organisers of the race for having organised a super transparent process; responded one way or another to most of the questions we raised over the last few months; and of course for the impressive work they have done putting together the regulatory framework due to regulate the industry: never an easy job to do in any country to open up a market; yet they have managed to move forward with a large part of the regulations required to regulate the market. Pretty impressive, esp. considering the ongoing pandemic.
That work and the repeated commitment of the authorities that they intend to create and maintain a level playing field for all market players – i.e. to make sure that all operators will be treated same, including the incumbent Ethio – gives us confidence that the authorities will tackle the next round of regulations as fast as they handled the first ones, as they know that moving forward on those is the best way to make sure that all people of Ethiopia get access to great new innovation at the earliest. Very positive indeed.
Why are you working on this as a Consortium?
Telecoms are often a by-product of the economic success of a country: when a country develops, people start buying more and more advanced services; when people buy more and more advanced services, the country develops further. Key in any hybrid licensing process like this one is therefore usually not the amount generated by the license but the amount of investment generated by the process i.e. the total development made possible by the new entrant(s). We had a deep look at the macroeconomic plans of the government, and want to bring to the whole of Ethiopia services that will transform a range of areas prioritised by the government’s macro-economic plan: job creation; education; agriculture; digital literacy, learning and skills; developing the ICT sector; driving innovation and enterprise; tourism etc.
We have taken the time to go to every part of the country, talk to officials, businesses, and generally ask people what type of services would be of interest to them. The result is a quantified plan indicating how we will deliver to each corner of the country the advanced services they want, region by region. Our plan is quite ambitious, novel, and consistent with the purpose-led / social contract approach of all the members of our consortium.
We believe that we can help generate at least 1 million jobs in Ethiopia. That is of course not without intrinsic challenges. Having strong partners seems like the best way to maximise our chances of delivering our plans on time, as it offers us the chance to each bring what we are best at. The challenges are many, and the investment thus quite significant. As always we will be cautious in bidding only if the conditions are right for our consortium members. However, our consortium is ready to roll out a state of the art network, mixing various technologies; top-notch services, based on the services we deliver or help deliver to over 736m people around the world (incl. Joint Ventures), with partners in a further 48 countries.
Can you tell us if you are bidding?
We are allowed to confirm that we have expressed an interest. We will obviously not make a final decision to bid until we examine the final tender rules. It is however fair to say that the members of our consortium are all very interested in the opportunity to make a real difference by supporting the development plans of the government of Ethiopia. That is the spirit around which we formed our project 18 months ago; that is the spirit the 169 employees working on this project have kept since. Ethiopia is very large, and very diverse. Bringing similar services to all corners of the country will not be easy, but it will definitely be transformational if it gets done. We believe since the inception of our project that only few companies in the world can actually bring to Ethiopia what the government needs to help them achieve their macro-economic goals. Each of the entities investing in or supporting our consortium has something unique to bring to support the plans of the country. Our consortium members bring their local knowledge of the way trade works in the country, the regional knowledge of the way very complex services work, and the knowledge some of our members have of complex global things such as modern supply chains, international connectivity; low latency data transfers etc.
Do you think you have a chance to win?
We are always very humble about licensing processes. We have a detailed plan. We suppose that other contenders have good plans too. That said, choosing a partner is an important sovereign decision so it is entirely up to the government to select the right partners to achieve their economic goals. So far the way in which the process is being managed at every step gives us confidence that the selection process will be fair and transparent. The Ethiopian Government has a clear plan and needs the right partners to help them to promote unity via the delivery of similar advanced services to all corners of their nation; create interesting jobs for the many young people entering the job market each year; and transfer of knowledge to allow Ethiopians to bring top skills to the local economy or export them on the international market. Our plan offers all of that: a wide range of services available to all; resultant job creation; and the transfer of knowledge by sending top talent to our myriad centres of excellence. We believe that our consortium is ready to deliver on this, if granted a license. The choice is entirely theirs, as it should.