Emerging markets telecoms group Millicom is pulling out of Africa, as the Nasdaq and Stockholm-listed group shifts to a sole focus on Latin America.
The Miami-based company on Monday agreed to sell its Tanzania operations for an undisclosed sum to Madagascar-based pan-African operator Axian, a move that followed a deal last week to withdraw from Ghana.
Millicom, via its Tigo brand, counts more than 52m mobile subscribers across 11 countries in Latin America and Africa. Over the past four years it has sold its operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, and Chad.
It agreed on Friday to transfer its stake in AirtelTigo — a joint venture with India’s Airtel — to the government of Ghana. The sale of Tigo in Tanzania means Millicom will make a complete exit from Africa this year.
With 13m customers, Tanzania is Millicom’s main operation in Africa, where it is among the top three telecoms operator by number of customers.
“We knew that asset for a while because Tanzania has huge potential,” Hassanein Hiridjee, Axian chief executive, told the Financial Times. “When we found that Millicom was divesting from Africa we said: ‘We must go there, we must’.”
With $366m in revenues last year, Tanzania represents a meagre 6 per cent of Millicom’s total revenue. Africa, the company said, had historically generated lower returns than Latin America, where it has highly profitable operations, especially in Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama.
“Millicom is a Latin American focused telecom company with 95 per cent of our revenues coming from that region. With the announcement today of the divestiture of our remaining African businesses we draw a close on a chapter in our history and open another solely focused on the Latin American region,” Mauricio Ramos, Millicom CEO, told the Financial Times.
For Axian, entry to the Tanzanian market comes at a time of great expectations after the east African country’s new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, signalled she would improve strained relations with investors and multinational companies following five years of growing isolation under her anti-market predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in March.
Axian owns Telma, a telecom firm operating in Madagascar, Comoros, Réunion Island and Mayotte, and has a presence in Senegal through its operator Free Senegal, formerly Tigo, and in Togo, through Togocom.
The company was the first to roll out 5G in Africa and is one of the biggest investors in the EASSy — a 10,000km submarine cable system deployed along the east and south coast of Africa that services voice, data, video and internet. Tanzania will be Axian’s first venture into an anglophone country, where it plans to invest $400m over the next five years.
“We already have shared infrastructure. We’re very much interested in this market, which is not far from our home market,” Hiridjee added.