Airtel’s African CEOs respond to chairman’s ‘rationalise’ interview

Airtel’s African CEOs respond to chairman’s ‘rationalise’ interview

Executives of Airtel’s African operations are giving mixed messages following a comment by group chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal that he was trying to rationalise or sell the loss-making business.

Airtel’s investment in Africa, which dates back to its purchase of 15 operations from Zain for $10.7 billion in 2010, was “not as successful an experiment” as he hoped, he told Bloomberg in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Indian group, which is faced with tough competition in its home market, has already sold some of its African operations and is believed to be discussing other possible deals. The moves would pare the size of operations in the continent and could be completed within a year, said Bloomberg following the interview.

Airtel Africa managing director and CEO Raghunath Mandava said in a statement: “Mergers and acquisitions continue to be the norm for any multinational organisation and they affect all global organisations in equal measures as and when they happen.”

But meanwhile the CEO of Airtel’s operation in Rwanda has countered suggestions that the Indian-owned group is planning to reduce its African operations.

Michael Adjei, CEO of Airtel Rwanda, told local English-language publication New Times that the company was “here for the long haul”.

Responding to suggestions that the company was planning to sell up, he told the paper: “That’s not true. That’s not the case. Airtel Rwanda is not leaving the market. We want to assure customers that we are not exiting Rwanda.”

However Airtel Kenya said it was “aware of Bharti Airtel’s consideration of stake sales or mergers to some of its Africa operations to cut debt”.

In September 2016, Airtel Kenya CEO Adil El Youssefi complained about the dominance of Vodafone associate Safaricom in the market. He threatened that Airtel would pull out of Kenya if the regulator did not intervene because of Safaricom’s position.

“We have been trying for over five years and have not made one dollar in profit. Airtel is likely to exit Kenya if the market structure is not addressed in terms of dominance,” Youssefi told Business Daily Africa.

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