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Breaking: Safaricom sets August for Ethiopia start date

Matthew Harrison-Harvey Safaricom Eth.jpg

Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia will start launching services between next month and April 2023, the company announced today in Addis Ababa, the capital.

The company, part of the Vodafone group, had been coming under increasing pressure after missing its earlier planned target to start services in April 2022.

Just a few days ago the company issued a vague statement saying: “We are preparing for commercial launch to provide services within 2022.”

Now the company has said there will be “a phased launch of its network and services”, that “will commence from August 2022, switching on the network in 25 cities across the country when ready by April 2023, starting with Dire Dawa”.

Dire Dawa is a city midway between Addis Ababa and the neighbouring state of Djibouti, on the Red Sea. Subsea cables landing in Djibouti will provide Safaricom with its access to world networks.

Matthew Harrison-Harvey (pictured), chief external affairs and regulatory officer, said: “Safaricom Ethiopia is looking forward to switching on our network and services, starting with Dire Dawa from August 2022 and 24 other cities in phases across the country in the coming months.”

Harrison-Harvey, who originally gave the missed April 2022 target date in an interview with Capacity, said: “Currently, we are in a testing period to ensure that when we switch on, we will deliver a quality experience for Ethiopians. We are working to fulfil our commitment to building the long-term foundations for our contribution to Ethiopia’s digital transformation and inclusion objectives to transform lives for a digital future.”

He has not named the “24 other cities” that Safaricom will launch by April next year. Perhaps significantly, he did not name Addis Ababa as one of them.

When he told Capacity of the launch plans in his interview earlier this year, Harrison-Harvey indicated that the company would use Nokia equipment in the capital and Huawei in much of the rest of the country.

The company told local media today that it invested US$1 billion, including the licence fee to the government of Ethiopia. It has “imported equipment worth over $300 million”, said the company, and has “invested in our network and building infrastructure, including our own mobile radio towers, national transmission network, and wholesale agreements for international connectivity”.

Capacity’s information is that Safaricom is way behind target on building its radio network, with only a handful sites completed by April and delays in getting permissions for many of the rest of the sites.

Safaricom said it has developed its core network, IT, products and services, set up a call centre and built two data centres.

It has signed infrastructure sharing and interconnect agreements with Ethio Telecom, the state-owned incumbent, and “implementation [is] progressing well”.

It has appointed a management team and experts for commercial launch, providing professional and skills development to Ethiopian employees. It has recruited 500 staff, of whom 320 are Ethiopians, and is “continuing with a focus on recruitment throughout the country”, including “50 graduate trainees to create a talent pool of digital innovators”. It expects “to recruit 100 additional graduates this year”.

The biggest shareholder in the company – originally called Global Partnership for Ethiopia – is Kenya’s Safaricom with 55.7%. Others are Japan’s Sumitomo with 27.2%, the UK government with 10.9% and Vodacom of South Africa 6.2%. Vodacom is itself a shareholder in Safaricom Kenya.

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