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Safaricom launches services in Ethiopia’s capital city

Peter Ndegwa Safaricom.jpg

Safaricom Ethiopia has switched on its mobile telecommunications network and services in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital city.

The company, part of the Vodafone group, said is also holding a ceremony today to mark its national launch.

This is the latest stage in a phased launch across the country, which started in August 2022 in the city of Dire Dawa, 350km east of Addis.

Peter Ndegwa (pictured), CEO of Safaricom Kenya, the main shareholder, said: “For two decades, Safaricom has combined the power of technology and our innovative spirit to solve customer and societal challenges. … We look forward to positively impacting the people of Ethiopia with a sustainable and quality mobile network that will be a vital launch pad for nationwide digital telecommunications services to over 118 million Ethiopians.”

Safaricom Kenya is the main shareholder in Ethiopian start-up, with 55.7%. Others are Japan’s Sumitomo with 27.2%, the UK government’s British International Investment (BII) with 10.9% and Vodacom of South Africa 6.2%. Vodacom is itself a shareholder in Safaricom Kenya.

The company, which was awarded a licence to be the first – and so far only – competitor to state-owned Ethio Telecom, plans to have services in 25 cities between now and April 2023. That will enable it to meet the 25% population coverage obligation in its licence.

Safaricom Ethiopia’s 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services are available in 11 cities from today, including the capital and the country’s second largest city, Dire Dawa.

Safaricom Ethiopia is building a wholly-owned mobile network and also has infrastructure sharing and interconnection agreements in place with Ethio Telecom.

One area that Safaricom can be expected not to rush into in its construction programme is the north-east province of Tigray, which is experiencing a fierce civil war between government forces and an independence movement.

Meanwhile, the government of Ethiopia has put on hold plans to sell a substantial stake in Ethio Telecom and to license a third operator for the country. Ethio Telecom CEO Frehiwot Tamru said last month that she expects the company to achieve a penetration of 68% of the population – leaving a substantial opportunity of at least 32% for Safaricom. Ethiopia is one of the biggest countries in Africa.

Toshikazu Nambu, chief digital officer at Sumitomo, said: “We are pleased to have reached the significant milestone of the official launch of Safaricom Ethiopia’s national mobile network. … With the expansion of mobile phone use and the economic and human resource development, we will transform lives for a digital future, in line with the Digital Ethiopia 2025 strategy.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of South Africa’s Vodacom Group, also welcomed the launch: “Ubiquitous network connectivity will positively transform the lives of Ethiopians throughout the country, notably by making various tech for good solutions and services available in health, education, manufacturing, agriculture and digital finance.”

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said this morning: “We are excited to be part of this highly experienced international consortium, with a strong vision to advance Ethiopia’s inclusive digital society, with clear goals to deliver greater prospects for education, jobs and prosperity.”