VimpelCom denies Zimbabwe claim it has bought Telecel

13 April 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


VimpelCom still owns its 60% share of Zimbabwean mobile operator Telecel, despite claims from Zimbabwe’s telecoms minister – as recently as yesterday – that it has bought the stake for $40 million.

Harare’s NewsDay quoted information communication technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira as confirming “that the 60% Telecel shareholding was acquired from Netherlands-based VimpelCom at a cost of $40 million through funds provided by the National Social Security [Agency]”.

But VimpelCom’s chief communications officer Rozzyn Boy told Capacity by email that ownership has not changed hands and still belonged to the Amsterdam-based company and its subsidiary Global Telecom Holdings.

“As of today, VimpelCom and GTH remain a 60% shareholder in Telecel and we look forward to completing the sale only after satisfaction of all customary closing conditions are met,” she said.

This appears to be the third delay in Zimbabwe’s attempt to take over the second of three mobile operators in the country. It already owns NetOne, though Econet Wireless, which is owned by the same group as wholesale fibre operator Liquid Telecom, is privately owned.

Zimbabwe said in July 2015 that it had the agreement of VimpelCom to take over Telecel, but the government was unable to provide the agreed $40 million. Employees were told in November 2015 that state-owned internet service provider Zarnet now owned Telecel and that they were now civil servants.

But the November transaction did not go through either, and – according to VimpelCom – neither has April’s, despite many comments by Mandiwanzira that the government is now in control of the stake.

According to NewsDay, the minister also said: “VimpelCom, which owned the 60% shareholding said they wanted somebody to give them $98 million for the 60% shares. Zarnet was too smart to say they will offer only $40 million. They agreed on the $40 million, which means the $98 million is now due to Zarnet. What Zarnet has done is to now sell the $98 million at a huge discount to NSSA for $45 million, and that is how we funded the transaction.”

He said that Zimbabwe wants state-controlled fixed telecoms operator TelOne to build the national fibre infrastructure. “When we have elections, they work on the backbone of fibre and we need that infrastructure to be in the hands of a neutral player, which is government because governments change every five years and are there to serve the people,” said the minister.

“Fibre is now at the centre of our telecommunications industry, and beyond that it is now at the centre of e-government communication, whereby government is connecting all offices throughout the country through fibre.”