"This is an incredibly transformative opportunity for ourselves, because the size of the economy, the size of the market is very vast," Africell's Chief Investment Officer (CIO) told Lusa in London.
In early July it was announced that Africell won the public tender to become the fourth telecommunications operator in Angola, after being the only one to formalize an application for the tender.
Interest in Angola had been around for some time, but the opportunity came with the cancellation of a previous tender won by Telstar and the opening of a new process, along with a reform of the telecommunications sector.
"There was a need for structural reform, because, as the country in general, the telecommunications industry had some fundamental problems that have now started to be addressed. The change in the political environment, the opening to international investors, the desire to become much more transparent in the way business is done, has made the market much more attractive to us, "said Paterson.
The coincidence with the opening of a lawsuit in Ethiopia to privatize Ethio Telecom, which has a desirable monopoly of 44 million users in that country, will have diverted potential competitors, such as South African MTN, French Orange or Kenyan Safaricom.
"I think that most of the shareholders of the other operators that might have an interest in Angola were forced to choose between Angola and Ethiopia due to the similarity in the dates and due to the relatively limited appetite in terms of risk to move forward with the two at the same time. we concluded very early that Ethiopia was not for us, the country is even bigger and more complicated to cover than Angola ", explained the official.
For Africell, this expansion coincides with a reorganization of the company with origins in Lebanon, but since March registered in Jersey, an English Channel island with an attractive tax regime, chosen, said Paterson, "because it is an internationally recognized jurisdiction for companies multinationals ".
The main office is now in London, where the CIO and the Chief Legal Officer, Magase Mogale, work, while the founder and chief executive, Ziad Dalloul, who holds the entire capital with a non-French shareholder. identified, is more active on the ground.
An American citizen, Dalloul was involved in fixed and mobile telecommunications projects in several emerging countries before identifying the potential of sub-Saharan Africa in the early 2000s.
The first license Africell won was in Gambia, in 2001, where it is currently the market leader, followed by Sierra Leone in 2005, the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 and Uganda in 2014, the latter after the acquisition of the business. in the country of Orange.
It currently has 12 million customers and a rapidly growing business volume, having tripled the result before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) in the last five years, said the CIO, although the numbers are not public because the company does not is listed.
It is because it is a privately held company that Africell can take chances in the Angolan market, where it is a long-term investment, emphasized Ian Paterson.
"There is a tremendous opportunity there for us. It will take time to reach our full ambitions, but we have time to do so," he admitted.
The challenges of a changing country are compounded by the impact of an "inevitable" recession caused by the covid-19 pandemic, which creates a lot of uncertainty but also new prospects.
"In a way, the communications industry is part of the solution in trying to maintain our lifestyle under the circumstances," he said, anticipating a more intensive and diversified use of mobile phones, as is happening in other countries.