Zambia awarded licenses to start a fourth mobile-network operator to a company part-owned by Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president whose influence is waning in her home country.
Unitel International Holdings BV, in which Dos Santos owns a 25 percent stake, pledged to invest more than $350 million through a local unit and will compete with market leader MTN Group Ltd. and Bharti Airtel Ltd. The expansion comes less than four months after new Angola President Joao Lourenco announced an auction for a new operator in the oil-rich African nation, challenging Unitel in its home market.
Dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, was stripped of her role as chairwoman of Angola’s state-oil company last year as Lourenco sought to reduce the influence of the family of predecessor Eduardo Dos Santos, who he succeeded in September elections. Isabel this month denied wrongdoing related to a transfer of $38.2 million from the oil company, Sonangol, following allegations by its chairman, Carlos Saturnino.
For Zambia’s part, the country’s telecommunications regulator concluded after a two-year review that more competition is needed to improve services and lower prices. Two companies including Unitel expressed an interest in the licenses, the Zambia Information & Communications Technology Authority said in a statement Monday.
During the first half of 2017, active mobile-phone subscriptions in Zambia increased by 3.4 percent to 12.4 million, according to the finance ministry, compared with a population of about 16.5 million.
— With assistance by Matthew Hill