BHARTI Airtel, which owns Airtel Zambia, has announced that it will be exiting Africa by the end of this year.
The other markets Bharti Airtel plans to exit include Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo and Chad.
BloombergQuint, an India-focused subsidiary of Bloomberg News quoted Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal saying, “The moves would pare the size of operations on the continent and could be completed within a year…some of Bharti’s businesses in 14 African nations would be affected.”
When Airtel began talks to sell off its operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville and Sierra Leone to Orange two years ago, the company had claimed it would not be exiting Africa.
Since completing the purchase of mobile operations in 15 African countries from Zain of Kuwaiti at US$10.7 billion, Bharti Airtel has failed to live up to expectations as it has been faced with poor performance across those markets and that was increasing its debt portfolio.
In the quarter ended September 2016, Bharti Africa lost US$91 million compared with a US$170 million loss in the same period the previous year.
Lack of investment and engineering upgrades had seen Airtel being beaten in market share by South Africa’s MTN while Zamtel still lags third.
With Vodafone being granted a data licence to operate in Zambia and its voice license beckoning for them, Airtel Zambia’s future looks even tougher as fierce competition continue to dictate the direction of mobile phone industry in the country.
MTN Zambia and Vodafone Zambia were offering 4G internet speed while Airtel Zambia had remained on less fancied 3G.
In India, Bharti was also considering selling the 73.5 per cent stake in its tower unit, Bharti Infratel but a decision was yet to be taken whether to sell minority or controlling shares.
In almost 30 years of the mobile phone industry in Zambia, Airtel has changed ownership four times.
So far, the company has operated under four different names which include Zamcell, Celtel, Zain and the current Airtel.