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Safaricom officially goes live in Ethiopia


About 16 months after winning a telecom license to operate in Ethiopia, Safaricom has today finally gone live in the country. 

Safaricom Ethiopia on Thursday switched on its mobile telecommunications network and services in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital city. The telco has over the last few months been running pilots for its services, starting with Dire Dawa, a city in the eastern part of the country.  

Safaricom Ethiopia’s 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services are available in 11 cities starting today, including Dire Dawa. The company says it plans to launch services in a total of 25 cities by April 2023 to meet the 25% population coverage obligation in its licence. 

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

“For two decades, Safaricom PLC has combined the power of technology and our innovative spirit to solve customer and societal challenges. Led by our Purpose to Transform Lives, we have deepened digital and financial inclusion in Kenya by connecting people to people, people to opportunities and people to information. With these lessons and experiences, 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.” Peter Ndegwa, CEO of Safaricom PLC, said:.

Safaricom Ethiopia is owned by an international consortium including Vodafone Group; Safaricom PLC; Vodacom Group; Sumitomo Corporation – one of the largest international trading and business investment companies; and British International Investment (BII) – the UK’s development finance institution and impact investor.

“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.” Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said. 

With its mobile network now in place, it will be interesting to see if Safaricom will also roll out its mobile money service M-Pesa in the country.

The license Safaricom received back in May last year only allowed the company to compete against state monopoly Ethio Telecom, it didn’t offer its revolutionary money-remittance services due to legal limitations.

In April this year though,  Ethiopia’s Central Bank drafted a Bill that opens the door for foreign investors such as Safaricom to offer mobile money services.

The government-backed bill stated, “Foreign nationals may be allowed to invest in a payment instrument issuer or a payment system operator business, or establish a subsidiary which shall be licensed as a payment instrument issuer or payment system operator.”

The move by Ethiopia to flex its Telkom market gives investors access to a population of over 110 million people. The country had one of the most rigid telecom laws in the world which has led to slow growth in the industry.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech, business and African startups. Founder and Editor For TechTrendsKE. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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