Ethiopia further delays award of two telecoms licences  

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Ethiopia will delay beyond a March deadline the award of two telecoms licences to multinational mobile companies, responding to requests from interested bidders, State Minister of Finance Eyob Tekalign Tolina told Reuters on Wednesday.

“The timeline is probably too aggressive for most operators,” Eyob said in an interview in his office in the capital Addis Ababa.

“They have requested the government should ... allow them enough amount of time to prepare and compete.” He said a new timeline will be announced in the next two weeks.

Reuters reported last June that Ethiopia would issue the licences by the end of 2019, quoting Ethiopian officials and telecoms executives with direct knowledge of the process.

Balch Reba, director general of the Ethiopian Communication Authority, then said in October that the government hoped to launch the bidding process early this year and award the licences by April 2020. Reba did not respond to requests for comments on the new timeline.

Eyob said the government will not consider a “pure auction” to allocate the two licences, a system several mobile operators feared as it would reward the highest offer rather than taking into account international expertise or technical capabilities.

“It is not going to be a pure auction for sure because we have other important considerations like the digital economy and universal coverage,” said the state minister.

The licences will end a state monopoly in the country of around 100 million and open up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets.

South African operator MTN, Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates and Western telecoms companies like Vodafone and France’s Orange are likely to be among the leading bidders.

The telecoms sector is considered the big prize in a push to liberalise Ethiopia’s economy launched last year by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Editing by Giulia Paravicini and Catherine Evans)