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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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Uganda orders MTN Group to list locally before license extension

Uganda has asked the local unit of South African telecoms giant MTN Group (MTNJ.J) to list some of its shares on the local stock exchange as a condition for renewing its operating license, a top official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Godfrey Mutabazi, head of telecoms sector regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) said Ugandans should be able to own a stake in the firm which has operated in the country for 20 years.

“We are evaluating the conditions of (license) renewal and that’s one of the points we are discussing,” he said referring to listing shares on the local Uganda Stock Exchange (USE).

When asked specifically whether a local listing was being stated as a condition for renewing MTN’s license, he said “that’s right.”

“They have not shown any resentment to that proposal at all,” Mutabazi added.

MTN Uganda did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. Their current license expires in October.

The firm has dominated the market in Uganda throughout its two decades in the East African country. It is the largest telecommunications firm by subscribers, followed by a unit of India’s Bharti Airtel and other smaller players.

According to the group’s financial results last year, MTN Uganda has a subscriber base of 10.7 million while its revenues for the year surged 10 percent to $356.34 million.

A listing of MTN’s shares would be a major boost to the local bourse which is still relatively small, with 16 firms. The bourse had not attracted an IPO for years until this month when a local drugs maker listed.

Recently, MTN Uganda has faced criticism on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook from some subscribers about data bundles getting used up quickly and the firm not responding to their complaints.

In May UCC said it would investigate MTN after criticism on social media about its mobile money policies.

An extra headache for MTN and other telecoms in the country is also coming from a new tax measure on access to use of popular social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp which some analysts think will hurt growth in the sector.

“MTN is an investor here and they have been here for 20 years…to go beyond, I would argue that they have been here long enough they should be identified as Ugandans and the only way to do that is to list so that Ugandans can have a stake in that company,” Mutabazi said.

“They should warm to the government desire to have some of their shares listed.”

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