AKFED expands its telecoms presence in Africa

Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development expands with three telcos in Africa
Karim Khoja, CEO of Roshan, said there remains huge potential for mobile services in Africa.
Karim Khoja, CEO of Roshan, said there remains huge potential for mobile services in Africa.

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Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), a development focused on developing markets, is set to expand its presence in Africa’s telecoms sector in 2014.

The organisation, which is the majority owner of Roshan, Afghanistan’s leading mobile operator, acquired majority stakes in telecom operations in Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda in 2013.

AKFED is now in the process of expanding these networks and developing a new master brand for these African operations, according to Roshan CEO, Karim Khoja, who is working closely on the expansion plan.

In Burundi, AKFED owns 51% of Smart Mobile, which is now the country’s second biggest mobile operator. Meanwhile, its operations in Tanzania and Uganda are live and due to launch commercially “very soon”, according to Khoja.

The licences for all three operations are technology neutral, and AKFED plans to develop 2G, 3G and 4G services in all three countries.

“We are rolling out network infrastructure in all three countries. In Tanzania and Uganda, we are deploying new infrastructure, and in Burundi we are both upgrading what is there currently and deploying in additional cities,” Khoja told CommsMEA.

The three operations will be run as a single network, with the same pricing structure and master brand.

To generate a master brand for the three telcos, AKFED launched a competition called "Give us a Name" in November 2013 in each of its African markets. “We received a significant number of submissions from all three countries,” Khoja said. “Currently, we are compiling a short list of names for the second phase of the competition, which will be voting on the shortlist. We're expecting to have this second phase in the next couple of weeks,” Khoja said.

AKFED is also the biggest shareholder in Seacom, a subsea cable system that connects Africa to the rest of the world, and Khoja said that the African operations will benefit from this.

“[The African operations] will have high quality fixed internet and broadband, internet and voice system that allows connectivity to the world at very competitive prices. That doesn’t mean we are coming in cheap or to undercut prices but we are coming in to provide value for money,” Khoja said.

The CEO added that the African operations, in line with the aims of the AKFED, will have a heavy focus on corporate social responsibility. AKFED, a development fund that works in 30 countries around the world, is present in various sectors including agriculture, microfinance, education and healthcare in Africa, and the mobile operations will leverage on these existing businesses and organizations to offer services such as mobile money, e-health and e-education, according to Khoja.

Roshan launched operations in Afghanistan in 2003 and is 51% owned by AKFED. Its other shareholders are Monaco Telecom International and TeliaSonera, which hold stakes of 36.75% and 12.25% respectively.

AKFED also owns 40% of Tcell, a mobile operator in Tajikistan.

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