MTN’s uphill battle in war-ravaged South Sudan
The IMF said the economy probably contracted as much as 6.9% in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The country has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest crude reserves and is pumping as little as 120,000 barrels per day.
Juba — MTN Group’s South Sudan unit says it has lost about 10% of its subscribers since violence flared in July and half its transmission sites are offline.
The subsidiary of Africa’s biggest cellphone company by sales is trying to ride out a three-year civil war in South Sudan.
Most customers lost were in the southern region of Equatoria, which had been riven by insecurity in the aftermath of fighting in the capital, Juba, about 11 months ago, said Khumbulani Dhlomo, MTN South Sudan’s head of corporate services. The operator previously had about 1.2-million subscribers.
"We have seen most customers either being displaced or leaving jobs or leaving the country," Dhlomo said in an interview in Juba. As the economic crisis caused by the war continues, "some just left using MTN because they don’t have income", he said.
Oil-producing South Sudan’s currency has collapsed and inflation has surged above 400% since conflict erupted in December 2013, curbing crude oil output.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the war and more than 1.8-million have fled the country, with a new phase of violence beginning in July with the collapse of a short-lived transitional government in which rebel leader Riek Machar shared power with President Salva Kiir.
In June 2016, MTN South Sudan said it was cutting about 50 jobs and making changes to the way it sold airtime because of the economic downturn. Two months later, it said that its network in a number of states was affected by violence and that insecurity meant it was unable to do routine maintenance.
Only about 190 of MTN’s almost 400 nationwide transmission sites were operational, Dhlomo said.
MTN South Sudan CEO Philip Besiimire said in the same interview, that while investment was "very tough" given the crisis, MTN was committed to staying and restoring services.
The company competes with Zain South Sudan, a unit of Kuwait’s largest cellphone provider, which said in August that it had reduced operations and cut expatriate staff to survive the crisis.
"We believe the story of South Sudan will change, that this country will turn the corner," Besiimire said. "Things will get better because no situation is permanent."