A man passes an MTN board in Lagos, Nigeria. Picture: AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
A man passes an MTN board in Lagos, Nigeria. Picture: AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

MTN’s sale of its Cyprus unit is just the start of a broader exit from small or problematic markets, with the Liberian unit leading a number of West African divisions being considered for disposal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Africa’s largest cellphone company by subscribers sees the Liberia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau businesses as ones it could do without, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is not public.

The review is being led by CEO Rob Shuter, who said in March that he planned to evaluate whether the Johannesburg-based company needs a presence in all 22 markets in which it operates.

An MTN spokesman would not comment on market speculation.

MTN announced the sale of its Cyprus unit to French billionaire Xavier Niel’s Monaco Telecom on Monday for about €260m, the first country exit in the company’s 24-year history.

Cyprus had the lowest number of subscribers of all of MTN’s markets at end-March, though Liberia and Guinea-Bissau were close.

The only other MTN country division with fewer than 1-million customers is South Sudan, which has been engulfed in a civil war since 2013.

The sale of smaller markets could be laying the ground for an attempt to break into Angola, one of the people said.

Africa’s second-largest crude producer plans to sell a minority stake in state-owned telecommunications provider Angola Telecom and hold an auction for a fourth industry operator.

Meanwhile Ethiopia, Africa’s most populous nation after Nigeria, is planning to sell parts of the state-owned telecommunications company to foreign investors, opening the door to a market long coveted by MTN and rival Vodacom.

Liberia has struggled to revive its economy after a year-long Ebola outbreak earlier in the decade killed thousands and isolated the country.

Gross domestic product contracted by 1.6% in 2016, according to World Bank data.

President George Weah, who took office in January, pledged this week to pursue "aggressive" monetary and fiscal policies as inflation soars and the Liberian dollar has slumped.

Bloomberg

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