MTN has written off and abandoned its business in Syria after clashes with the government complicated its efforts to offload the unit, putting the spotlight on the complexity of profitably exiting unstable, war-torn countries for the company in the midst of sharpening its focus on Africa.

MTN, which has developed a reputation for conquering emerging-market countries that few dare to touch, is in the process of exiting businesses in the Middle East region — including Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran — as part of a five-year slim-down plan unveiled in 2019 to reduce risk, sell noncore assets such as towers and masts, and raise about R25bn...

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