Zimbabwe’s Econet said to be in talks about restructuring

Masiyiwa Strive

JOHANNESBURG – Econet Wireless Zimbabwe is in talks about restructuring the company, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The company, which has a market value of $3.1bn, announced on Monday that it’s in talks that may affect its share price, urging stockholder caution when trading its securities. It didn’t provide further details.

The talks are related to a reorganisation, the two people said, asking not to be identified because they aren’t authorised to discuss it publicly.

One of the people said the restructuring may relate to plans for an initial public offering by Liquid Telecom, a unit of Econet that owns about 40 000 kilometres of cross-border fibre networks in Africa.

Liquid chief executive officer Nic Rudnick said last year that an IPO was a possibility.

Econet, founded by Zimbabwean phone tycoon Strive Masiyiwa, is also considering selling shares on the London Stock Exchange that could value the company at about $8bn, people familiar with the matter said in November.

Liquid Telecom has succeeded in Africa where the infamous Cecil John Rhodes did not, in connecting the Cape to Cairo.

At the end of the 19th century, Rhodes had a dream to build a Cape-to-Cairo railway route and conquer “Darkest Africa”, but he only got as far as what today is called Zimbabwe in his lifetime.

It took Liquid Telecom 10 years to realise its Cape-to-Cairo network of 10 000km in its “One Africa” broadband vision, encompassing a 60 000km network.

Meanwhile, Reshaad Sha, the chief executive of Liquid Telecom South Africa, announced at the recent International Telecommunication Union summit in Durban that the telecoms company’s Cape Town-to-Cairo high-speed broadband land link was now live.

The terrestrial land link complemented the existing undersea cables and offered faster connectivity.

Sha said the biggest structural challenge was getting the fibre link over the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It was done with “great difficulty”.

In some areas, the company had to be sensitive to the environment. However, it was driven by its Africa vision, to get people connected.

Connecting the rest of Africa was still in the works, Sha said. “We are currently working on connecting East and West Africa,” he said.

Liquid Telecom would use capital markets and did not rule out a listing in future as it expands its footprint.

Sha said in an interview with Business Report: “Our approach is to expand the network, and if that means acquiring or partnering other networks, that is what we will do.”

Scaling the network allowed Liquid Telecom to aggregate buying capacity, while partnerships with big companies such as Microsoft enabled it to work out better commercial deals, which benefited the customer.

“Having a large footprint allows us to deliver a much better service portfolio, which benefits our customers,” Sha said.

In discussing the regional context in which Liquid Telecom operates, Sha said understanding the regulatory framework and knowing the business and market environment of each country were highly relevant to making the business a success.

“So it needs to be home growth.

“In each of the countries we operate in, we either have entered the market from scratch and built up the business, or acquired the business that was already operating in that market, like in South Africa acquiring Neotel and building a business on that,” he said.