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MTN says outdated telco laws will hold Africa back

By , Africa editor
Africa , 20 Jul 2023
MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita.
MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita.

There is an urgent need to make African economies fit for the digital age, said MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita, who has called for balanced, modern telecoms regulatory frameworks across Africa.

Mupita said balanced laws increase investor confidence, promote innovation, and drive growth in the industry.

The MTN Group boss stated his views on Winning through Turns, a McKinsey series of interviews with telecommunications leaders.

He expressed his views on low rates of smartphone penetration, broadband access, telecom legislation and new investments in digital infrastructure. 

Blended, he said, these enable the continent to leapfrog its current hurdles and make seismic advances in everything from education, healthcare, agriculture, logistics, mining, and other industries.

On legislation, Mupita said: “There is an urgent need for more harmonised and modern regulatory frameworks across Africa.”

He continued: “Regulation is a potential massive driver of the growth and transformation of the industry. The regulatory frameworks that we have had over the last 20 years have served us very well. They were designed in the transition era from voice to data, basically from 2G to 3G technology.

“But these regulatory frameworks are not fit for the future, and without change, will keep Africa behind as the rest of the world advances. They are based on a belief that you need four to five or even six-player markets when we see consolidation globally in many markets.”

Mupita urged governments to help rebalance the digital ecosystem by creating fairer business conditions for the telecoms sector.

He explained: “A real issue on the African continent is a lack of harmonisation of regulatory frameworks as you move from country to country.

“How you approach spectrum acquisition in country X and country Y, which might even be neighbours, but be quite different. It’s very challenging for us as a multinational operator in 19 markets, where the regulations differ from country to country.

“Modernising and evolving regulations is critical for creating a more attractive climate for global capital. Many estimates show that the continent needs $100 billion in capital investments to meet the goal of universal broadband by 2030, and what is being spent now is insufficient.”

Mupita’s plea follows a similar request from the GSM Association – a global industry body of mobile network operators – which called for telecom policies and regulations based on internationally accepted principles.

In its ‘Mobile Economy 2023’ report, the association notes telecoms infrastructure serves as the foundation of all modern digital economies and calls upon policymakers to take action that develops the industry by removing combative sector-specific regulations.

Call for clarity

For Mupita, the call to action comes after recent legal squabbles involving MTN Group in some African markets.

Earlier this year, MTN was at odds with the Ghana Revenue Authority over a $773 million tax claim; the matter was subsequently withdrawn, after extensive discussions.

While, in Cameroon, MTN has failed for ten months to access its bank accounts, worth over $23 million. 

This is at the request of Ahmadou Baba Danpullo, a business tycoon with strong government connections, who is in dispute with South African authorities and a bank of that country. 

MTN Group is headquartered in South Africa.

MTN Cameroon is now facing operational challenges, CEO Mitwa Ng'ambi said recently, adding that the situation could negatively impact the 12 million subscribers it serves.

The matter has since drawn the attention of the South African government, which has expressed concern regarding the treatment of MTN.

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