Vivendi confirms interest in Zain Africa

French conglomerate Vivendi has ended weeks of speculation with the confirmation that it is in talks to acquire a majority stake in Zain’s African operations.

Rumours have been circulating over the past few weeks that aspiring global carrier Zain is looking to sell off its African portfolio. These rumours were supported by the recent revelation that Swiss bank UBS has been appointed to help the firm assess its operations.

Zain acquired African player Celtel in 2005 for $3.36bn, and has continued to invest and acquire in the region ever since – most recently exploring opportunities in Morocco in March 2009. It has also broken ground internationally by establishing a pan-regional network, the use of which incurs no roaming charges for end users. The African portfolio was central to that strategy.

Moreover, the firm paid out for a major rebrand last summer, that saw all of its African properties rebadged with the Zain colours, and it has always pitched its MEA empire building as the second step in a process that will ultimately see it expand across the globe.

But while the carrier has never had any trouble raising money in the past, even the wealth of the Middle East is not immune to a global financial crisis and, more recently, the firm has been laying off staff, hatching outsourcing plans with kit vendors and launching various cost management initiatives.

The figure being touted for the firm’s African portfolio is between $10bn and $12bn, and Vivendi said the move would fit in with its strategy of seeking growth opportunities in emerging markets.

However, the French firm cautioned that at this stage there is no certainty that the discussions will lead to an acquisition.

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