Safaricom calls in the lawyers over MNP spat with Airtel

The war of words between Kenyan operators Bharti Airtel and Zain and the company enlisted to manage the market’s recently introduced mobile number portability (MNP) programme, Porting Access, has escalated to the legal domain. In a statement issued Tuesday, Safaricom’s director of corporate affairs, Nzioka Waita, said the firm is suing Porting Access, along with spokesman Patrick Musimba, for defamation.

The spat broke out just two weeks after MNP was introduced, with each operator accusing the other of tactics designed to disrupt the porting process. Safaricom stood accused of blocking calls to its network from customers who had switched to Airtel, while it in turn alleged that Airtel was providing misinformation to customers wishing to switch.

In this week’s instalment of the dispute, Safaricom, co-owned by the Kenyan Government and Vodafone, accused India’s Airtel and Dutch-owned Porting Access of collaborating to the benefit of Airtel over Safaricom.

Waita said: “Safaricom is inclined to believe, based on available evidence, that Porting Access, which acts as the custodian of the porting database, has abdicated its role as a neutral clearing house for the MNP process in Kenya by actively batting from the corner of a single operator: Bharti-Airtel, completely against the letter and spirit of the multi-lateral contract signed between the operators. We strongly object to the impression created by Bharti-Airtel and indeed by some commission-hunters, that the single measure of the success or otherwise of MNP in Kenya is how many subscribers port from other operators to Bharti-Airtel.”

Safaricom’s defamation suit surrounds allegations that it has sought to disrupt the porting process as well as some suggestions that it is not at heart a ‘Kenyan’ company.

“Contrary to the impression that Porting Access are trying to create, Safaricom is a Kenyan company, supporting a huge local stakeholder base and social economic ecosystem that includes over 740,000 individual Kenyan shareholders and the Government of Kenya (by extension all Kenyans),” said Waita.

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