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China Unicom in offer for Nitel stake

17 февраля 2010

A consortium including China Unicom on Wednesday bid $2.5bn for a majority stake in Nitel, Nigeria’s former state telecoms monopoly, in what would be one of the largest privatisations in Africa and rank among China’s biggest investments on the continent.

Officials in one of the world’s fastest-growing telecoms markets said the consortium, which also comprises Minerva of Dubai and GiCell, understood to be a small Nigerian telecoms group, has 10 days to pay 30 per cent of the fee and a further 50 days to pay the balance if it is to secure a 75 per cent holding in Nitel.

The investment would mark another significant step in China’s advance into Africa – albeit through a company in a stricken condition which Nigeria has been seeking to privatise for a decade.

Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Africa’s mineral and oil assets to fuel its growth, but Chinese officials on the continent say they are increasingly turning their attention to assets such as telecoms.

In 2007, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China made Beijing’s biggest direct investment in Africa when it bought 20 per cent of South Africa’s Standard Bank for $5.5bn.

China Unicom, the state-controlled group that is listed in New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai, has 273m subscribers.

However, analysts suggested the price tag for the Nitel stake – some $1.5bn more than the second-highest offer – looked expensive for a company that is in dire straights. “I think it’s way over the top,” said an African telecoms analyst with an investment bank.

Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, has recently overtaken South Africa as Africa’s biggest telecoms market. MTN, the South African telecom group, leads Zain of Kuwait in a market estimated to have about 45 per cent mobile penetration.

But Nitel has been in steady decline in recent years. The more than 1m subscribers its mobile arm once enjoyed have dwindled to several thousand. Fixed-line customers now stand at 100,000 – just 20 per cent of what they were in 2001.

In July, the Nigerian government reversed the 2006 sale of a 51 per cent stake in Nitel to Transcorp, a Nigerian conglomerate, for $500m, citing unpaid debts and a lack of investment.

The consortium, known as New Generations Telecommunications, “emerged as the preferred bidder” in a privatisation process that was opened yesterday, the Bureau of Public Enterprises said.

Little-known Omen International was named reserved bidder after offering $956m.

Источник: Financial Times

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