Zain to enter Mali by year-end

WEFME: Kuwait-based telecom could also seal agreements in two more African countries, chief exec says.

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By  Andrew White at the WEF Published  May 20, 2008

Kuwait-based mobile operator Zain aims to enter the Mali telecoms market and could also seal agreements in two more African nations before the end of the year, its CEO has told magazine Arabian Business.

"We are looking at Mali, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Rwanda and Mozambique,” Saad Al-Barrak said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

“Mali is the closest to a deal, which we hope to seal before the end of the year, and then the others are on the same level. We are actively engaged in discussions and exploration.

“Altogether, we hope to sign up three more African countries before the end of the year, or at least in the first half of next year."

Zain already operates in 15 African countries through Celtel, which it purchased for $3.4 billion in 2005.

Al-Barrak also revealed Zain was interested in acquiring Syria’s third licence, as Turkcell looks to have secured the purchase of main provider Syriatel for around $1 billion.

“We have a lot of issues to attend to, but we are keeping [the third license] on the radar and going after it,” he said.

Zain has been expanding in the Middle East and Africa through acquisitions and winning licences as it is facing more competition at home, where Saudi Telecom Company (STC) is to set up the third mobile phone company later in 2008.

Al-Barrak said separately on Monday the company might sell shares worth up to $5 billion in a stock offering in Europe next year, to help fund its rapid expansion abroad.

Al-Barrak said Zain, which is currently listed only in Kuwait, could make a share offer in the first or second quarter of 2009 on an exchange such as the London Stock Exchange (LSE) or NYSE Euronext.

He said Zain might sell a part of the whole company or its international operations unit.

Zain is also on track for an initial public offering (IPO) in Gulf neighbour Bahrain in June, he said.

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