Lebanon-based telecoms group Africell Holding has issued a statement confirming categorically that it has no links to troubled Burundian mobile operator Africa Cellulaire, trading under the brand name TEMPO, and that the unit is not one of its subsidiaries. Africell Holding clearly wishes to protect its brand image and reputation and is concerned that any adverse publicity surrounding TEMPO, which is also known as Africell and which has reportedly closed due to its failure to renew its licence, could harm its financial credibility in international markets.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, earlier this month TEMPO closed down its operation – presumably permanently – due to non-payment of a debt of BIF10 billion (USD6.49 million). At the time, Agence Ecofin reported that the country’s commissioner of internal taxes and non-tax revenues – a unit of the Burundi Revenue Department – said that TEMPO had not renewed its telecom licence, which has expired, and that it owes the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCT) the outstanding tax demand – a figure that Busokoza Bernard, founder and vice president of the board of directors of TEMPO, considers ‘exorbitant’. At a press conference called on 18 March, Busokoza told reporters that the company’s survival depended upon the government and its understanding of Africell’s need for time to restructure its business – to save the jobs of nearly 400 employees.
Africa Cellulaire (TEMPO) is majority owned by VTEL MEA, a unit of VTEL Holdings. Dubai-based group VTEL Holdings purchased its 81% stake in January 2008. Although the Burundian cellco’s network is still fully functional, its interconnection with other operators has been suspended temporarily, until it meets the tax demand. However, such a situation is giving rise to TEMPO users migrating to rivals such as U-Com (leo), Econet Wireless Burundi (EWB) and Smart Mobile (Burundi).