The Independent (Kampala)

22 March 2014

Uganda: Aga Khan's Smart Telecom Move

Ugandans are tossing to the entry of a new telecom operator in the market. Smart Telecom Uganda, which was launched on March 17, is operated by Industrial Promotional Services, a subsidiary of the Aga Khan Fund for Development (AKFED).

The new telecom company enters a market dominated by old boys MTN and Airtel but which over the years has proved to be a difficult one for new comers. The development comes only weeks after reports emerged that French company Orange Telecom was looking for a buyer, and barely a year after Warid Telecom was bought off by Airtel following a difficult spell in the market.

However, Lutaf Kassam, the IPS managing director, was positive that Smart Telecom is here to say. "We are looking forward to many years of building on the investments that sister organizations have been making across Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda for more than 100 years," he said in a statement. He suggested that IPS would leverage its "deep knowledge and experience" in the telecom industry as the majority shareholder of Roshan, Afghanistain's leading total communications provider, as a 40% stakeholder in TCell in Tajikistan and as the largest investor in SEACOM submarine cable venture in East Africa, to be a top player in the Ugandan market.

He added that Timeturns, IPS's partner in Smart Telecom, brings to the partnership an established track record of starting telecommunications companies in Nepal and Cambodia and building them leading market players. Given the network's financial muscle, MTN and Airtel can only expect to be given a good run for their money.

Already, the group operates the NTV and Daily Monitor, Diamond Trust Bank, Jubilee Insurance and is of course the lead investor in the $860-million Bujagali Hydro Power Project, which was launched two years ago. Indeed, AKFED operates as a network of financially strong affiliates with more than 90 separate project companies whose total revenue totaled $ 2.3 billion in 2010.

The Group is active in 16 countries, which include; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the DR Congo, India and Ivory Coast. The others are; Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Senegal, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania as well as Uganda. Using Uganda as a launch pad, the Group sees itself making inroads into the virgin regional telecom market with a focus on innovation and excellent customer service. If Ugandans will get the quality services they have been longing for is what remains to be seen.

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