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Ghana’s move to curtail MTN’s market share is about mobile money, not voice

Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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  • Yomi Kazeem
By Yomi Kazeem

Africa reporter

MTN’s large market share in Ghana may be about to get smaller.

Ghana’s telecoms regulator, the National Communications Authority, says it will implement “specific policies” to curtail the local dominance of MTN, Africa’s largest telecoms company. The regulator says the move is necessary “to ensure a level-playing field.” It comes after MTN was declared a “significant market power” by the regulator—a move which requires it to create more policies for competition among operators.

As of March, MTN dominated both voice and data subscription rates among users in Ghana, accounting for more than double of its nearest competitors, Vodafone and AirtelTigo. Some of the measures to bridge the market share gap will include setting minimum and maximum prices for calls, texts, mobile internet and mobile money services.

But perhaps the  bigger concern for Ghana’s regulators—both with the National Communications Authority and the Bank of Ghana—will be that due to the rapid growth of mobile money services in the country, led by MTN Money, the company may end up dominating the country’s push for wider financial inclusion. Ghana has been Africa’s fastest-growing mobile money market in recent years.

In aiming to curtail MTN’s market share, Ghana is taking a different approach to Kenya where Safaricom dominates the market, thanks to its ubiquitous M-Pesa mobile money service. Despite previous suggestions of possible regulation to avert market monopoly, Safaricom remains the dominant force in the East African country. In the absence of tighter regulation, Kenya’s second and third largest mobile phone operators have been forced to merge to create a stronger challenger to Safaricom.

Safaricom’s M-Pesa is the dominant payment system of Kenya and it is estimated up to 40% to 50% of the country’s GDP passes through the platform, Ghana may be trying to avoid having a similar scenario with MTN Ghana, whose parent MTN is based in South Africa.

The scale of MTN’s dominance in Ghana was shown by the success of its 2018 initial public offering saw MTN Ghana sell its shares mainly through mobile money with 85% of buyers purchasing their stock through its Momo Wallet service. The IPO also made history for being largest ever undertaken on Ghana’s stock market with the company raising around $237 million.

But as research has suggested, a lack of adequate competition among telecoms operators in African countries comes at a cost for local users. Last year, a broadband affordability report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) cited market dominance as one of the reason for higher costs of internet access on the continent with the average price for one gigabyte of data costing 7.12% of the average monthly salary—much higher than the defined affordability benchmark of 2% of average income.

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