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Uganda bans social media in run off to presidential election

Yehia El Amine

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Uganda bans social media in run off to presidential election

Uganda’s communications regulator has imposed a blanket ban on all social media and messaging apps since Wednesday until further notice, South African telecoms company MTN Group said in a statement.

Reuters confirmed it had seen a letter from the Ugandan communications regulator dated 12th January 2021 which ordered internet service providers to “immediately suspend any access and use, direct or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over your network until further notice.”

The social media ban comes on the eve of a tense presidential election, which sees long-time leader Yoweri Museveni go toe-to-toe with popular singer Bobi Wine (otherwise known as Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu).

According to Internet monitor NetBlocks, Ugandans faced difficulties accessing the Internet via mobile devices and wireless connection as of Wednesday, as the country entered its nationwide blackout from 7 p.m. (16:00 GMT).

“I can confirm that MTN Uganda and all Licensed Telecommunication Operators in the country have received a directive from Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to implement a suspension of the operation of all internet Gateways and associated access points,” Nompilo Morafo, MTN’s group executive for corporate affairs told Reuters.

MTN Uganda (MTNU) is Uganda’s leading mobile operator with 60 percent of the market.

“MTNU will continue engaging with the relevant stakeholders to limit the duration of the service disruption,” Morafo added.

Reuters cited an anonymous source from Uganda’s telecoms sector as saying that the government had “made clear” to executives at telecoms firms that the ban was a retaliatory move after Facebook blocked access to certain accounts supporting the government.

Facebook confirmed on Monday that it blocked a network located in Uganda with apparent links to the country’s communications ministry for posting from fake and duplicate accounts.

“Any efforts to block online access to journalists or members of the public are unacceptable breaches of the right to information,” Global media watchdog The International Press Institute said in a statement regarding the Ugandan government’s blackout.

The upcoming election has been riddled with controversy, with the government violently cracking down on opposition rallies citing a breach in their COVID restrictions on large gatherings.

In parallel, supporters and various rights groups have accused the government of attempting to stifle Museveni’s opposition.

Wine has amassed a huge following within the country’s young electorate, where almost 80 percent of the population falls under the age of 30. Wine is aged 38, which is half Museveni’s 76 years.

President Museveni has been the country’s long-time president since seizing power as a guerilla back in 1986 and is widely credited to have stabilized the country following the bloody dictatorships of Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

Museveni, however, has long been accused of intimidating opposition candidates and supporters as well as rigging elections since his party – National Resistance Movement party – introduced them ten years into their reign.

The lead up to elections has been extremely violent to say the least, with 54 killed by police and military officers following protests that erupted back in November 2020 when Wine was arrested by authorities.

The popular singer has mainly relied on Facebook to cover his campaign and press conferences, as most local media outlets are state-owned, much of whom refusing to give Wine a platform.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Telecoms

Deutsche Telekom suggests upcoming towers partnership

Karim Hussami

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Deutsche Telekom suggests upcoming towers partnership

“Because everybody does something, this is exactly why I’m not doing it,” Tim Hoettges, Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Telekom said, referring to the current trend of telecoms operators selling off tower assets for sizeable sums of money. “It might be right that you have to monetise your towers to deleverage your balance sheet… [but] we don’t need that today,” he said.

Deutsche Telekom will not part with its tower assets, despite recently reaching` a deal of that nature in the Netherlands, but it could look to float its passive infrastructure business or seek out a tower partnership.

Orange CEO Stéphane Richard recently named Deutsche Telekom as an ideal partner in the towers space; while the telco wants to retain control of its own towers, that could mean co-control with another big operator, Richard explained.

There were no formal talks happening with Deutsche Telekom – or Vodafone, Orange’s other perfect partner – when the CEO made the revelation.

Deustche Telekom appears to be following a similar strategy to Orange.

“It always takes two to tango,” said Hoettges, speaking at the German incumbent’s 2020 results call on Friday. “We might have a partner, where we have synergies and a value-enhancing story,” he said, a comment that doubtless caught the attention of executives at the operator’s French peer.

Passive infrastructure assets

Telefonica is one of the big names selling off towers, and it was honest about the fact that debt reduction was one of the main drivers of the €7.7 billion deal it inked with American Tower in January.

But for Deutsche Telekom, towers and their growing value are a strategic asset, “not just selling something and getting the money,” as Hoettges put it.

The operator brokered a deal for towers partnership in January, to combine its towers in the Netherlands with those of Cellnex and simultaneously create a fund in partnership with the towers firm to invest in passive infrastructure assets.

“This is a classic DT deal. We create optionalities for value-enhancing businesses outside…of our strategic envelope,” he said.

Benefits of towers partnership

As for the benefits that comes out of sharing networks, they include: the increase in the speed of opening new fields and enables the subscribers to provide network coverage to wide areas in a faster way with lower CapEx potential.

Operators also have chance to satisfy their customers with the quicker network coverage, as well as operators will start making money as of the first day by removing the field installing process.

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MTN faces rocky situation in Syria, hampering Middle East exit

Inside Telecom Staff

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MTN faces rocky situation in Syria, hampering Middle East exit

South African operator MTN is facing a rocky situation in Syria, as the company was placed under a judicial guardianship following a court battle that went in favor of the country’s telecoms regulator.

The Syrian Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority had previously accused the provider of mismanagement and violations of its licensing contract. According to Reuters, the state had claimed that the alleged violations deprived it of revenue, while MTN denied the allegations and said last week that it intended to appeal.

The regulator filed a lawsuit against the South African courier before the administrative court of Damascus seeking interim measures against MTN’s Syrian operations. The move cripples the company’s exit from the Syrian market, as it was reportedly hoping to settle a deal worth $65 million, amounting to 75 percent of MTN’s Syrian unit, Reuters reported.

It is worth mentioning that the administrative court of Damascus appointed MTN Syria minority shareholder Tele Invest as its guardian, which was primarily tapped to become the buyer of the Group’s 75 percent stake in its Syrian office.

The judicial guardian is responsible for managing its day-to-day operations.

The sale to TeleInvest is meant to be part of MTN Group’s plan to exit the Middle East, corresponding with its new strategy to focus on its core African markets in the medium-term future.

MTN Group highlighted in a statement late last week that it “strongly disagrees with the allegations made before the court” — which have yet to be made known — as well as the decision and intends to file an appeal. In addition, the group is also considering other appropriate steps to take in light of the ruling.

According to the provider, in the six months to June 2020, MTN Syria contributed 0.7 percent to the group’s reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. At that time, the net assets attributable to MTN Syria in the MTN Group accounts had been written down to the estimated recoverable amount of $80 million.

Reuters had also reported that MTN’s operations in the Middle East have been the center of wide controversy, with allegations over its use of bribes to win a 15-year operating license in Iran, while, in parallel, aiding militant groups in Afghanistan; MTN, however, denies all the allegations.

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Telecoms

STL signs record high $100 million deals across MEA

Inside Telecom Staff

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STL

India-based digital network integrator Sterlite Technologies (STL) announced on Monday that it has renewed and extended deals with leading telecoms providers in the Middle East and Africa region (MEA).

According to a company statement, the deals are worth more than $100 million, taking STL’s order book to a record high, while exhibiting the company’s unwavering focus on building future-ready digital networks within the region.

“STL is building solutions to empower its customers in the MEA region for optical connectivity and network software, enabling FTTH and 5G deployments.  We are proud to be a part of the progress of the Middle East and Africa. With our deep technology expertise and growing talent base, we will continue to deliver on the full potential of digital networks, providing enhanced experiences to consumers and businesses alike,” speaking on the deals, Sandeep Girotra, Global Sales Head, STL, said in a statement.

The global pandemic has pushed many telcos to heavily invest in building digital networks to be able to meet the rising demand for connectivity from people remaining indoors due to lockdown measures. STL has capitalized on this and expanded its presence in the region with their fully 5G ready Opticonn and Software Solutions.

“Our unique end-to-end solutions enables customers to build 5G hyperscale networks at a fast pace with lower long-term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These multi-years, multi-million-dollar deals range from optical connectivity solutions to network solutions,” the company said.

According to STL, one of the large-scale deals has been signed with a leading telco in the UAE to advance its 5G, 4G and FTTX network infrastructure through STL’s Opticonn Solutions, including onshore logistics and warehousing. Another multi-million-dollar digital transformation partnership has been formed with the leading telecommunications group in North Africa.

The unnamed telco will deploy STL’s digital billing solutions to 7 million subscribers across the region.

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