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Vodacom May Sell Congo Stake to MTN or Unitel, Partner Says

Vodacom Group Ltd. plans to pull out of the Democratic Republic of Congo by selling its 51 percent stake in a local mobile-phone business to MTN Group Ltd. or Unitel SA, according to the minority partner in the venture.

“Vodacom is selling its investment in Vodacom Congo,” Alieu Conteh, founder and chairman of Congolese Wireless Network SPRL, which holds 49 percent in Vodacom Congo, said in an interview in Johannesburg. He said he met with a representative of Vodafone Group Plc, which owns 65 percent of Vodacom, last week to discuss a sale. He declined to identify the person.

MTN, Africa’s largest mobile-phone company with business in 22 countries, and Unitel, Angola’s biggest operator, are the final bidders for Vodacom’s stake in the Congo venture, Conteh said. CWN won’t sell its stake, he said. Richard Boorman, a spokesman at Johannesburg-based Vodacom Group, declined to comment in an e-mailed statement.

Vodacom has been at odds with CWN since at least early 2010, following a plan to inject $484 million into Vodacom Congo. Both sides last year appointed London-based NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd. to “explore options” for the unit.

Conteh said Vodafone is trying to convince CWN to also sell its stake. Vodafone spokesman Simon Gordon declined to comment. MTN spokesman Rich Mkhondo said the company was invited last year to participate in the bidding process and is “still part of the process.” MTN doesn’t know how many other companies are bidding for the Congo stake, he said. Unitel, based in Luanda, Angola, said it won’t comment “until the process is over.”

Johan Dennelind, Vodacom’s head of international operations, said Jan. 17 that the phone company is close to resolving the Congo dispute and is “making good progress.”

Vodacom Congo had 4.8 million subscribers at the end of September, Vodacom said on Nov. 7. The DRC, Africa’s second-largest country after Sudan, has over 71 million people and a mobile penetration rate of 17 percent, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

France Telecom SA in October agreed to buy all the shares in Congo-China Telecom, the DRC’s fourth-largest mobile company, for $196 million.

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