In his first interaction with Indian media, Airtel Africa managing director and chief executive officer Olusegun Ogunsanya said that the carrier aims to overthrow market leader MTN in the 14 countries where it operates even as it has captured the top spot in four markets and is No 2 in nine others. Ogunsanya, who took the lead in October last year, said he plans to drive profitability by taking cost reduction measures while taking on local currency debt at the operating companies level across countries to reduce the risk of devaluation. Edited excerpts:
Q: Would you call Africa’s debt position comfortable, and do you plan to reduce it further?
A: When we did our IPO in 2019 the leverage was 3x and now its 1.3x, that’s a very comfortable position for a mobile network operator to be in. We’ve got a twin policy of: one, reducing foreign currency debt at hold co (holding company) since we don’t have revenues getting generated, and two: moving debt to local op cos (operating companies) where we have the flexibility of writing off interest expense against revenues. We won’t be taking on any longterm foreign currency debt. We’ve prepaid $450 million of $1 billion bond outstanding, leaving only $550 million which we will try to prepay earlier than March 2024 deadline.
Q: What kind of upside are you expecting in the African markets?
A: There are three clear indices, which show a very long runway to growth. Firstly, the levels of SIM card penetration in Africa is still south of 50%, secondly, the fastest growing population in the world and thirdly, the consumption of minutes is between 199-270, compared to 600 in India. We’re sitting on three legs of growth – voice, data and Airtel money – that are continuing to grow, and of them data and money are growing in double digits. We’re not just growing in Africa, we’re growing profitably.
Q: But inflation and currency devaluation are extreme headwinds?
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