Bharti Airtel rubbished reports it was set to exit three unprofitable markets in Africa, though confirmed it was open to consolidation with other players in some countries.

In a statement made to Business Daily Africa, the company denied it planned to exit Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania – as had been reported in The Economic Times (ET) last week – and would instead pursue other options in a bid to turn a profit in the countries.

Airtel added one of its options was “strategic acquisition”, and reiterated its aim to be one of the two largest operators in each of its African markets.

The India-headquartered company operates in major markets across Africa, providing both communications and mobile money services. In its latest earnings statement – for the three months to end-September – the company reported improved customer numbers, Airtel Money service uptake and margins across its Africa business as a whole.

ET had reported the company intended to further boost margins on the continent by disposing of tower assets in five markets and exiting reportedly unprofitable markets: Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Competitive standing
While Rwanda is one of Airtel’s smallest units by connections on the continent (GSMA Intelligence placed the figure at 1.6 million at end-Q3), the operator had 11 million in Tanzania and 7.4 million in Kenya at the same point.

Although second in Kenya’s market, the company is a long way behind market leader Safaricom in terms of connections with an 18 per cent share.

It is also struggling to make inroads into the market leader’s dominant position in the burgeoning mobile money market in the country. Latest statistics from the Communications Authority of Kenya for the three months to end-June showed Airtel Money had 1.5 million users compared to 22.6 million on Safaricom’s m-Pesa.

In Tanzania, Airtel is battling for second position in the market with Tigo and is only 2.5 million connections behind market leader Vodacom. In Rwanda, the company is 2 million connections short of those reported by both MTN and Tigo.