South African-based private equity firm Harith General Partners Pty Ltd. is buying into a fiber-optic cable network in the country as it continues to invest more than $1 billion in infrastructure on the African continent, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
Harith has put almost $800 million to work in African infrastructure so far, a third of that in telecoms, company director Emile Du Toit told the news outlet by phone.
The latest investment will make it the majority shareholder in the country’s biggest fiber network provider, Open Connect Limited (OCL), he said.
OCL is an open access company for all operators, which was formed following the unbundling of fixed phone business in MTL.
As part of the unbundling, the fiber optic cable (FOC) business was transferred to OCL from MTL.
“We have had two funding rounds, one of $630 million and one of $400 million that we are in the process of deploying,” said Du Toit without mentioning specifically how much they plan to inject into the Malawi business. “Telecommunications make up an important part of our investment plans, together with energy and transportation.”
In 2016, PCL said over 55 international firms had expressed interest to partner the newly-established fibre optic cable business.
OCL’s fiber network stretches 2 250 kilometers through the country where services such as telecoms have overtaken agriculture as the biggest sector of an economy that grew by 4 percent last year, according to the World Bank.
The company tapped fibre connectivity on the western side of Malawi through Zamtel of Zambia to the undersea cables in the Atlantic Ocean to United States of America (USA).
The investment in OCL, will be good news to the industry as the absence of fast telecommunication access has negatively impacted on Internet access in the country.
Malawi, like many countries in Africa, has historically had underdeveloped communications infrastructure characterised by high charges, low penetration rates and other challenges in service provision, which contribute to high cost of doing business, limited innovation and poor information flow in the country.
In an earlier interview last year, ICT expert Maxwell Phiri said that low Internet access has negatively affected the country’s efforts in accelerating research in the education sector, increasing access to the digital world as well as affecting fast flow of communication in businesses.
Harith’s other fiber investments in Africa include an almost 30 percent stake in Dark Fibre Africa, controlled by South Africa’s richest man Johann Rupert, and a data center company in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. n