MTN’s South Sudan unit said it has lost about 10% of its subscribers since violence flared in July and half its transmission sites are offline, as the subsidiary of Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company by sales tries to ride out a three-year civil war.
Most customers lost were in the region of Equatoria, which has been driven by insecurity in the aftermath of fighting in the capital, Juba, about 11 months ago, said Khumbulani Dhlomo, MTN South Sudan’s head of corporate services. The operator previously had about 1.2-million subscribers.
“We have seen most customers either being displaced or leaving jobs or leaving the country,” Dhlomo said in an interview in Juba. As an economic crisis caused by the war continues, “some just left using MTN because they don’t have income”, he said.
The country has seen its currency collapse and inflation surge above 400% since conflict erupted in December 2013 and curbed crude output. The International Monetary Fund said the economy probably contracted as much as 6.9% in the 2015-16 financial year. The landlocked country has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest crude reserves and is pumping as little as 120,000 barrels per day.
MTN South Sudan said in August that its network in a number of states was affected and that insecurity meant it was not able to do routine maintenance. Only about 190 of MTN’s almost 400 nationwide transmission sites are operational, Dhlomo said. In the same interview, CEO Philip Besiimire said while investment was “very tough” given the economic crisis, MTN was committed to staying put and restoring services.
The company competes with Zain South Sudan, a unit of Kuwait’s largest cellphone provider, which said in August that it had reduced operations and cut expatriate staff to survive the crisis.
“We believe the story of South Sudan will change, that this country will turn the corner,” Besiimire said. “Things will get better because no situation is permanent.”