South Sudan’s Digitel Network is set to become the first domestically owned telco in the fledgling country, which celebrates 10 year’s of independence this year
South Sudan first became a sovereign nation in January 2011, seceding from Sudan following an independence referendum that saw almost 99% vote for independence.
By October that year, four pre-existing telcos had received operating licences: Kuwaiti operator Zain, South Africa’s MTN, the Gambia’s Gamtel, and Vivacell, owned by Lebanon’s Fattouch Investment Group.
Over the years, however, the number of available operators has dwindled. Gamtel fell into financial troubles and ceased operations in South Sudan, while Vivacell had its licence suspended in 2018 over failures to pay the government $66 million in licencing fees. Now, three years later, the operator, which served around 900,000 subscribers, has yet to return, despite the government reiterating that the licence remains valid.
Thus, South Sudan was left with just two international mobile operators, MTN and Zain.
Now, however, South Sudan will see the launch of its first ever domestically-owned telco, named Digitel Network.
The president, Salva Kiir Mayardiit, said the new company is committed to bringing mobile connectivity to remote areas across the country, highlighting that the country lagged badly behind the rest of the world when it came to digitalisation. As a result, he is considering tax exemptions for the new company to help it support rural communities.
“To demonstrate seriousness in the desire to connect rural communities to mobile networks, the government will explore options, including tax exemption that will benefit importation of network equipment and other telecommunications tools,” said Kiir. “This equipment will help increase digital literacy programmes for the next generation ICT-driven economy. The tax exemption I am proposing will be done in collaboration with the national revenue authority to ensure modalities for tax exemption are consistent with its mandate.”
Exactly how well Digitel will be able to compete with the established international giants of MTN and Zain remains to be seen, but, as Digitel’s Executive Vice President, Athiei De Chan Awuol, the launch does represent a major milestone for a country on the 10-year anniversary of its independence.
“For us to launch our telecom services and products at 10 years of our independence anniversary shows that South Sudanese can contribute towards a bright future for ourselves, for our children and for the next generation," said Awuol.
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