MTN faces angry regulators, US sanctions on Iran and civil wars

FEW FIRMS know the promise and the pitfalls of doing business in Africa better than MTN, a telecoms giant. Connecting its first calls in 1994, the year that Nelson Mandela came to power, the firm became an emblem of the new South Africa and an early vehicle for black investment. At the time there were just 6m landlines in sub-Saharan Africa, one for every 100 people. Today MTN alone boasts 225m mobile subscribers in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East. A former chairman, Cyril Ramaphosa, is now South Africa’s president.

One reason for MTN’s rapid growth is its focus on emerging markets, where young, fast-growing populations are eager to connect. But it can be tough to operate in such places. A degree of risk comes with the territory, says Rob Shuter, MTN’s phlegmatic boss. “There’s going to be good patches and bad patches.” That is putting it mildly: his current headaches include Nigerian regulators demanding billions of dollars, sanctions against Iran and some civil wars.

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