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In Ethiopia, Safaricom has a Unique Opportunity to Cement itself as a Regional Behemoth

When Kenya’s Safaricom set up shop in Ethiopia last October, it looked set to make a big splash in a long-underserved market in Africa’s second most populous nation. While it started off well enough, signing up 5 million customers by August, it soon became apparent that Safaricom’s lofty ambitions have exposed managerial, operational, and domestic challenges. Its problems have included the sudden exit of its top Ethiopia executive and an uncertain rollout of its mobile money service, M-Pesa, against stiffer-than-expected competition from the former local monopoly. The unexpected exit of Safaricom Ethiopia’s launch CEO Anwar Soussa in July, after less than two years — and just weeks before the all-important launch of M-Pesa — was the first obvious sign of trouble. Serious concerns about ongoing hostilities in Ethiopia have added to the company’s problems, fueling questions about whether it will be able to meet its ambitious growth targets — it expects to have 10 million subscribers by March.