When Senegalese money transfer firm Wari agreed to buy the local mobile arm of Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular last month, it set the stage to challenge Orange’s hold on mobile phones in French-speaking West Africa.
Wari plans to list on the West Africa stock exchange (the BRVM) in Ivory Coast this year, after the $129 million deal to buy mobile operator Tigo from Millicom is done, its CEO told Reuters in an interview. Wari is Senegal’s top money transfer service, a low-cost alternative to Western Union that allows customers to transfer cash and pay bills at gas stations, banks and even roadside stands. The deal will give Wari the capability to transfer money on mobile phones, a rapidly-expanding service that is dominated in the region by French company Orange. Orange has nearly 8 million mobile users in Senegal, twice as many as runner-up Tigo.
While the deal will only give Wari a telecoms license in Senegal, it could use it as a starting point for a push for greater competition in other French-speaking countries in West Africa such as Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast. “For the last mile, we needed to be able to connect the population. This is where the idea came from of looking for a telecom vehicle, and we found (it) … with Tigo,” Wari Chief Executive Kabirou Mbodje said. He brushed off a question about Orange. “At the end of the day what’s important is do we offer the best services to the population, do we meet their needs, do we design the service to be the most cost-effective. These are the kind of things we’re thinking about, not competition, and then the public will decide,” he said. An Orange spokesman declined to comment about competition in West Africa.