Lebanese investors have launched a new mobile phone network in south Sudan, with the infrastructure to reach 1 million subscribers in the region's increasingly crowded telecoms market, officials said on Monday.
Vivacell is the second active network operating solely in south Sudan, where it will also compete with three nationwide mobile operators.
Lebanon's Fattouch Investment Group launched the operation after buying NOW (Network of the World) in 2007, Vivacell officials told Reuters. NOW is a south Sudanese company that secured a GSM licence for the region but never launched a working network.
The 2007 purchase was not widely publicised at the time. "This is the NOW licence. Vivacell is a commercial name," said south Sudanese Telecommunications Ministry Undersecretary Stephen Juma.
South Sudan was given two mobile phone licences under a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war with northern Sudan. One went to NOW, the other to local firm Gemtel.
The peace accord also allowed for four nationwide mobile operators and three of them -- Kuwait's Zain, South Africa's MTN, and Sudan's own Sudani -- have already set up operations in the south.
There was a lack of clarity about the ownership of NOW before the 2007 purchase. South Sudan telecoms ministry officials have in the past said the government had a stake and also stated that NOW was entirely owned by private investors.
Gabriel Alaak Garang, finance secretary for the south's dominant party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), told Reuters the SPLM had a controlling stake in a company called Wawat Securities Limited, that itself owned a share in the new Vivacell operation.
“Fattouch owns 75 percent (of Vivacell) and Wawat 25 percent," south Sudanese Telecoms Minister Gier Chuang told Reuters. Vivacell's Commercial Director, Khalil Kassab, said he could not give details of the size of the company's investment or the number of subscribers.