News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Libya: diplomatic wrangles fail to derail Vodafone's plans

Vodafone services: coming soon to a Socialist People's Arab Jamahiriya near you...

One African republic has been hitting the headlines recently, as the effects of a diplomatic row between that country and a European nation is now affecting citizens of many other states. This is a particularly thorny issue given that much European money has been poured into the construction and oil sectors of that North African nation. People carrying the passports of most major European economies are now prevented from travelling there. This must be causing great disruption to companies whose personnel usually need to spend time in the African state.

One giant global mobile business, however, seems to not to have been too seriously affected.

In July last year, DevelopingTelecomsWatch made some positive noises about the investment climate in Libya. While there was some head scratching about the attractiveness of the North African country's mobile market (mobile penetration was a hefty 141.58% at time of writing - it is 159.42% now, according to WCIS), it was noted that relations between the USA and the Colonel Gaddafi regime had improved to the point whereby foreign investors might not fall foul of restrictions set by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

More recently, however, relations between Libya and some western countries have once again become rather strained, causing Tripoli to stop issuing visa to citizens of the twenty-five European countries of the Schengen passport-free zone. At the centre of this dispute is Switzerland, which, according to a Libyan newspaper report of February 14th, had denied entry visas to nearly 200 Libyans, including Gaddafi, members of his family and other senior officials. As a helpful Reuters timeline explains, this Swiss move came after wrangles that had continued since June 2008, when police in Geneva arrested Hannibal Gaddafi, one of the Libyan leader's sons. Gaddafi jr., along with his pregnant wife, were taken into custody following allegations about the mistreatment of two of their employees.

By February 26th of this year, both the European Union and the United Nations felt forced to respond to Col. Gaddafi's subsequent call for jihad against Switzerland, announced as the row has escalated and become yet more bitter. By March 1st, analysts were commenting that the row has exposed weaknesses in Swiss foreign policy and damanged the country's reputation as an impartial global mediator.

Citizens of countries in the Schengen zone, meanwhile, continue to be refused entry to Libya.

From his name, I would hazard a guess that Mr. Colin MacDougall is either an Irish or a British citizen. As such, he would be a national of a country that has chosen to opt out of Schengen's border control arrangements. This would explain his recent present in Tripoli, representing Vodafone, on whose behalf he formalised a Partner Markets agreement with state-owned Libyan mobile operator Al-Madar.

MacDougall seems to work for the Partner Markets unit of the giant cellco, which enables subscribers of operators in which Vodafone has no equity to enjoy exclusive access to a range of products, services and devices from the UK-headquartered group. Partner operators also gain from Vodafone's experience in supply chain management, the acquisition of enterprise customers and improved network inter-working. In turn, Vodafone customers can gain from improved roaming arrangements in countries where Vodafone does not otherwise have a presence.

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of meeting several people attached to Vodafone Partner Markets and know that they work pretty hard to maximise the value of the numerous relationships they manage worldwide. In light of the recent wrangles, and keeping in mind the eccentricities of the state which owns Vodafone's latest MNO partner, one wonders whether this will be an especially challenging relationship to maintain. However, given that oil-rich Libya is of vital economic significance and that the Vodafone teams who run these partnerships appear to be so adept at meeting tough challenges, I daresay this will prove advantageous to the shareholders and customers of the global mobile group.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment. I choose to moderate comments, but only remove obvious spam and content I deem to be needlessly inflammatory.