Now comes tough part for Bharti: making Zain purchase pay

NEW DELHI, March 31, 2010 (AFP) – Indian telecoms tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal has finally achieved his dream of breaking into the African market with a 10.7-billion-dollar deal to buy Kuwait-based Zain’s Africa assets. But now comes the tough part — making the purchase pay off.

Mittal’s Bharti Airtel, the top mobile operator in India, announced late Tuesday it had sealed the agreement to buy most of Zain’s African assets, vaulting into the ranks of the world’s top five cellular players by subscribers.

The Bharti founder and chairman called the purchase, the second-most expensive foreign acquisition in Indian corporate history, a “game changer” for the company and hailed Africa as “the continent of hope and opportunity.”

Analysts, however, say the billionaire tycoon, who signed the deal at Zain Africa BV’s headquarters in Amsterdam, will need all his business wits to turn around Zain’s largely loss-making African operations.

In the key market of Nigeria, for instance, where mobile phone ownership is growing fastest, Zain has been losing subscribers to rivals.

“Competition in sub-Saharan Africa is very tense so to gain that edge over their competitors is going to be very difficult,” Chire Spiwek