mobile money race

Ethiopia: Telebirr given headstart over M-Pesa

By Fred Harter

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Posted on May 18, 2023 09:48

Government measures give Ethiotelecom’s mobile money offering, Telebirr, a boost as Safaricom’s M-Pesa gets the green light in Ethiopia

Confusion reigned at petrol stations in Addis Ababa in April as long queues formed outside forecourts. The reason – a new policy suddenly dictated that all fuel payments had to be made using Telebirr, the mobile money service of state provider Ethiotelecom. Drivers were left scrambling to sign up.

The rule change was introduced overnight and with little warning. Last week, the reason for its sudden launch became apparent after Safaricom was finally granted a license to operate its mobile money service, M-Pesa, in the country.

Ethiopia’s government has taken several measures to give Telebirr a headstart over M-Pesa , fearing state-owned Ethiotelecom could be gobbled up by the nimbler Safaricom. The move at the petrol pumps was the latest – and the most drastic.

No more monopoly

Safaricom won Ethiopia’s first-ever private telecoms license in May 2021, paying $850m and ending

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