COMESA competition commission commences investigations into ATC and Airtel Africa

February 21, 2024
2 min read

The news: 

  • The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission has announced that, in compliance with its regulatory duties, it is looking into possible anti-competitive behaviour by American Tower Corporation (ATC) and Airtel Africa. This move comes after the two companies inked a partnership agreement in 2022. 
  • Per a statement signed by Dr Willard Mwemba, Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COMESA Competition Commission, the partnership between the two companies may have potentially violated Article 16 of its regulation, which contains a provision that protects against anti-competitive trade practices between member states. 
  • The regulator says it earlier got a report that alleged ongoing anti-competitive conduct between ATC and Airtel. 

In 2022, ATC and Airtel Africa signed a multi-year, multi-product partnership that would see the Africa-focused telecom provider use the US-based infrastructure provider's sites in Nigeria, Kenya, Niger, and Uganda to support its network rollout.

Reports imply that, according to the ongoing agreement, Airtel assumes the use of some specified ATC sites yearly, while ATC will offer Airtel a cash rebate in return. In essence, ATC will get some money back for patronising ATC.  

Many view this arrangement as a strategic attempt to prevent other telecom operators from accessing these critical infrastructure sites, effectively stifling competition. If proven, this alleged conduct would violate COMESA Competition Commission regulations, which prohibit anti-competitive trade agreements that prevent, restrict, or distort competition in the Common Market.

In its 2019 Guidelines on Restrictive Business Practice, the COMESA Competition Commission defines anti-competitive as “a conduct which appreciably restrains competition between the Member States and is not otherwise exempt by law or authorised in a manner required by the Regulations.”

In the statement titled “Notice of Commencement of Investigations into Alleged Anticompetitive Conduct by American Tower Corporation and Airtel Africa,” the commission assured that it’ll thoroughly assess the nature of the existing deal between the two companies to determine if it violates its anti-competitive regulation and how it affects the market. 

The commission clarified, though, that this does not mean that ATC or Airtel have engaged in anti-competitive behaviour or broken any of its anti-competitive regulations. It is simply an investigation, and all relevant parties and the general public are encouraged to take note. 

The regulator has given ATC and Airtel until Thursday, March 14, 2024, to submit their respective representations. 

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