Iridium Quits South Africa

GABORONE, BOTSWANA (03/09/2000) - Persistent problems in acquiring a license have pushed Iridium Africa Corp. to pack its bags and leave the South African satellite-based telephone services market, the company announced recently.

In a memo circulated to technology companies here, Iridium Africa's Chief Operating Officer Tom Alabakis is quoted as saying the decision is unlikely to be reversed. He said the company can no longer continue to justify its presence in South Africa when it has no license to operate. Alabakis expressed regret at the move given the potential of the South Africa market.

Iridium Africa's decision has sparked bitter criticism of the government by the leading parliamentary opposition party, the Democratic Party. The government is blamed for dragging its feet over Iridium's license application for three years, and the opposition party has demanded that the Minister of Communication order an investigation into the matter.

Alabakis has said even if the South African government yields to the pressure, it may be too late to prevent the closure of the Johannesburg and Cape Town offices.

Observers say that South Africa stands to lose in the event of Iridium Africa's departure. The company was considered to have superior technology that would increase network coverage for users in South Africa, especially for business people travelling to other nations. Thus far, Iridium Africa has operations or has signed deals to operate in Angola, Cote d' Ivoire, Cyprus, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Turkey, Kenya, Madagascar and Senegal.

According to Alabakis, if the impending closure is realized, African operations will henceforth be administered from Dubai.

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