US-China rivalry plays out in Angola's mobile phone sector, says US official

  • Within a month of opening shop in Angola, American-owned Africell has two million subscribers.
  • The US Deputy Secretary of State says countries that use Huawei are compromising their sovereignty.
  • Huawei last year invested R960 million for the construction of two technology training centres in Angola.

United States and Chinese rivalry is set to play out in Angola's mobile communication industry with the arrival of the American-owned Africell Mobile Company.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Africell's operations in Angola will likely impact Chinese-owned Huawei.

During her visit to Angola last week she went to Africell's offices which she called, "really phenomenal".

Founded in 2001 by Ziad Dalloul the firm has launched in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

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But last year, Africell left Uganda and shifted attention to their new enterprise in Angola.

Since arriving in Angola as the first wholly foreign-owned operator on 7 April, Sherman said the company now has a two million subscription base.

"This is a company that has been in business now gone live for one month and has two million subscribers. They are going to bring capability to everybody in Angola. It was really an amazing effort," she said.

Angola has three other operators Movicel, state-owned Angola Telecom, and Unitel which has a partnership with Huawei which the Americans are targetting.

"It's not about throwing shade on Huawei. We've been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty. They are turning over their data to another country," Sherman said.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 6: Deputy Secretary of State
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Unitel and Huawei have been partners since 2019 in Angola's, "Green site, Green network, and Green operation", initiative.

Last year, Huawei invested R960 million ($60 million) in the construction of two technology training centres in what Chu Xiaoxin, the company's director in Angola, said was part of the programme for the development of the digital economy in Angola.

Despite Huawei's development-oriented footprint, Sherman said Africell would provide security for mobile phone users in Angola ahead of Huawei.

"They [mobile phone users] may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn't even know was there. So we've been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world," she said.

In May 2019, the US placed trade sanctions on Huawei because of the company's alleged ties to Beijing. Former US President Donald Trump's administration saw this as a national security threat although Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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