Kenya Clings to Control of State Firms With Stake Sales on Table

The Kenyan government signaled caution on relinquishing more control over companies part-owned by the state including Safaricom Plc, the nation’s biggest firm by market value.

The Nairobi Securities Exchange has said it’s in talks with officials over the sale of additional stakes in already publicly traded state companies, a program expected to raise as much as 300 billion shillings ($2.8 billion).

But any such decision over Safaricom is only possible if matched by other key shareholders, Stanley Kamau, acting director general of public investments and portfolio management at the National Treasury, was cited as saying by NTV. The Kenyan government and U.K. carrier Vodafone Group Plc — along with its South African unit Vodacom Group Ltd. — each hold 35% in the mobile-banking pioneer that accounts for almost two-thirds of the Nairobi market’s capitalization.

“Given the strategic and security issues around Safaricom, we would not want to go below Vodafone,”

– Nairobi-based NTV quoted Kamau as saying.

“If Vodafone is willing to go 10%, we can go 10%,” Kamau said. “But I don’t think we’d want to get diluted as the government on Safaricom.”

A decision to attach conditions to possible divestments represents a pushback by Kenya’s government over losing sway over companies that contribute the biggest dividends to state coffers.

While the state is open to slashing its stake in the nation’s biggest power producer — Kenya Electricity Generating Co. — to 60% or close to half from 70% currently, it doesn’t intend to become a minority shareholder in the loss-making Kenya Power and Lighting Co., according to Kamau.

“Given the strategic nature and monopolistic tendency of KPLC, I’m not sure we would want to move away from 50% and move to about 45%, where the government loses control on a monopoly,” – Kamau said.

The government won’t privatize Kenya Pipeline Corp., which manages fuel distribution from the port city of Mombasa to the rest of the country and four neighboring countries including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Source: Bloomberg

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