Iran Without Sanctions: What It Means For South Africa, Nigeria

Written by Dana Sanchez

With many economic sanctions against Iran lifted over the weekend, the country sitting atop the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves threatens Nigerian oil exports to South Africa, but it could be good news for South African cellphone company MTN.

Global oil markets could “drown in oversupply,” sending prices even lower as demand slows and Iran starts exporting again with the end of sanctions, according to the International Energy Agency, Bloomberg reported.

Mobile provider MTN saw its stock value increase 2.3 percent Monday on news that sanctions against Iran had been lifted, a move that will free up more than $1 billion in frozen accumulated dividends, BusinessDayLive reported.

That won’t be enough to pay back a $3.9 billion fine imposed on MTN by Nigeria in October for missing a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers. Nigeria is trying to improve records in its fight against militants.

The fine threatens to bankrupt MTN, Africa’s largest mobile provider, MTN Nigeria CEO Ferdi Moolman told Leadership newspaper.

Available Iranian crude oil means more options for those willing to buy from Iran, said Avhapfani Tshifularo, executive director of the South African Petroleum Industry Association, in an email to Bloomberg. “Iranian imports are likely to displace the Nigerian and Saudi Arabian crudes, since they seem to have filled the gap since South Africa stopped importing Iranian crude oil.”

Oil fell to a 12-year low of less than $28 a barrel in London Monday. International sanctions lifted against Iran mean crude exports will continue adding to a growing oil glut created by fellow OPEC members and U.S. shale drillers, Bloomberg reported.

MTN owns 49 percent of unlisted Irancell, Iran’s No. 2 cellphone operator by subscribers, but has been restricted from repatriating money due to the sanctions, Reuters reported according to BusinessDayLive.

MTN said in August it hoped to repatriate about $1.1 billion in accumulated dividends frozen by international sanctions once Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers was finalized.

But new international trade for Iran could also mean competition for MTN.

Turkcell wants to expand and could target Iran, said Kaan Terzioglu, chief executive of Turkey’s largest cellphone operator. “Iran is a huge market and in our focus. We are closely watching the Iranian market and in touch with all of its fixed line and mobile operators.”

In 2004, Turkcell led a consortium that won a mobile licence in Iran that was later given to a rival group headed by MTN Group, Reuters reported. Turkcell tried to sue MTN in a U.S. court but eventually dropped that suit.

Iran has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, PunchNG reported.

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer.

“Nigeria’s crude will continue to face challenges to sell because other grades are now cheaper and also attractive to buyers,” said Dolapo Oni, head of energy research for Ecobank Capital, in a PunchNG telephone interview.