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SONITEL (an acronym of Société Nigérienne des Télécommunications or Nigerien Telecommunications Society) is the Nigerien national telephone and telecommunications carrier. It was created in 1997 as a fusion of the telecommunications arm of Nigerien Posts and Telecommunications (Office des Postes et Télécommunications – OPT, the Postal Office) and the STIN (Société des Télécommunications Internationales du Niger / International Telecommunications Society of Niger) which controlled land line telephone connections abroad. The process had begun with the passage of a law aimed at the privatisation of telecommunications (Ordonnance N°96-031 du 11 juin 1996),[1] and was part of a larger process of internationally led privatisation of Niger's once large Parastatal sector.[2] SONITEL had the government of Niger as a majority share holder. Following the 1999 Constitution of the Fifth Republic of Niger, SONITEL was to be privatised, and in 2001, after an unsuccessful round of offerings, the majority of the companies shares were sold. In December 2001, 51% of the company was purchased by the Sino-Libyan consortium DATAPORT, made up of the Libyan LAAICO company and the Chinese ZTE. The ZTE majority consortium reportedly paid 11.8 billion FCFA, beating out FranceTelecom and SONATEL[3] The government of Niger continued to hold 34.11% of the company, with private investors taking 11%, the 1300 employees of SONITEL holding 3%, and France Câbles & Radio – who had been a stakeholder in STIN, 0.89%.[4] In 2004, SONITEL's mobile phone arm SAHEL-TEL was opened up to face foreign competition, but SONITEL continued to hold a monopoly on Internet communication, .ne name registry, and international fixed line voice communication.[5][6]

Following mobile phone competition, SONITEL was widely criticised for poor performance,[7] faced a series of protests and strikes by its workers over pay and conditions,[8] and accumulated debts of 40 billion FCFA despite a 140% increase in user fees.[9] On 13 February 2009, the government of Niger announced it was "canceling" the privatisation of SONITEL, although it hoped to eventually re-privatise the company. The Minister of Communications stated that the process had "failed", and the government would retain a 100% share in SONITEL, and form a new administration of the company.[9]

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