The long anticipated flotation of a top Kenyan mobile phone company is expected to proceed today despite calls from some quarters to shelve the plan. Safaricom, billed  as the largest and the most lucrative IPO in East Africa, will be listed on Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE) beginning Friday March 28 and close on April 23. The flotation is seen as a major test of investor confidence in Kenya after last December election violence.

The Government of Kenya plans to publicly float 25% (or 10 billion shares) of its 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40% company holdings are held by the British telecoms, Vodafone (VOD.L). Local investors, including citizens from East Africa Community (EAC) nations of Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, are allocated 6.5 million shares. Foreign institutional investors are allocated the remaining 3.5 billion shares.

The company expects to raise 50 billion Kenyan shillings ($767 million) from the listing, at 5 shillings per share. Safaricom’s strength in the Kenyan mobile market has increased significantly over the past 5 years to 80% last year from 57% in 2002. At the time of the launch of its popular “M-Pesa” phone-based money transfer service 11 months ago, Safaricom had 5.8 million subscribers, compared with about 9.5 million now.

Allowing East Africans to directly take part in this IPO is seen as a major step in the intergration of the regional capital markets. Investors from the region, outside of Kenya, will have to open an account with the local Central Depository System Corporation (CDSC) at their local broker in order to participate in the IPO. However, the editorial of the Kenyan daily The Nation was less enthusiastic, questioning “Why can’t these foreign citizens buy shares at the market rate?” It appears old mindsets will die-hard and its going to take time to convince some pundits that capital raising should transcend our so-called “boundaries”.