In a quest to tap into opportunities arising from Zimbabwe’s emerging economy at one end, while seeking solutions to address a multifaceted socio-economic morass on the other end, enterprising young people, emerging businesses and established corporates alike, are fast embracing digital and other technological means to curve their own success stories.
At policy level, the government has come up with a comprehensive Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy launched last year that will coordinate the use of ICTs, together with the Innovation Drive, a policy that provides funding to young innovators.
The government has led by example, coming up with its own digital portal, with various state departments and agencies also following suit.
Notably, investment agencies such as Zimbabwe Investment Agency (ZIA), Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA) and Zimbabwe Special Economic Zones Authority (ZIMSEZA) have updated websites, furnishing potential investors with information needed and also registering online.
But this is just a tip of the iceberg.
Experts believe ICTs will underpin the success of Africa’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals going forward, and Zimbabwe is treading on the right course, albeit with its own challenges too.
With the wave of ICTs sweeping across the country, more and more innovators are catching up with the tide, creating “smart” jobs, in a country were formal employment figures are drastically low.
B2C, an incubation hub in Harare’s Central Business District is offering co-working space for enterprising young people and affordable internet at just a small subscription fee.
The hub is home to some self-employed consultancy services professionals, freelance journalists, bloggers, insurance brokers, advertising agents, web developers, digital marketers and graphic designers among other startups.
“We are giving a conducive work space for startup businesses to grow and enable them to connect, engage and collaborate in our shared working space,” B2C community manager, Patrick Makoni told 263Chat Business.
“We cater for small businesses that are looking for an affordable work space in the city center. This gives a platform for commercialization of ideas and we believe once ideas are commercialized, there will be a number of jobs created. We accommodate a number of startups working in the hub which includes, graphic designers, web developers and digital marketers,” added Makoni.
Corporates such as Old Mutual and TelOne have been instrumental in the development of these incubation hubs offering office accommodation and internet services respectively.
“This has been a game changer. We are able to co-work here in an environment that suits our customer expectations,” Mike Gwarisa, a media entrepreneur running a health-centered online news platform.
“The biggest challenge for most entrepreneurs is lack of working space and challenges in accessing internet. But with this platform, we are able to carry our work efficiently in a more organized setup,” added Gwarisa.
At big company level, the telecommunications and banking sectors have made tremendous strides in using digitization as a tool to transform and expand the scope of their conventional businesses.
Econet Wireless Zimbabwe for example, has managed to diversify its services ranging from telecommunications to offering digital solutions to different sectors including banking, insurance, education, waste management and transport through its tech subsidiary Cassava Smartech.
Recently, Cassava Smartech launched CleanCity, a waste management unit that will offer software to allow online-schedule by its customers for waste collection at their homes, offices and communities through its partners who have the hardware (trucks). The project is expected to create 5 000 jobs.
This dovetails with the smart-cities initiative, which is bringing a much reliable alternative outside the incapacitated local authorities in as far as waste collection is concerned.
If there has ever been a time Zimbabwe’s digital space has shown signs of exponential growth, now is the time. The transport sphere for instance, has also seen a rapid transformation with the ride hailing services proving to be the in thing.
Applications such as Econet’s Vaya platform, Windi and Toda App are offering safe and cheap ride hailing services online.
However, it’s not all glittering for Zimbabwe’s ICTs.
Legislation to protect users of online applications from counterfeit software remains the biggest undoing. According to the 2018 Business Software Alliance survey, Zimbabwe was ranked second after Libya for using unlicensed software.
It states that 89 percent of all softwares installed in computers in Zimbabwe are pirated.
Analysts say this exposes software users to cyber-criminal activities such as hacking.
But there are much deeper rooted challenges sector service providers are facing.
While a digital economy is largely dependent of cheaper and accessibly internet, most service providers are raising viability concerns. This follows recent monetary changes in the economy which have seen the local currency depreciating drastically while tariff charges have not seen a relative increase.
This has culminated in dwindling revenues for operators.
According the Postal Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ), sector revenue for the first three months of 2019 fell 13 percent, recording $ 249.9 million against $ 287 million posted previous quarter.
There are also software fees to be paid for in USD at a time the country is out of sufficient supplies of foreign reserves. This has greatly increased operational costs for the service providers.