The Sunday News
Simba Jemwa, Features Reporter
THE illegal decoupling of Zimbabwe by the Western world including former colonial masters, the United Kingdom, among other acolytes has had more than a passing effect on the development of the country.
There are five foundational digital elements that can create the building blocks for unlocking digital transformation in Zimbabwe that can determine the country’s ability to build a robust digital economy. These elements—digital infrastructure, digital government platforms, digital financial services, digital skills, and digital entrepreneurship — are at various stages of development in Zimbabwe, requiring investments in policy and regulation as well as capital.
Zimbabwe’s digital financial services are the strongest foundation for the further development of the digital economy in the country.
Among Zimbabwe’s key strengths is the widely used digital payment system, through which 96 percent of all transactions in the country are transacted, and which Government uses extensively for its core business.
“We recognise the potential for digital technologies to help pave the way forward and are therefore focusing on development of the key digital pillars that will underpin the growth of our economy,” said Dr Misheck Sibanda, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet recently.
“Zimbabwe is well positioned to reap significant dividends from a digital transformation. A strong digital foundation is the key to the realization of government’s vision for smart government, agriculture, health, trade, commerce, education, transport, and cities,” said Ms Mukami Kariuki, World Bank Country Manager, Zimbabwe in a report by the World Bank.
The Second Republic is also on record saying that several international companies have expressed interest in working with Zimbabwe on the completion of its digitisation programme, according to Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Cde Monica Mutsvangwa.
As far back as 2020, Minister Mutsvangwa said many investors were making enquiries with a view to take up opportunities.
“We are here at Expo 2020 Dubai and after our media day, we generated a lot of interest in a number of investors who want to discuss about transmitters,” she said at the time.
“Rohde and Schwarz is a very well-known company in terms of transmitters and you are very much aware that in Zimbabwe, we need to complete digitalisation and at the moment, we only have 18 out of 48 sites which are fully digitalised, which means we have 30 more (transmitters) to go. So what is important here is for our technical people from Transmedia and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which is a statutory instrument which issues out licences, to deepen the engagements with the investors.”
Credible efforts to move towards a fully digitized economy have been underway especially in the media. However, they have been hamstrung by lack of forex due to limited trade as a result of the sanctions. The Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa has so far issued six commercial television licences, which requires that Government moves fast to complete the digitisation program. Government’s technical people continue talking to investors in terms of what is required and while also looking at how the financing can be structured.
The Zimbabwean Government is keen to complete the digitalisation program and while investors continue to make inquiries, sanctions also continue to be the straw that keeps the camel’s back weak.
While other sectors like health, education, banking and manufacturing have all taken a knock over the last 20 years as a result of these crippling sanctions, Zimbabwe’s efforts to join the rest of the world in the digital spectrum has taken more than just a knock, programmes have been put in place but financial and technical support has hampered its progress.
But advances have been made in spite of these challenges: Zimbabwe has made digital advancements, including a revolution in mobile money, resulting in about 7,1 million mobile wallet holders in a country of about 16 million. Zimbabwe has a relatively well-developed digital payment system, where 96% of all transactions in the country’s formal sector are conducted through digital means and only 4% are cash-based, and the government uses digital money almost exclusively.
Despite these advances, Zimbabwe is currently capturing only a fraction of its digital transformation growth potential, and the report recommends strategic investments in digital skills and infrastructure, as well as accelerate the creation of digital platforms and digital entrepreneurship to create the foundations for the digital economy of the future.
One cannot escape from the fact that the US via its Silicon Valley is a world leader in digital tech as well as being a developer and owner of other software, media and online services. Economic restrictions have been felt with private Zimbabwean firms being granted limited or controlled access to such tech while Government agencies have had almost no access at all and having to rely on assistance from other developing countries whose tech is more superior than Zimbabwe’s but perhaps a tad weaker than what can be found if Zimbabwe had complete access to the wider world’s tech. Although the UK, United States, the European Union and many UK-aligned nations have imposed a broad array of trade restrictions on Zimbabwe and its leaders, the expectation is that software, online services and media services would not explicitly be subject to US or EU sanctions. Software and services trade restrictions to date are thus mainly undertaken voluntarily by firms in fear of being penalized by their governments who have been openly hostile to Zimbabwe.
Of course, the large-scale financial sanctions put in place make it difficult for Zimbabwean firms or agencies and individuals to pay for services. This, along with the fall in the value of the local currency under attack from parallel markets, makes it much less attractive for all firms, including digital services firms, to do business in Zimbabwe.
For a long time, most Africans viewed the European Union (EU) only in terms of their countries’ relationships with former colonial powers, notably the United Kingdom (UK) and France. The UK has been the primary European influence in Zimbabwe because of the colonial history between the two nations. The reality is that most Zimbabweans have not always fully understood the structure of the EU or the organization’s influence in their country.
In recent decades, the EU has gained a spotlight—along with the United States—because of the sanctions placed on Zimbabwe after the land-reform program. – @RealSimbaJemwa