At the beginning of 2011 we predicted that Zimbabwe would see internet and mobile commerce services launched in Zimbabwe. As the year came to close, it was certain we were right on target with the prediction: Econet launched EcoCash they extending the use to more than just remittances and airtime; ZimSwitch confirmed to us in an interview they were working on an internet payment gateway which they were going to launch before 2011 ended. But something happened on the way to heaven
While both companies launched their mobile money systems (mobile banking in ZimSwitch’s case), neither offered internet and mobile payments in the true commerce sense of the concept. You can still just pay for airtime and utility bills. Retailers still need you to show up with a bank debit or credit card for any kind of ‘electronic’ payment.
Still, that’s not to discount the progress made in 2011. It was after all the year that real mobile banking and outright MPESA style mobile money became a reality.
In 2012 it’s likely to happen. Whether we’re going to see the full e-commerce & mobile commerce services roll-out in Zimbabwe is not in question. The daring thing to say here is that it’ll start happening in the first half of the year. Well, unless the regulators suffocate the process.
The means to pay for goods and services via mobile and the web is a much awaited development for creators of web and mobile content as well as retailers, especially those in urban areas where access to mobile and internet services is significant.
Creators of content which can be consumed via PCs and mobile devices such as music, books and short films will have an opportunity to take their business online. The tools that have been used by pirates to steal from them will be available as platforms to make revenue from.
Retailers have an opportunity here as well. For them, the internet and mobile money systems are another channel to access payment for their goods, which, after payment has been processed can delivered to a customer without having them leave their home or office.
Providers of services where the seller doesn’t need to meet buyer physically will need this too.
The benefits are unlikely to be immediate and the first players will have a lot of learning and stumbling to go through. Mobile and internet commerce for the everyday man is still very young in Africa. Zimbabwe will be one of the first countries to implement payment systems that are designed locally to meet local needs. There’s desperate need for it to do so; where all its neighbours (and 90% of Africa) have access to popular global internet payment services like PayPal, Zimbabwe does not. In fact, any PayPal user that happens to use the service while they are in Zimbabwe risks having their account suspended.
The opportunity is greater for local information technology entrepreneurs and startups. They will naturally be able to see the opportunities first because they understand how the internet works. They see the internet and mobile platforms more for the opportunity they are than the everybody else sees. It is they that have the responsibility to reveal and help the country unlock the potential of the internet and mobile as commerce platforms.