“Long after all this technology talk…” – President Mugabe

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Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe

Dear Mr President

About ten years ago, at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland, you made a remarkable speech on technology in third world countries, and this speech galvanized me to do something about technology from the moment I read it. I have included an excerpt of that speech below:

Long after we have talked about the need for information & communication technologies as tools with which to contrive the information society, we are soon to discover that receivers and computers are powered by electricity which is unavailable in a typical Third World village. Long after we have talked about connectivity, we are soon to discover that most platforms for electronic communication need basic telecommunication infrastructure which does not exist in a typical African village.

What is worse, we will discover, much to our dismay, that the poor villager we wish to turn into a fitting citizen for our information society, is in many instances unable to read and write. Where we are lucky to find the villager literate and numerate, we soon discover that he or she is not looking for a computer terminal but for a morsel of food; an antibiotic to save his dying child; a piece of land on which to eke out an existence, in short, looking for a humane society that guarantees him food, health, shelter and education.

Ten years later, the technology landscape has shifted in Zimbabwe; for example, internet and mobile penetration rates have increased, and I can write this letter to you on my internet-capable phone. However, the state of the economy largely remains unchanged; the average human being in the typical Zimbabwean city/town/village still longs to have access to the basic human needs than this technology we talk about.

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Or is it maybe because we talk about the wrong kind of technology, a technology form that is not relevant in our third world African context. What if we shifted our focus from the kind of technology we see on High Frequency Trading platforms on Wall Street for example, or the kind that mostly comes from Silicon Valley? What if we shifted our focus to technologies and innovations in agriculture, health, construction, and education?

The kinds of questions we probably should be asking are:

  • What role does technology have to play in ensuring that pregnant women have easy access to information so that infants do not have to unnecessarily die due to preventable causes?
  • How best can we connect farmers and their markets or ensure that they have access to all the climate and weather information so they can make timely decisions?
  • Instead of our Universities spending huge sums of money resources on researching expensive construction styles, could we instead redirect some of that money to invest in newer low cost housing technologies?
  • How can we revolutionize our education to ensure its relevance and access to all?

These and other questions cry ever louder for answers in our Zimbabwean context, and I am a strong believer in the ability of technology to be the shortest route to the attainment of these goals towards greater access to food, health, shelter and education.

So, yes Mr President, receivers and computers are powered by electricity which is unavailable not just in the typical third world village, but in our towns and cities as well. Yes, Mr President, our telecommunications infrastructure cannot compare to that of the developed world, but neither can it compare to that of our more advanced neighbors like South Africa.

However, instead of seeing these obstacles as impediments to our technological progress, we should see them as stepping stones, problems begging to be solved by this technology we talk about. As you may well know, Mr President, Zimbabweans have been blessed with immense intellectual potential and genius. In case you didn’t know, there are many entrepreneurs in the technology space in Zimbabwe doing (or able to do) amazing things in any of these fields.

What we ask of you, Mr President, is to create an enabling environment for these entrepreneurs to thrive. You spoke about electricity, infrastructure and education; I believe the government can do a whole lot more in that regard, but without ruling out the potential of partnerships with entrepreneurs invested in green energies, infrastructure and education revolutions.

Sincerely

Tech entrepreneur



19 Comments

  1. Farai Sairai says:

    I know I sound very optimistic but you left out one thing that will stop all this from happening – corruption. That cancerous ill in our society has virtually created a society made up of greedy, selfish people.

    If one wants to spearhead a project such as low cost housing, not going to happen without “palmng” some Gvt official. Want to help that pregnant woman? No clinics around to help her as there are no doctors(if they are there is no medicine). I can go on but bottom line, everything one does or needs to do has to involve some back hand deal. That is the sad state of affairs in this country of ours.

    1. David Shingirai Gate says:

      I agree with you Farai, corruption is a scourge that is putting us back significantly. However, much has been said about corruption, but sadly not much has been done. We cannot let corruption hold us to ransom and I believe it falls upon us to actually do something about it. Any suggestions??

      1. Sad says:

        “… not much has been done”. The truth is “…not much CAN be done at the moment”. I say this because the law states what must be done to corrupt people, but the thing is, they have ‘protection’. This protection can be money (bribes, political etc).

        FACT:We all know who is corrupt in this country, but try reporting to the police and see what happens… NOTHING. Oh, the police themselves are corrupt.

        To clarify further “..not much CAN be done, until a whole bunch of conditions change, e.g. economy, attitude, leadership”

        The biggest thing that needs to change is attitude, also, when that policeman’s (or whoever) salary is okayish, then maybe, just maybe he might refuse that bribe.

        1. Sad says:

          salary/income kikiki

          1. Farai Sairai says:

            There is no simple solution to eradicating corruption in our society. Strive Masiyiwa in his recent post said he simply says NO to corruption. Sounds easy for him but try tell that to people in charge of the purse strings. That is one stance with in an organisation but what about outside the company?

            I believe the way to kill it off is to have the Gvt take a major precedence on stopping corruption. Laws can be changed, harsh penalties imposed, Anti corruption bodies set up but it is also the political will to stop it. But nepotism is rife which greatly helps corruption to flourish and who in their right thinking mind set would squeal on his uncle stealing health funds or brother looting the coffers?

    2. Nerudo Mregi says:

      Here is a form put a country without Corruption [Enter value here] 🙂

  2. Greg Kawere says:

    let the government of Zimbabwe give us three things

    1. reliable electricity

    2. reliable and clean water

    3. fast and reliable internet access

    if they give these 3 things to Zimbabwean entrepreneurs we will be able to thrive & Zimbabwe will see the fastest economic growth and poverty alleviation than any other African country.

    1. refugee says:

      with those 3 things, ndodzoka kumba

    2. wengai says:

      we do not necessarily need those things from govement, we just need a conducive environment where anyone who has a sound business model could set up such structures. Govemment needs to clearly the policy mine fields we so much have in the country

      1. Greg Kawere says:

        its very difficult to start a tech company with no reliable electricity & internet. on the policy side i think we are all good in zim. tongoda magetsi, mvura ne internet iri fast.

        1. Nerudo Mregi says:

          Which is why I’m not starting a startup that needs electricity but one that provides it.

          1. Greg Kawere says:

            uhm, interesting stuff. will be interesting to see that one.

            lots of revenue in the electricity supply area especially with the recent push by government for independent power producers.

  3. Aspiring Entreprenuer says:

    Wow, your story sounds very old picking up a speech from 10 years ago. When did not have facebook, ecocash , ecofarmer, mobile wallet and of-course we did not have an ICT ministry headed by Nelson Chamisa and now with Webster Shamu. and just to answer some of your questions from a layman point of view:

    What
    role does technology have to play in ensuring that pregnant women have
    easy access to information so that infants do not have to unnecessarily
    die due to preventable causes? this is going at a snails pass but some of us a getting inthere.

    How best can we connect farmers
    and their markets or ensure that they have access to all the climate and
    weather information so they can make timely decisions? we have Ecofarmer not from the government but and individual like you.

    Instead
    of our Universities spending huge sums of money resources on researching
    expensive construction styles, could we instead redirect some of that
    money to invest in newer low cost housing technologies? that is also being done by individuals like you i think you need to read the investor on properties and related business ( the local issue.

    How can we revolutionize our education to ensure its relevance and access to all? – i think most of our universities are computerized and whilst you were writing this someone was building a virtual library and the days of visit a brick and mortar complex are fast coming to an end.

    The problem i see from fellow Zimbos like you is that our educational system has created very intelligent philosophers who though they have the knowledge they still want more from the government and criticize the government for their own failures and laziness – and blame corruption failing to be responsible -from the recent speech by Strive, we can only end corruption by saying ‘no’ not collectively you as one person.

    I think the president has played his part very well and you should do the same. The environment is enabling as long as you wake up and you play your innovative part.

    1. David Shingirai Gate says:

      While you do make some valid points and references, I’m inclined to disagree in part with you.

      It appears you’re comfortable with our current levels of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. I am not, and I believe there’s more to be done.

      For example, Zimbabwe is ranked 172 out of 185 economies on the World Bank’s ease of doing business 2013 survey. SA, Botswana, and several other African countries, including war-torn Rwanda are ahead of us.

      You mention all these brilliant innovations like Ecofarmer, but I hope you realise that the majority of these are Econet products. And Econet, being the financial behemoth that they are, can afford to easily skirt the obstacles that your average entrepreneur faces. What about your average entrepreneur, how easy is it for him to bring an innovation to market?

      1. Aspiring Entreprenuer says:

        @Dave, i am far from being satisfied with our current levels, but looking at it closely from the above story – the government has played its part the establishment of the respective ministries to deal with ICT. What I am saying is that we should not be ana Government Ngaitiitire or dai government yaita so ‘n so .. lets be innovative, trailblazers and create our ways of honestly, with integrity, good ethics, values and morals. Just imagine if Steve Jobs, Bill Gate and the Wright brothers had waited for the government to present everything to them – and of course if Strive had done the same wait till the government had come to its senses and say we are now embracing technology here is the license … life and economies are not like that .. he fought with them in courts till he got what he wanted!

        Then looking at the statistic that you have above, kindly look at the variables that they use to come to the ranking – it does not necessarily mean Zimbabwe is that bad – I have been other countries in Africa and you will appreciate that some of these indicators are just indicators nothing more – except for SA the other countries are behind Zim in terms of basic infrastructure and complexity of industry hence the difference laws in governing that – vachiri vana bamba zonke then just need investors.

        For young entrepreneur, registering a company cost less than $50 including transport to the registrar and takes less than a week in Zimbabwe – check how to register a PBC – no need to get PVT LTD for starters. Next put your innovation on paper – people invest in ideas written down which most of us rarely do, then get an investor not a loan because it comes with obligations. SIMPLE. The problem is most of us from experience we want to own 200% of a rate than 1% of an elephant, toda kunzi ndine company yangu yandinorana.

        Lets stop focusing on the macro – leave that to lairs, philosophers and politicians – but micro in terms of what you can do otherwise will locked in analysis paralysis!

        1. Another guest says:

          Your contributions are good but your [poor] grammar and spelling accuracy makes reading through your lengthy comments pretty difficult.

      2. Guest says:

        Rwanda is not war-torn.

        1. David Shingirai Gate says:

          @Guest, I stand corrected. Thanks.

  4. Nerudo Mregi says:

    I don’t know if we have merely forgotten that His Excellency donated computers to Government schools and the points he made although almost a decade ago still stand.

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