If you witnessed the sorry state of the Zimbabwean economy in the 100 trillion dollar note days, it’s hard to not be skeptical when the same government introduces a new note. That the note comes with the word “Bond” becomes just a technicality because the trust factor, which is very important in financial matters, is significantly eroded. So when the government this week announced the return of Zimbabwe’s own notes, the panic driven conversations this triggered are quite understandable.
For a simple FAQ on the Bond Notes, please read an informative article by The Source where they explain the $200 million Afreximbank facility and how it guarantees the notes, why the government didn’t just pump real $200 million US notes into the economy, and why the government will not recklessly print notes as they did with the Zim dollar.
In this article we explore the questions of how tech can help ease the problem. In a separate article, we look at the Bitcoin possibilities.
As we have already written here there’s an opportunity for mobile money to help given regular Zimbabweans seem to have better faith in it than they do in regular banks some of which have shut down and taken depositors’ money with them.
However, mobile money in Zimbabwe is still associated with prohibitive costs resulting in people using it to transfer money to each other as opposed to keeping money in their digital wallets for everyday transacting. This is why it’s been said the biggest competition for the mobile money services in Zimbabwe is not the regular banks but the reliance on cash.
The Reserve Bank estimates there’s at least $3 billion cash circulating in the informal market. There has ofcourse been some disagreement on this figure, with some saying there’s not much visibility of this cash even in the informal markets and that it might be an overstated unknown.
Since it’s hard to say exactly how much cash Zimbabweans are keeping under mattresses to transact on informal markets the next question becomes how to address the problem of more money leaving Zimbabwe (imports) than money coming in (exports).
Exporting expertise via the internet
Tech services have a special place in solving the import and export imbalance problem. The internet presents a platform for talented and skilled Zimbabweans to work abroad without leaving the country. We have featured here on Techzim some Zimbabweans who are already making a living selling their graphic design skills in the US over the internet.
There’s no question anymore of whether it’s a real opportunity. We can however question our strategy (or lack of it in this case) to take the opportunity on.
The connectivity infrastructure capacity is there. One just has to look at the reach of high speed fibre and ADSL internet in Zimbabwe. Fibre connections are reportedly now available to at least 50,000 homes in Harare and Bulawayo, while ADSL is connected for some 65,000 customers.
This presents an opportunity to work remotely for these users of the internet, especially given our high unemployment rate. That can range from really high level skill jobs of writing code and consulting, to lower level jobs of transcribing videos, writing letters and other jobs doable over the internet.
The government’s role in making remote working possible
The government could contribute by pushing for sustainably cheaper internet for more ordinary people to participate and making the opportunity clear. They could even use some empty government building as hubs for people to come and learn of this opportunity and even use the internet for the most in-demand over the internet skills. The government could make available ultra cheap internet at these centres provided by government telcos like TelOne and Powertel on a cost recovery model.
Despite the technology innovation being exceedingly clear and other countries in Asia and even Africa (Kenya, Nigeria) pursuing and profiting from this opportunity evidently, Zimbabwe’s government has left this this critical tech innovation function to NGOs and well wishers whose social objectives are ironically usually have nothing to do with directly developing the economy. Government should participate actively exploring ways to increase innovation on and using the great resource that is internet.
The opportunity is not just an employment one. Entrepreneurs should look at Business Process Outsourcing opportunities like call centres, digital design studios, accounting firms serving internet clients, content creators (content marketing, blogging, social media services etc…).
The government can create tax incentives for these kind of “expertise exporters” by ensuring that the money the companies make comes in to improve liquidity in the economy instead of ZIMRA choking the businesses before they grow by demanding high taxes in the early stages of the business.
This would improve Zimbabwe’s export income as the internet is the one tool that can create value without the need for individuals and companies to import raw materials or expensive machinery.