As Zimbabwe announces Bond Notes, how can tech help

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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.

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Mobile Money

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.



14 Comments

  1. G says:

    The best way forward is for the government to say we no longer accept cash, we only accept plastic money for all government departments & services
    An entrepreneurs can come up with an affordable payment device like thumbzump or payment pebble – make it cheap for anyone to have such a device and even at musika u start paying that way

    i think this is the best way forward, some form of legislative framework that forces everyone to use plastic money (mobile money et.c)

    1. taraz says:

      The govt should start by putting its house in order first. At the moment there is no government related school, college, hospital, passport office, municipality, ZESA etc where I can walk in and swipe for my payments using my bank’s debit card. Then you tell me the government has the will power to go plastic?

    2. Loud Speaker says:

      Are you serious? Plastic money-HOW? How will that work in the rural areas where the majority of the populace live on the proverbial one-dollar-a-day eh? Where there is no magetsi,hardly any banks never mind ATMs!…Or is your idea of Zimbabwe = Harare lol!
      Incidentaly,the idea of plastic instead of cash was trialed in affluent New Zealand and as quickly abandoned…..Go figure.

      1. G says:

        plastic money includes credit/debit cards, money transfers, mobile money (ecocash, telcash) e.t.c

        the issue is whats the best option to fix the cash problems in the short term, i think if they can use that plastic money is the best method

        there is also the agent model that banks are starting to use to reduce expenses of laying out branches & atm’s
        so yah Go figure

  2. Siege says:

    Guys, here is the beef: liquidity is not the problem, rather, it is the overarching symptom of the underlying problem, which is that Zimbabwe is not producing! Even if you have mobile money, there have to be reserves of the currency in physical form….you do not just punch in numbers in a computer and create money! Secondly, I’m not a fan of the online outsourcing to companies abroad work model because while it can help a few people earn money, it distracts us from the building competitive local industries with internationally visible brands. In the long term, you won’t be able to build a national economy to global standards. If you doubt, look at how India’s government is dissuading their people from taking the outsourced jobs. Whatsmore, outsourced labor is easier to exploit because of heavy competition, hence you see companies like Dreamworks now opting to outsource their rudimentary animation to media geeks in the Philippines – yet this is not helping in building the Philippine’s media industry as whole. What we need is a holistic solution – and that is have government foster for an independent, competitive and self-sustaining private sector. Nomatter how creative or genius we can be as Techs, poor governance will always weigh us down.

    1. G says:

      i think its clear that this measure of bond notes is no there to solve the underlying problems in zimbabwe’s economy, its solving the symptoms its a temporary solution so that people can transact

      1. Anonymous says:

        yes we need to transact G but another problem will rise soon after the bonds we are focusing on petty issues not the head

      2. Siege says:

        But G, our problem is not financial…our problem is economic. What bond notes are going to do is distort our perception of the problem, and sooner or later we will actually worsen the problem and have more to deal with at the end of the day. We are not creating (enough) economic value, so what would you transact when you don’t deliver value?

    2. Interesting point @Siege. thanks.
      I don’t think any solution brought forward will solve the whole problem. However for any problem there are good things you can do that will make the situation better (short term and long term) and bad things that if you do, will make the situation worse. If a ‘good’ thing will help short term but hurt long term, then maybe it’s not so good.

      I think outsourcing will help both short and long term. India may be making its decision no in view of where their economy is at the moment as well as looking at the skill level and what can be achieved locally if skills are focused inwards. Zimbabwe is in a different situation. Outsourcing would actually boost skill level to a point where we can have the discussion about whether it makes sense to work online for the world or to produce at home and export products. doesn’t have to be one or the other.

      Is it good for people to migrate to work in the US and send money back home or is it better for them to stay at home and produce here? doesn’t have to one or the other. the one can build into the other. If our science geek can work for boeing for 5 years, send some good money home, and maybe return after 10 years to invest and start an aircraft company, that would be a good thing.

      1. Siege says:

        Anyone who proposes a solution without envisioning what the end result of the proposed solution is not giving you a solution. We have procrastinated for so long in dealing with our unique problems the best we can do now is think of copying and pasting ideas and trends from other countries. That’s what has to stop now. We need to anlyse our unique problem, define solutions that work for us and envision the future we want. Short solutions can allow the major problem to snowball, and it won’t get away.

        1. Hopeful says:

          I totally agree with @Siege, we have been applying bandages to a very very broken system instead of restructuring it. Yes in the short run it will cost a lot in terms of finances and upskilling. But the long run it is more sustainable to rely on local development (the reason for China’s success). Short-termism is what we’ve been practising since 1979, as a result no real growth or development since. Let’s work on what will work for us for the next 100 years considering technology, knowledge, skill, societal, health and environmental requirements. Then sit back and watch as our country jumps leaps and bounds over the so-called developed nations.

          Skills export and bond notes will not grow ZImbabwe.

  3. Tiri says:

    Will I be able to continue using my ecocash MasterCard for online shopping once these bond notes are introduced?

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