State of information technology and startups in Zimbabwe – (Feb 2017 Update)

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Technology Startups

Marketplaces & E-Commerce

eCommerce has been slow to take off in Zimbabwe, partly due to us being a consuming nation, and a population that is highly price sensitive due to low incomes and lack of internet access, shoppers have failed to embrace online shopping, thus far.

  • Classifieds.co.zw – Started by an ISP, is a classifieds portal that hosts tens of thousands of products and is the default marketplace for a large amount of small businesses to look for stuff online and to post their products when selling.
  • Ownai – A classifieds portal started by Econet, the largest MNO in Zimbabwe, though zero rated by them for their uses, has taken a while to take off.
  • Esaja.com  – a marketplace for intra trade in africa.
  • Facebook and WhatsApp Groups – Consumers have defaulted to C2C platforms to push their goods and or services. Due to these apps/websites being bundled, users have gravitated to these platforms to use them.
  • Dipleague – email mailing list, started by one of the founders of an ISP, ZOL, initially targeted at the diplomatic community, now used by general working community, people send in their products for sale or what they want to buy and this is then sent daily to all on the mailing list as one who email.
  • Hammer n’ Tongues – Offline Auction guys trying their hand at eCommerce online. Have had minimum growth so far despite what looks like significant (by local standards) investment in the 100s of thousands.

 

FinTech Startups

  • PayNow – A payment integration company that has made it easy for businesses to integrate to mobile money providers as well as the conventional international banking cards (Visa/MasterCard).
  • BitFinance – a bitcoin focused company that’s making it easier for people and businesses in Zimbabwe to trade using BitCoin, by offering a BitCoin exchange.
  • BitMari – a BitCoin startup focused on remittances.
  • Ndasenda – Helps users make payments for utilities like power
  • Bills.Express – provides users a way to pay for their bills online. Provides value added services to help users manage their bills by analysing history.
  • GetCash – a mobile money solution that is network neutral and allows anyone to access the service using an app. Has a low number of agents and merchants and has not been too active in growing this network. Formally Nettcash.
  • Pay4App – Was providing a solution in the early days of offering ability for businesses to receive payments online from mobile money providers, were very useful, however, seem to have shut down now.

 

Media

Internet Only Publications:
  • Yours Truly   stats
  • Pindula.com – Local knowledge platform (that yours truly above is affiliated to)   stats
  • Zimbojam – oldest online entertainment news blog   stats
  • Zimbuzz – celebrity gossip new blog   stats
  • The Source financial news blog   stats
  • Her Zimbabwe digital media to share and tell Zimbabwean women’s stories, as well as nurture young women’s digital activism.   stats
  • Soccer24 Football news blog   stats
  • SSN – Schools Sports News and linking Zimbabwean students to sports scholarships in the US   stats
  • Revision.co.zw – A high school content platform providing notes for students in Zimbabwe based on the school curriculum   stats
  • TechUnzipped – tech news blog   stats
  • Technomag tech news blog   stats
  • Alex Magaisa Zimbabwe politics commentary   stats
  • Plagiarist Publications: These Copy & paste news verbatim from other sites but they are still very popular in Zimbabwe: Bulawayo24, NehandaRadio, NewsDzeZimbabwe, ZimEye.net

 

Media ecosystem background:
  • Politics is a topical issue in mostly private places and limited in public.
  • Radio and TV is owned by Government or state affiliated institutions/individuals, thus independent viewpoints on these platforms does not exist.
  • State media (including the radio and TV stations) praise the ruling party, while adversely covering opposition – lots of in your face as well as smarter propaganda! Sometimes they also attack factions in the ruling party.
  • Print newspapers are polarised as well, with state media positively covering the ruling party while private media does the opposite.
  • Online publications – there are a growing number of blogs/publications that have been coming up over the years to offer content to readers, though few aim for niche areas, choosing instead to go for more general news. However, there are a large number of Plagiarist publications that just rip content from websites and paste to their own, all in the hopes of gaining traffic and subsequent ad dollars that come with it. Examples already given above.
  • State Newspapers:
    • Traditional newspapers who now have online presence as well.
    • Herald is the flagship(daily targeted at Harare), Chronicle (Bulawayo targeted), SundayMail (weekly), H-Metro (Harare tabloid), B-Metro (Bulawayo tabloid)
  • Private Newspapers:

 

Other Media startups:
  • Comexposed & Sigma Studio. Promoting a culture of comic books and local super heroes. They make comics themselves and also bring all comic book artists using an annual comic convention.

 

Social Media Video startups

  • Bustop TV – Zimbabwe’s most popular online comedy show outfit. comprises 4 ladies doing Kansiime-like content, but not focusing on a single personality. Most video consumption is via Facebook but also a lot of sharing on WhatsApp for the most popular videos. Average video views around 30k.
  • Ruvheneko – A former radio personality who’s building a career for herself interviewing political leaders & celebrities live on Facebook. One of Zimbabwe’s best skills in interviewing powerful people in society. Registers about 4k concurrent viewers when she broadcasts live.
  • The Comic Pastor – A  comedian posting content online mostly using his phone but has managed to connect with ordinary people on Facebook. Easily one of the best comedians locally. Not full time. Average video views is 20k.
  • The BYO Show – Animation videos posted Facebook. Popular in Bulawayo mainly.
  • TV Yangu – Video aggregator

 

Governance Activist Projects

  • Magamba TV –  Uses video + social media for political satire. have won a number of awards for the work. Top show is called Zambezi News but they now have two others; Tsaona show & The Week. Average video views on facebook is 20k.
  • OpenParly – Making parliamentary publications and events more open via social media. They live tweet parliamentary sittings, hearings etc… They track bills, MP activities and other such.   stats
  • 263Chat – Started as a Twitter community bringing ordinary twitter users to engage on society issues. Has moved into media company covering issues affecting communities. Produces content traditional media often overlooks. Heavy on video.   stats
  • Kalabash Media – These are mainly NGO funded organisations, that don’t seem to have a clear strategy for monetisation. Due to the divergence of views between between Government and NGOs, they seem more to learn on calling out the Government than anything else.   stats
  • Kubatana.net – Oldest Zimbabwe online activism organisation. Started as far back as 2001 and mainly aggregates Zimbabwean civic and human rights information. They publish reports, newsletters and some sms engagement solution. Current active projects are #ShutdownZim.net   stats and All the Birthdays.
  • Veritas Bills Watch – Watching bills in parliament and explaining them to ordinary people’s language. Run by lawyers.   stats

 

Software Startups

  • Mazwi – SaaS for traditional publishers to sell their books online. e.g. cps.co.zw

 

Agri-tech Startups

  • RLMS – Cattle auctioning platform that makes it easier for people to buy and sell their cattle. Mainly uses YouTube videos to show potential buyers the livestock.
  • Shift Organic Technologies – A startup providing  integrated organic agriculture systems.

 

Utility Apps

  • Road Rules – Driver’s licence learning app, that helps users prepare for their provisional driver’s licence.

 


 

Hubs in Zimbabwe

  • The hub/incubator culture is fairly new in Zimbabwe (first ones started 3 years) and has mostly been NGO & US/Dutch embassy funded.
  • They have been more ‘co-working spaces’  type than incubator/mentorship driven.
  • There have been a couple of hubs that opened and then either shut down (Hypercube – US embassy/Hivos funded) or pivoted into private businesses (Muzinda Hub) scaled down significantly. (as is the case of Area46 which Techzim was part of the founding members).
  • Currently operating ‘hubs’ are:
    • B2C (a partnership between a US embassy funded entity – Udungu and Old Mutual)
    • MotoRepublik
    • SkyHub and Tech Village are two Bulawayo based hubs, targeting those in that area of the country but mostly students at NUST – a technology university in the city.
    • Impact Hub – A hub located in Harare which focuses on serving as an innovation lab, a business Incubator and a social enterprise community center.

 

Coding Initiatives in Zimbabwe

A few coding initiatives have started in the past couple of years:

  • ZimboPy: This is a coding initiative for girls by local Python developers in the Harare. They do coding clubs at community centers and are currently doing a project in Mufakose, Harare. They are supported by Github.
  • Muzinda Hub started as an incubation and co-working space, before morphing into a tech skills training exclusively. Muzinda Hub is a subsidiary of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, Zim’s largest mobile network operator (see below), and provide consulting services essentially building apps & sites for companies in Zimbabwe
  • Pyzim – This is a Python coding initiative in Zimbabwe. They do PyCon Zimbabwe, a gathering of Python programmers in Zimbabwe.
  • WordPress Harare – an initiative for WordPress developers in the capital city of the country. They do monthly WordPress meetups as well as an annual Wordcamp event in Harare.

 

Telecoms Industry Highlights

The Telecoms is by regulated by a body that is known as the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), who set the dictates of what can and cannot be done by telecoms/internet companies.

We have the following telecom providers in Zimbabwe:

Mobile Network Operators

  • Econet (50.3% market share):  These are the largest carrier, having over half of the market, having been “born in the courts”, after the government resisted their registration and the founders had to go through the courts in order to get a licence. They’ve had a number of run-ins with Government of late (on infrastructure sharing, offering TV content, pricing of calls and data to name just a few) but are also the largest tax payer.
  • NetOne (33.8% market share): Wholly Government owned, they were born in 1996, the first operator to be issued a licence to operate. Has been slower to act and move, mainly due to having a shareholder that is resource strained and not able to finance growth initiatives. Has been labeled as “noncompliant” by Econet, in that they are claimed not to have paid their operating licence fee of $137.5m for 20 years.

 

Mobile Money

  • EcoCash:Zimbabwe has been one of the African countries where mobile money has taken hold mostly because the country was already coming out of hyperinflation which cause deep distrust in banks. Mobile came as a simpler solution that didn’t feel like the usual cumbersome processes required by banks. Added to this is the convenience of mobile money that promoted financial inclusion – like having agents available where the people live in the country.
    • EcoCash, by Econet remains the most popular mobile money product (people expect other people to have an EcoCash number) and platform that (people expect merchants to have this as a payment option in shops, fuel stations etc…)
    • The EcoCash numbers:
      26,000 Ecocash agents
      20,000 Ecocash merchants
      10,000 Steward Bank Point of Sale devices (The Econet owned bank supports EcoCash merchant payments on these)
      1,200 EcoCash green kiosks
      3,114 billers & payroll partners
      250 EcoCash/Econet branded shops
      35,000 airtime vendors
  • The other 2 mobile mobile operators: Government owned companies Telecel and NetOne also have their mobile money products (Telecash and OneWallet respectively) but have failed to get as much success as EcoCash.

Fixed Line Operators

  • TelOne (2.4% market share): Another wholly Government owned entity, that is currently the only fixed line operator. Largely used by cooperates, as they are the first means of telephony communications that we’ve had and the mobile device has become the more default means of communication.

 

Calls and SMS

  • Subscribers have been moving away from “traditional” means of communications, i.e calls and SMSes, world over and the trend has followed through here too. The costs of these services were high, as much as US$0.33/min for calls (they were not offering per second billing at the time) and US$0.20/SMS for a local SMS.
  • Traffic-wise Zimbabwe has seen a 30% decrease of voice traffic from 2012 (1,327 million minutes) to 2016 (923 million minutes) as subscribers migrate to cheaper options such as data (over the top services). SMS, though figures are not readily available, have also seen a rapid reduction over the years. MMS was a failed attempt in the late 2000s as subscribers did not have the devices to support such an innovation, but when they finally did, they quickly latched onto OTT services.

 

Data

  • In 2012 Zimbabwe reported 3 266 436 internet subscriptions, though not unique, the number of uniques would not have been much of a variation from that number as the cost of a connect was high to maintain at the time. Fast forward to 2016 and we reportedly now have 6,587,979 subscriptions, a 102% increase.
  • As in most of Africa the 98% of those internet subscriptions are a mobile broadband subscription.
  • During 2016, POTRAZ reported that as much as 34% of Zimbabwe’s internet traffic being used for “WhatsApp Bundles”.

 

Bundles

  • Mobile networks have capitalised on the popularity of OTT services and “bundled” them into packages that allow subscribers to use that particular app/service at a fixed rate for a specific period. Apps that have been bundled have been WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Opera (the browser, that only allows the user to access the internet through this browser) as well as an app called biNu.
  • This bundling of apps has been beneficial to subscribers as it allows them to access certain services at a reduced price to their “out of bundle” data, but makes it difficult for subscribers to access other services/apps due to them being “more expensive”. There is a huge net neutrality discussion that needs to be had.

 

Devices

  • While WhatsApp can be looked at as the downfall for a number of businesses (most subscribers sign up to the WhatsApp bundles from the MNOs, making it difficult for subscribers to accesses other people’s websites/apps/services), it has actually helped websites/apps/services a lot by forcing subscribers to improve their devices in order to use the app.
  • Over 75% of Zimbabwe’s devices that access the internet are running Android, thus enabling anyone looking to launch an app/service on such an OS may likely find a high adoption (data bundles allowing).
  • There are currently 4 major distributors of Android devices in Zimbabwe, their contribution to that 75% is not disclosed by the MNOs directly, but presumed to be Samsung, GTeL (a local device distributor), Huawei, Astro (another local device distributor

 

Fixed Internet Providers (ISP)

Fixed Internet service provision is dominated by 3 entities:

  • Econet wireless owned companies Liquid Telecom (focuses on installing fibre backbone throughout Africa as well as Fibre to Homes plus selling internet to enterprise) and ZOL (focused on selling Liquid’s fibre internet to homes). ZOL currently connects some 30k households to fixed internet. A small percentage of their customers are connected using WiMax, a wireless internet technology that the country is phasing out in favour of fibre. These companies have focused Harare and Bulawayo only
  • Government owned fixed lined company TelOne which has some significant telephone infrastructure to use for ADSL. Also now offering fibre in limited areas.
  • Dandemutande. This is now a merger of previously 3 smaller independent internet companies. They merged in order to stay competitive against Econet and the government above.

 

Zimbabwe Demographics (2012 Census)

Population

Total Population13.1 Million
Total Population13.1 Million
Female Population6.8 Million
Male Population6.3 Million
15 - 34 Age Group35.7%
Major Cities Population
Harare2 Million
Bulawayo0.7 Million
Urban Population33%
Households with electricity44%
Using wood for cooking:63%
With Safe water75%
With toilet facilities76%

 


 

Economics and what money can buy in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe introduced Bond Notes in 2016 an attempt to solve the problem of inadequate cash. This did not solve the problem as there are still a lot of cash withdrawal queues at banks. While people demonstrated heavily in 2016 against the introduction of the Bond Notes, they were introduced anyway and people ended up using them.

Even though the government insists that the Bond Notes are equivalent to US dollars, on the streets the two slightly have a differently value. Small merchants who feel they are not on the government monitoring radar prefer US dollars to Bond notes and so have a US dollar price and Bond Notes one. Such merchants also have a Cash price which is different from an electronic transaction price (mobile money/debit card/bank transfer).

Generally the street exchange range of the US cash to electronic money is US $1 cash : $1.15 electronic money. Peope generally expect the exchange rate worsen and the 2008 era hyperinflation to return.

  • Mobile Internet Prices:
    • Limited monthly data bundle for WhatApp, Facebook & Twitter: $5
    • A more generous monthly data bundle for WhatApp, Facebook & Twitter: $10
    • Limited WhatsApp only for a month: $3
    • Bundle to access the whole internet: $2 per 1GB (valid for 24 hrs)
    • Bundle to access the whole internet: $10 per 300MB (valid for 1 month)
    • Out of bundle internet: 15 cents per MB
  • Fixed Internet Prices:
    • Home Fibre monthly: $29 for 15GB
    • Home ADLS monthly: $25 for 30GB
  • Accommodation in Harare:
    • $50 can rent one a room in a high density surburb
    • $200 can rent one a house in a high density surburb
    • $400 can rent one an apartment in the cities
    • $500 can rent one a house in medium density suburb
  • Food & other things:
    • Monthly basic basket of groceries for family of 6 : US $571
    • Commuting bus fare to and from the city centre: $1
    • Fuel for those drive is $1.35 a litre
    • Basic Utilities: $20 Electricity, $25 water (water not fit human consumption in Harare)