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Local Application Developers Should Smell the Coffee


According to the Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009 report prepared by the International Telecommunications Union, in 2008 there were 11 internet users out of every 100 inhabitants in Zimbabwe. 2009 itself saw more Zimbabweans connecting to the Internet owing to the introduction of mobile Internet by telecoms operator Econet. Even more connections will be made over the next several months as the economy stabilizes and ISPs & mobile operators take on more subscribers.

While more and more Africans are plugging in to the net every day, the ridiculously high cost of international bandwidth has imposed a bottleneck on connections to web applications hosted in the US, Europe and the East, resulting in frustratingly sluggish connections. For Zimbabwe, being a landlocked country naturally worsens the situation, making it last to benefit from high speed undersea fibre-optic cables that have landed on the shores of the continent.

These global web applications are great for many communication needs but they fail to address some needs that are unique to our environment. Africa has a unique setting well understood by its inhabitants. We have our own business situations and business language, unique business processes, unique medical problems, traffic problems, generally our own priorities and state of mind. Our children have African games they play, our streets have a unique language, and we have our own music, our own culture etc… This here has created an information communication technologies void that calls for local fillers.

African (and indeed Zimbabwean) developers have a chance to monetize their skills through building localized mobile and web applications. It is only true that homegrown solutions that fit the local environment will be in high demand. The beauty of web application development is that developers do not need a heavy investment of resources to start up; Internet application development tools are available for free download on the Internet. So armed with a decent computer and your average Zimbabwean connection, a developer is set to breathe life into creative ideas. The bottleneck shifts from resources to imagination; the developer’s imagination is the limit.

It’s easy to argue that Zimbabwe doesn’t have the capacity to become an information society, what with the brain drain that hit the country hard these past few years. Easy to say that our strength is in agriculture and mining, so time and effort should be channeled in that direction. But again, information communication technologies enable smoother processing in our everyday operations. Web and now mobile applications are built to make the foundation of our economy even stronger in a homegrown and therefore inexpensive manner. Faster processing and communication of information is critically required for these core sectors of the economy to flourish.

Local developers can also take advantage of common web applications’ Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to localize and build solutions atop already established web applications like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Maps and Twitter. The APIs can help developers rapidly localize globally available information stores. They can avoid reinventing the wheel and concentrate on localizing the application. A great spinoff from this would be open sourcing our solutions so that more people can benefit and the small but brilliant ideas can grow from the input of more great minds globally. A win win!

So far the trend has been to change the person to accommodate and make do with Global (read Western) Internet solutions. The time has come to change the solution to accommodate the person in his home environment.

Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

11 thoughts on “Local Application Developers Should Smell the Coffee

  1. Developing an app is the easy part: the million dollar question is how to monetize such an app in Zim’s environment. There are no easy payment channels (e.g. Paypal: not many pple have credit cards, and you cannot receive Paypal payments in Zim)

    1. The moral of this article is to find solutions to African problems and not just try to marry African challenges to incompatible western solutions. Broaden you mind my brada cos mobile banking has come to Zimbabwe.

  2. @kevin u’re right there. No easy payment channel in Zim. But i think with mobile banking one can use Econet airtime to pay for services. And since it’s really about developing mobile applications this can be built right into the app. e.g. to download the app a customer has their airtime subtracted and developer gets their money from Econet.

  3. Zim application developers should worry about making their applications work and not so much about monetizing the applications, if you have a good product you can sell it anywhere in the world, the internet has made this world a global village.

    So if you have an idea, and you have the time and resources to build it, I say go for it. The money will come in good time. I believe that Zim can indeed be the next Silicon Valley.

    There are a lot of people with really bright Ideas…

    1. Diamond Valley is more like it… Of cos every computer has silicon chips in it but hey, my land is diamond.

  4. I am in agreement with Duma.

    If we could adopt the philosophy of selling WHY(purpose) we do things and not WHAT (by products – money) we do, I believe we can go far.

    Long ago when I was in High school, I wanted to be an architect but the environment told me that it was not lucrative. In fact what is the in thing then was RUP (Rural and Urban Planning). But before I had finished the 2 years of A’Level, RUP had flooded and there were no more jobs for these professionals.

    My point, money or no money, paypal or no paypal, do that which consumes you, which you have passion for, that which you are called to do and in due season, you shall certainly reap. If only we could perfect our art, busy ourselves with what we are good at, the rest will fall in place on its own.

  5. @Petros Ima long time web and platform programmer. At a point i wanted to develop a local & international music download service(among other services), and i’m not the only there are so many developers with our ideas, the block developers are hitting is that the three network providers are not in any position to co-operate. They will not assign shortcodes, and for reverse billing(where you pay to receive phone content) it’s a non-starter. I work at a telecoms company and we use specialised services from the providers but any new suggestions we make are diverting to the bin.

    What developers are waiting for is for bankers and the telecoms people to get local programmers engaged in their vital systems. Visa and Paypal(just examples) work by way of giving us what is called an Application Program Interface(API) which is a mechanism for us programmers to talk to their banking system. I can program visa and paypal but in Zim they are not too keen as yet.

    But APIs aren’t even difficult to make at all. someone should just convince them.
    There are a couple of sites coming up, will keep you posted

  6. Talent is abundant. Wasn’t it yesterday that we were reading of “Zimbabwe university student develops business apps and working on virus removal software” . We need to play our part in changing the status quo

  7. Talent is abundant. Wasn’t it yesterday that we were reading of “Zimbabwe university student develops business apps and working on virus removal software” . We need to play our part in changing the status quo. Note: at 15 years of age, “Gates wrote the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with mostly female students.”
    So I repeat, we (programmers) are the ones who can change the existing state of affairs.

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