Wow! Wednesday was a great day to reflect on for us here at Techzim. BarCamp Zimbabwe; the country’s first grassroots ICT event finally came together. The event was made possible through the support sponsors like Byers Design, Matamba Anonaka Technology Holdings, Webdev and Zimbojam. It was also the work of great individuals in the organizing team, notably; Joseph Manzungu, Lennex Zinyando, Christine Dube, Chengetai Chikwanha, Richwell Phinias, Richard Mberi, Larry Kwirirayi and many other people who helped leading to the event.
The opening kicked off with a chilled speech by Atwell Mukusha – the president of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe. It began in earnest with a discussion centered on Zimbabwe’s place in the continental and global ICT value chain. One participant set the tone by commending Zimbabweans as people who can strategise and “formulate” better than anyone else continentally, but ultimately lacking follow-through. The country has the highest literacy rate in Africa and a robust human capital base, there is a huge opportunity to consolidate on this by (finally) working to position Zimbabwe as an ICT services hub.
In this respect Kenya was mentioned a lot; it shares a similar immediate history as Zimbabwe and has managed to develop a healthy (and wealthy) ICT scene that even South Africa is paying attention to. The conclusive point from this discussion for me was that the local ICT sector needs to have purpose and direction in what it does. In the same way Kenya is now known for mobile innovation, India for outsourcing and Russia for coding, Zimbabwe needs to unlock its niche. We make a good services hub as a collective! 23rd Century Systems was referenced as a company that has set a good standard in this regard.
Web developers, consultants, entrepreneurs and ICT service providers need to start thinking about regional integration and tapping into new markets. If we’re not pro-active about it, a “Zim industry scenario” is inevitable; when the economy regressed, a lot of the companies that survived and even thrived were those that addressed a market beyond Zimbabwe. Those that failed to foresee and adapt to change suddenly found themselves competing with regional companies piggybacking on SADC and COMESA duty waivers. A book known as Africa Rising by Vijay Mahajan was mentioned in this regard. It profiles Vijay, an American economics professor’s tour across the African continent and his experiences including his trip to some of Innscor Africa’s businesses in Zimbabwe at the worst of times. Vijay’s experiences led to him concluding that Africa is the true emerging market frontier.
The greatest hindrance or concern one participant cited as an impediment to achieve an ICT utopia was a lack of initiative on the part of the local MNOs (Mobile Network Operators). This topic stirred up a lot of interest across the floor as a number of participants pointed out the significance of mobile telephony across Africa and how some operators locally have been motivated by profit instead of addressing the market’s needs.
Examples of infrastructure sharing and mobile number portability were given as motivational forces for the sector to open up. The shift from voice as core revenue generators to VAS (Value Added Services) is a reality across the ICT spectrum in Africa; however some local MNOs were criticised for having a closed door policy to local developers yet embracing foreign VAS providers.
In essence, Zimbabwe’s place in the global village can best be found in the ICT services sector. For this to happen ALL STAKEHOLDERS need to consolidate their individual efforts by consistently working towards a common goal of positioning the country as Africa’s ICT front and back office.
Other participants of BarCamp Zimbabwe are welcome to share their thoughts and experiences through commenting below or, if you have a lot to say, through authoring guest articles.