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Zimbabwean tech entrepreneur Chingonzo, tells Obama sanctions are hurting startups

takunda-obama-1In a rare one on one stage interview he held with US president Barack Obama, Zimbabwean technology entrepreneur, Takunda Chingonzo, told Obama that the supposedly target sanctions against some political leaders in Zimbabwe were actually hurting ordinary people. Chingonzo said technology entrepreneurs looking to get technology or funding from US based companies often get hit a brick wall because of the sanctions.

“In our work we got to a point where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States. And so we were engaging in conversation with these US based businesses, and the response we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe. I was shocked. This doesn’t make sense.” explained Chingonzo to Obama.

In response, Obama said that the US is facing the challenge of balancing helping the people of Zimbabwe with what what he termed ‘repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights’ in the country.

Obama agreed with Chingonzo that was was needed initiatives that enhance as opposed to retard the progress of the Zimbabwean people. The US president then suggested that projects be explored by Zimbabwean entrepreneurs together with the US to ensure Zimbabweans are not affected. He was adamant however that the US is set on sending the strong message about good governance in Zimbabwe.

Takunda Chingonzo in the US on the Young African Leaders programme. The founder wireless internet startup, Saisai, which we covered here some weeks ago, he had the one on one with Obama on stage yesterday at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in the US.

Whether anything comes out of his promise or not is ofcourse something else. He is after all a politician and he had to have a response. It is however that great that Chingonzo was able to articulate something that many people believe not to be true – that in supposedly targeting a couple of politicians with sanctions, the US actually doesn’t hurt politicians but ordinary people that just want to do business.

In the interview Chingonzo and Obama also discussed issues of net neutrality as well as access to funding for small business in Africa especially as at the summit investment pledges by US companies seemed to target large established companies and governments.

Here’s a video of the stage interview. The video starts with Obama’s speech and the interview actually starts around 18 minutes.

You can view the full transcript of the interview here.

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30 thoughts on “Zimbabwean tech entrepreneur Chingonzo, tells Obama sanctions are hurting startups

  1. Kudos to Takunda. We (tech enthusiasts and practitioners) are proud to be represented by such a bright young mind.

  2. Thanks Limbikani,
    Always read your articles with great interest. Fantastic that a young Zimbabwean entrepreneur is on stage in Washington interviewing President Obama. Would be wonderful to be able to do the same in other countries.
    The first thought that came to mind is having grown up under the Smith regime and the global sanctions that were imposed on Zimbabwe in that era, we regularly heard the exactly same refrain from the authorities and commentators at the time, i.e. sanctions only serve to harm the ordinary citizen and not those in charge at the time. I do not mean to justify the imposition of sanctions now or then, but rather to point out the same argument is always made whatever the political circumstances. Today and in recent times it would apply to Russia (re the Ukraine), the previous regime in Myanmar, North Korea etc.
    Keep up your great work at TechZim!

  3. “In our work we got to a point where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States. And so we were engaging in conversation with these US based businesses, and the response we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe. I was shocked. This doesn’t make sense.” explained Chingonzo to Obama. – Can someone explain what tech Zimboz cannot import/buy from USA?

    1. After all the hullabaloo, really, the privileged young man sounded like an uninformed ZanuPF bigwig. Ngaauye timuudze isu

    2. I also had the same question. I am not based in Zimbabwe so I just left it to those in Zim to ask. I do not see a private US based company refusing to do business with a private startup in Zim DUE TO SANCTIONS. It defies logic.

  4. I am anti Zanu but i know that sanctions on the top leadership will cascade to business and the man on the street. Stopping Zimbabwe from selling diamonds punishes the gvt, business who rely on infrastructure ( roads, water, electricity) provided by gvt and also the entire population

    1. If u i readed correct u said that zimbabwe is being stopped frm selling diamonds, i ask were are all the diamonds going?

  5. As a development economist, what this young gentleman should be doing, is plugging in the gap that the americans and their sanctions are suppsedly imposing.

    We are often told by this website and the government, we have the money, we have the means to be a technology leader. The question is, where are our own software amd hardware engineers that are making our own technologies?

    We need to invest in creating our won technologies, but as is usual, in Africa, we are consumers of others products and then cry foul it is expensive or not catered at our markets. Instead of using money on farm invasions, or talking about sanctions, create the solutions, home grown solutions.

    Zimbabwe, and in particular Africa cannot be consumers forever if we want to move forward, we need to invest in our own solutions.

  6. I hope this young man Chingonzo will have the heart and do the same with his own leader Zimbabwean President and ask him to make the environment for his business to operate in a conducive investor promoting environment. Things like improving the basic infrastructure and making available clean water, health facilities, good roads, regular electricity, addressing the corruption issues etc. the list is endless. The money which is being realized by Zimbabwe from the sale of minerals (diamond, gold, platinum. etc..) can be able to take Zimbabwe out of the doldrums. Believe me if the above are addressed, Zimbabwean start-ups will not need to look any further for funding other than their own financial institutions to help their businesses supported. Frankly I think there was a bit of exaggeration on his part that US business people cannot do business and invest in Zimbabwe… the answer is simple. As it stands it is risky doing business in Zimbabwe because of the non business policies in place….Look at the Doing Business in Zimbabwe Index . WE NOW WAIT FOR YOUR NEXT INTERVIEW WITH ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT AND TELL HIM LIKE IT IS, I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT CHINGONZO. Please do not give up!!!!

  7. The credit for me is Obama, imagine the same question was asked to Mugabe??? Why does the US have targeted sanctions on you and others, what can you do as President since these are not targeted and they are hurting the ordinary people especially us the young entrepreneurs

  8. I understand what the man is saying. I can personally attest that my neighbor’s first cousin’s father’s sister got a cold and went to the store to get some medicine for it but could not get the medicine due to a petrol shortage caused by sanctions. Then, when she went to use her mobile phone she discovered that sanctions had depleted her battery life, thus placing her life in danger. This is the proof of the impact of sanctions which Obama must hear about first-hand. It is time for these filthy sanctions to end as nearly 6 million Zimbabweans have lost their lives due to Obama’s sanctions.

  9. Sanctions have never had any impact on ordinary Zimbabweans. The fake outrage about sanctions is nothing more than the greedy looters whining about having to split a share of the loot with the money-launderers who finance their transactions. Sanctions are merely a political statement and don’t deter any of the looting. If anyplace in the world has great technology, it is in China and the EU so why doesn’t this young man approach those countries? A well rehearsed question will get this young man the ZANU-PF praise he has been waiting for.

    1. Tonderai, I beg to differ. ZIDERA has both targeted and non-targeted sanctions. Sections 4 (b) and (c) explicitly restrict support for financial support and debt relief which clearly affects the generality of Zimbabwean citizens.

      On the part of targeted sanctions, American businesses and financial institutions seem to decide to “err on the side of caution” by not dealing with Zimbabweans by citing these restrictions. Whilst it is a wrong interpretation of the law, bottom line is that it affects Zimbabwean entrepreneurs so Takunda was spot on to raise the issue with Obama.

      I have personally experienced this twice; the first time was a company deciding not to work with me and in the second case I had funds withheld by a bank. In both cases restrictions on Zimbabwe were cited. Fortunately for me I was able to convince them that they were misinterpreting the statutes but it took weeks to resolve, affecting cash flows.

  10. Obama is no Nelson Mandela — never was, never will be. Mandela represented Freedom for Africa. Obama is an American arms and drone salesman. And what comes after Obama when his presidential term ends is likely to be considerably worse. His African leaders summit is a political, social and economic sham.

    1. Mandela sold out. All politicians are no “Mandela” (even Mandela is no “Mandela”)

      “Mandela” being the “Mugabe” before things went horribly wrong in Zim, i.e. a persona invented to deflect attention from the real issues. This persona is glorified by all (the previous oppressor and the previously oppressed).

  11. Sanctions sanctions, they are there let’s move forward and purpose of startups is to solve current problems, solve the problems funds will follow ayt.

    Let’s assume sanctions are there forever, we can’t just sit around and watch. Solve the problems.

    My lecturer told me that sanctions are good at the other end you can reverse engineer other peoples products and create your own products

  12. Kupera simba chaiko, surely learned people talking about “imaginary” sanctions, was hoping the “technopreneur” would be more specific about which US guys discriminated him using sanctions rhetoric.

  13. Thats a good start. We are all advocating for a fair global village in which we can all are equal at a global scale. Paypal’s opening up to Zimbabwe is a good example. Imagine if we all your people do the same. Zimbabwe is our country and lets do our best to protect it and fight for a good business environment.

  14. humanitarial issues are very important thats why american concerned.put people first

  15. mugabe must go fo the better of the millions of people to survive without sanction ”mugabe hates the whites” so he derseve it.he is a racist..check listen to his speechies can we build and grow fast in such invironment

  16. do great startup and zim government will fund you FULL STOP,
    stop crying ma sanctions , give Obama some sanctions

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