It has been just over 20 years since Zimbabwe joined the internet. It was back in 1994 when serial entrepreneur, inventor and geek Robert Nursten and his son Clint founded Zimbabwe’s first Internet Service Provider ISP called Data Control Systems which they later sold to Econet.
The company was later renamed Ecoweb and became part of the Econet Broadband family which, when you consider how popular mobile broadband is in this country, is still one of the preferred methods of accessing the internet.
In 1996, Data Control had an impressive 3 000 customers that connected to the internet via the company’s 100 or so modems and the network backbone had an eye-popping speed of 128 Kbps. ( I know you cannot even watch cat videos at this speed, although some shameless ISPs still market such packages but that was then and this is now).
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The speed was doubled a year later and the service spread to four of Zimbabwe’s major towns. All this time Facebook was not yet even an idea and Zuckerberg was probably still being shoved in school lockers and trying to fight off bullies who wanted his lunch money. Google was still being run in a garage somewhere in Menlo.
Fast forward to 2009 and the number of Zimbabwe’s internet users had exceeded a million and dollarisation and an ICT friendly policy of no import duty on ICT equipment began paying dividends as more and more people bought computers and smart devices that can be used to go online. This year it was estimated that there are about 5.9 million internet users in Zimbabwe 99% of whom connect through mobile broadband a far cry from the 3000 in 1996.
Meanwhile, there was the rise in the use of social media. Zimbabweans never really got the MySpace hype, but Facebook has seen more and more people accessing the internet on a daily basis to connect with friends and check on the latest headlines.
More and more people joined the Blog movement and there was an explosion of very popular blogs that target the Zimbabwean audience. Names like myzimbabwe.co.zw, herzimbabwe.co.zw, iharare.com, byo24.com, newzimbabwe.com, and nehandaradio.com are a few of thousands of news blogs that have seen a rise in popularity.
Even the traditional print media have seen the future and most have joined the online movement. Most of Zimbabwe’s popular publications have an online presence that usually mirrors their newsprint efforts.
Although some do not update their news blogs as often as they do the newsprint, some take advantage of Blogs during live events to post updates in real-time and to report breaking news. Domains like herald.co.zw, newsday.co.zw and dailynews.co.zw are some of the most popular in this country. News aggregators such as allafrica.com are also very popular with readers who prefer to access their news in one place.
In stark contrast to the rise of the internet as a news source, radio has been around forever. Ever since transistors were invented and radios became cheaper radio has been undoubtedly the prime source of entertainment and news for most people in Zimbabwe.
I still remember when I was still a mucous ridden primary school lad, radio was everything for most people so much that whenever you wanted to correct time on your watch you had to patiently wait by the radio until the announcer, as they did frequently, said out the correct time upon the turn of each hour.
The 6 pm and 8 pm news were the major sources of news for those who wanted to stay informed on what was happening throughout the entire country and indeed the entire world. People would hang on every word from the news as useful tidbits for use during arguments at social gatherings. “I heard it on the radio …” was a phrase used to end and win many an argument.
The Television for all its visual graphics has never really reached the scale and popularity of the radio, not by a long shot. When indeed it became a worthy contender most people used it for movies either because most areas did not have network coverage or they were not enchanted by the party line that’s often toed by our State broadcaster. Most people just use their Televisions with DVD players.
So with the rise in the use of the internet as a news source one would wonder: Has the radio lost its pole position as the premier source of news? Well according to a controversial survey conducted by Mass Public Opinion Institute in partnership with Afrobarometer from the 16th to the 29th of November last year and published on the 5th of this month the radio is still king when it comes to news.
According to the survey conducted on 2 400 people about a third of people in Zimbabwe listen to the news everyday while and a further 28% listen a few times a week while only 10% of people check “social media for news” everyday.
Only about 11% use the general internet for news. 8% of the people polled used the internet a few times every week to access the internet for news. 20% of the people polled used T.V on a daily basis to get their news although it’s not clear whether this was Satellite TV or ZBC.
The poll also says that about 55% of the people never get their information from the newspaper and 75% of the people never check the internet for news. With news like that it would seem sensible now that the government wants to add 8 more radio stations. If the poll is to be believed, newspaper companies have much to fear as they have the lowest number of people (7%) who use them for news on a daily basis.
Some have questioned the validity of the survey considering how “foreign” its findings are especially when cast in the light of Zimbabwe’s urban population. According to World Bank, nearly 40% of Zimbabwe’s population was urban dwelling as of 2011.
The poll claims to have used random sampling in each of the country’s provinces and urban areas based on their contribution to the nation’s population. We are not going to get into it, but the assertion that the radio is still the most preferred source of news is the least controversial finding of the poll.
If this poll is to be believed we should keep in mind what happened when pollsters tried to predict the results of the recently passed United Kingdom elections. They all got it wrong and failed to predict how a 20-year-old girl was able to win and become the country’s youngest democratically elected British MP ever and trounce a veteran who was favored to win by over 5,000 votes.
Sure, the internet might still be behind radio when it comes to news, but it is the heir apparent and with the decrease in internet prices it will no doubt one day soon usurp the crown from radio.
You can read the results of the entire survey here. Kind of ironic, isn’t it, that the survey has and is being popularized by the internet.
image credit – abovegroundmagazine.com