Zimbabwe and regional technology news and updates


Tengai’s partnership with Econet triggers backlash

Yesterday, a new Zimbabwean e-commerce startup went live. The platform offers an online classifieds solution, much like what we have all gotten accustomed to when it comes to the benefits of such a service.

Unlike other online classifieds, Tengai has entered the market with free listings, a free SMS function for contacting anyone with a listing and more importantly, zero-rated access to its platform, for Econet broadband subscribers.

That’s where all the noise started. Some readers argued that Tengai, though registered and fully operational as an entity that is not a subsidiary of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe or the Econet Group, has ties to the mobile operator and is leaning on this association in a way that violates net neutrality.

Some questioned this independence, largely because of the fact that Tengai’s team lead is listed as part of Econet’s e-commerce division while the founder of Econet, Strive Masiyiwa, also has a stake in the startup. One reader, identifying herself/himself as Tapiwa wrote;

It’s not really ‘outside of Econet wireless’ if tengai has overlapping ownership and management with Econet.

The arrangement seems very sketchy, especially since there are no explanations for the arrangements (it would be easily explained had it been a joint-venture with an established company like OLX)


Someone called Pachena wrote;

EXACTLY – what do they take us for? He was hired into Econet’s E-COMMERCE division, launches an E-COMMERCE platform that gets preferential treatment form Econet, and is linked to the Econet founder – but they wanna tell us its “independent?” They seem to be possessed by the Saith Technologies demon!

One reader called Tinman wrote;

It will kill other businesses in the process.

Zero-rating already gives them a superior advantage to the existing classified sites.

Whilst this may be a win for Ecommerce and getting more Zimbabweans on board, it is still skewed.

If it’s not an Econet subsidiary/product, then by whatever token they got zero-rated, it should mean other private companies can get zero-rated access.

If it was an Econet, then zero-rating their own service would be almost a natural (though below-the-belt) action.

But it is a private company. With preferential treatment by Econet.

Other companies should also have the right to zero-rate their websites/services, otherwise this is anti-competitive and people (with deep pockets) can actually take legal action… or just lobby for support from an authority


Another reader and local startup entrepreneur Raymond Swart wrote;

Who is James trying to fool, if he is involved in the project and is employed by Econet then it is related to Econet Zimbabwe and the Econet Group.

Did Econet & ever discuss a possible joint venture along these lines or is Econet just looking at what’s working out there and trying to own the whole pie? This is not the “We want to work with startups” attitude Econet claimed to have at the Broadband Forum…

Telecel/Netone/{Telone} how about you guys team up with to make it zero rated and give Econet/ a run???

The flurry of comments that accompanied the article on the Tengai launch carried strong opinions largely against this zero-rated advantage that this startup is carrying with the issue of an unfair playing field being brought up. Comparisons were also drawn with other mobile operators in other markets. Another startup entrepreneur, Clinton Mutambo expressed his disappointment with this comment;

Ray, I’ve never been as disappointed in these people or the entire ZimbabweAN ecosystem as I am today. They fool people but in truth, they are trying to carve up the nation using the same tactics the politicians use. Zanu PF and Msasa, in my opinion are one and the same thing. While Strive Masiyiwa is busy “inspiring” young people on social media, they do the exact opposite as a collective. I’m personally not happy with this. Like you, I have the courage to use my real name & identity in saying so. Zimbabwe is broken as a nation, we are all looking out for ourselves and the more we do it, the more damage we inflict. It’s a rot.

This is cronyism. This could very well be corruption. Econet is a listed company, they hire some guy. Who funds it all? Now it’s a private project… But it’s not. We are told of trusts and all other elaborate rubbish to hide.

My opinion on Zero rating is that it seeks to enforce the barriers that the internet defeated. Before, you needed an unfair advantage such as corruption, nepotism, race, tribe etc. The internet gave us all hope. But some evil elements who hide behind trusts want to destroy the only lifeline that young people have.

I gave up on the “real world” a few years ago because I believed and still believe that the internet is the only real equaliser in this world. Actions like this are really sad. Especially the very cowardly action of trying to sway public opinion by commenting behind a veil.

I blame us as an ecosystem. For every evil that is committed, we sulk and just complain. So the villain becomes more daring. It’s the same thing with politics isn’t it. They want everything for themselves.

What has happened today is unprecedented, even the controversial folk at Rocket Internet have a clear understanding with MTN & TIGO: NO ZERO RATING. The lie you are told about needing to give people a taste of the internet is rubbish. If that’s true then zero rate all local content. Market forces solve all, including data and consumption.

These people have not made any investment in the local ecosystem. In fact they’ve done nothing but look out for their own interests. While MTN, Safaricom, TIGO, Vodacom and others invest – they only care about themselves.

This is sad.

The general sentiment from the comments against this arrangement (not all of them were negative by the way, there were many comments passed praising the overall look and function of Tengai) is that net neutrality is being violated by this Tengai/Econet arrangement.

What are your own thoughts on this issue? Is there any violation or is Tengai merely taking advantage of  a relationship that exists in business?

Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

51 thoughts on “Tengai’s partnership with Econet triggers backlash

  1. good thing, bad thing…people’s backlash won’t help unless maybe they ditch econet en masse or something. What can’t be denied however is the fact that if businesses take advantage of this platform, it’s highly likely to be really helpful for them. It’s about time e-commerce took off in Zim

  2. E-commerce companies across the globe enter into partnership agreements with telecoms operators to zero rate or sponsor data:

    – India’s Bharti Airtel offers Airtel Zero.

    – AT&T introduced a sponsored data plan in January 2014, which allowed developers and brands to deliver content to consumer smartphones outside their data caps.

    – Facebook has where partner telcos offer free access to for no charge.

    – Twitter Access is a zero-rating plan offered by Pakistan’s Mobilink and Uzbek telco Ucell under Twitter Zero.

    – Djuice Norway offers unlimited Facebook with no subscription and no charges.

    – MTN has several charging plans based on popular apps such as African movies and music videos streamed directly to smartphones or tablets.

    1. I think TECHZIM is so much on this super strict net neutrality argument maybe because they managed to build their company without that kind of help. So maybe they feel that a good startup shouldn’t need it? But this doesn’t mean that ZERO RATING is a bad thing, it works for some areas – doesn’t work for others. But I still feel we need to drive usage first. Of course the way Econet is doing it is wrong coz they wanna monopolize the entire chain. But with internet still seen an a “luxury” to many Zimbabweans, interventions are still needed to get it mainstream.

  3. people just love to hate econet..vanhu havana ma basa and all we can do is buy and sell in this economy..econet is giving us a chance to become e-vendors and get off the streets and all you can think about is net neutrality..get off your high horses and save us that moral B.S.

    1. if Econet is “giving us a chance to become e-vendors ” why haven’t they all this time zero-rated other marketplace startups have existed for years. In fact why not zero rate then now along with theirs. If you focus on them helping get people off the streets, you’re missing the point, because they have the network (a near monopoly) right now to do that in a big way but they choose not to. That choice not to create real opportunity and create a bigger cake is what people are voicing about. It’s not some moral BS

      1. in the interests of promoting awareness and creating a bigger cake techzim should also offer advertising space for free on its site esp to start ups..econet is still a business not a charity..

        1. Your analogy is still limping on a leg.

          Econet Data/Broadband = service
          Tengai = Private Entity + Zero Rating
          Existing Classifieds Sites = Private Entity

          Being the Econet fanboy/girl you are, you surely know that they said Tengai is not part of Econet.

          So, given that Tengai ⊄ Econet…

          And Tengai is a Private Company as is every existing and established Classified service…

          Then those services should have equal access to serve on Econet infrastructure zero-rated.

          Nothing to do with charity.

          If anything, Tengai is the one benefiting from some form of charity.

          The other business are more real, in your shallow reasoning

          1. Why should Econet treat all private players the same? Are they not allowed strategic partnerships with companies they are bullish on? For almost five years, Apple only sold iPhones on AT&T. Econet is a company, not a government.

            1. Cant help you.

              I suggest you educate yourself on net neutrality.

              This has nothing to do with strategic partnerships and your stray reference to government

              It wouldve been clear to you if you were not an Econet worshipper

        2. you are contradicting yourself, econet gave free advertising and we are saying that is not fair especially since its a company that masiwa owns, the tenants of net neutrality is that the ISP should treat all data packets the same

          1. do you know the technicalities of the deal that was struck between tengai and econet..? careful not to get your panties in a knot tinm@n, surfing on and using an econet line is going to get served the same none is gettn higher priority in terms of speed and access..this is purely business semantics, Netone has free services to GVT departments who is a shareholder..

            1. rizza its not about packets getting higher priority than others. The case here is Econet is shaping the way end users will access classified sites. By giving free access to Tengai content, Econet is prejudicing against other players in the field whose content is not free to be accessed on the same network. Net neutrality is compromised when you make certain content easier to access than other content.

              1. show me which business is not trying to shape consumer behavior and i’ll show you a defeats the purpose of markerting..and as for ppl like tinm@n yal just mad coz you ddnt think of it 1st..

      2. You are right LSM, but I think after investing your monies anywhere you still have a right to chose whom to partner with. You are not obliged to carry over back riders simply because you are now a dominant force out of hard work and investment.

  4. What we should be asking is will help the people of Zimbabwe. Will it help sellers advertise to a far wider market and stimulate economic growth? Will it allow buyers to find the best deals in the market and drive competition? Will it help to create awareness about the wider benefits and convenience of online commerce? We don’t live in a perfect world but I think the benefits of zero-rating tengai far outweigh any downsides. So much more needs to be done promote e-commerce across Zimbabawe!

    1. Thats not the issue. There is no shortage of online market sites in Zim – Zimpapers has one, News Day has one, and then theres, kumusika, ximexapp, savemari, siyasomarket and several others that come and go. If there was a way to allow those to also “zero rate” – like Econet getting free banner ads on those sites in exchange for zero rates for example, its more fair. But now Econet is abusing their market position. Getting THEMSELVES in at the top because they are the ones who provide internet access for the majority of Zim mobile devices. Its like if ZINARA went into the long distance bus business and then let their buses be exempt from toll fees. Yes it may mean cheaper transport for those traveling on those buses but is it good for the industry as a whole? The whole absolute net neutrality thing wont work in Zim – but what Econet is doing here is also wrong.

      1. Imagine I was an independently wealthy startup founder and decided to open an online retail store, offer all my customers free delivery, provide a toll-free ordering number and hire the very best developers to design my website. Isn’t Zero-rating similar – they don’t offer delivery but have instead partnered with econet wireless to offer free data access to the website as part of their marketing strategy.

        1. Ok, so they’ve partnered with Econet!

          Very clever!

          Excellent! Pats on their backs!

          Now we want the same opportunity to have zero-rated access through the Econet.

          That means (at least) all classifieds websites should have the ability to REQUEST and GET zero-rated services available.

          We want to know what process we should use as private entities (like to also get that “partnership”

          That’s if Econet subscribes to fair competition.

          Otherwise it is anticompetitive.

          The fact that there’s a crop of businesses making money locally, means they are actual commercial entities.

          As such, Econet’s greasy practices are grounds for an appeal against them for their actions.

          I suggest a class action!

          I strongly discourage any form of “revenge action” that involves partnering with other networks for zero-rating.

          It still stinks and violates the equality/neutrality of the internet.

        1. Zinara is gvt owned and use public money, econet is private owned and use private owned.

          How many MPs are not paying toll fees right now in the name of servicing public, are we seeing the benefits?

        1. Yeh. People forget that econet was once a startup itself. They certainly haven’t had an easy route to success. The government have constantly made things difficult for them to succeed. If econet want to partner with an ecommerce company to bring a new service to help Zimbabwean trade, I think that’s a good development.

  5. This is where the Tel/Net One, PowerTel Combo can come alive and give Zero rating to any Zimbo who has “credible” need (or every Zimbo) for knowing Zim deciding what is credible would be a real problem.

  6. Speak to anyone who has ever had to deal with econet, when they wanted to prosper like econet. They will tell you the same things i am going to tell you today. Econet does not tolerate any competition. In fact they go out of their way to destroy competition right under the competition and tariff commission’s noses and potraz. Econet think that because they are the first company to launch mobile money in Zimbabwe, everyone else who came after them is a copycat and should be thwarted/swatted/stopped. Refer to agents wars. They think this country owes them something. As an econet shareholder i worry when econet uses our resources to setup businesses that become very successful such as liquid without shareholders experiencing any growth in their investment. Most of these businesses that are not 100% owned by econet use econet resources and ride on Econet infrastructure, which i helped to fund. Are you kidding me what nonsense is this. Where is the regulator in all of this. Their new service is just, but is yoafrica stopping them from operating. NO. So why should Econet tell me I have to be loyal to them and noone else. Econet is violating the Zimbabwean constitution. I should have the freedom to associate and choose what i want. if they are zero-rating i demand that be zero rated too. Its my right too.

    1. If I buy your lunch, you don’t have to eat it. If I give you free airtime, you don’t have to use it. If I pay for your data on my website, you don’t have to visit. So long as no fast speed lanes are created or certain website access restricted, I really see no problem with zero-rating. It’s not a perfect solution but then what is perfect in this world.

      1. Speaking of free things you should know nothing is free, someone is paying for this “zero rating” and @anonymous has introduced an interesting point: Econet’s shareholders are paying for this and its not even their business!

        1. What about facebook’s partnering with telecoms companies across Africa to provide free access to sites such as OLX and other sites. The telecom operators don’t make such decisions out of a charitable gesture – its a mutually beneficial arrangement. Zero rating for the ecommerce startup in return for free advertising ect. …

    2. Look how Nuclear War bombs give America the upper hand, are they happy to see anyone gaining that too. America will do anything for one not develop nuclear capabilities.

      Its business, why would l be happy when my competitor is skating around me taking away potential customers?

      1. @macd chip. Did Ford Motor Corporation stop General Motors from starting Chevrolet or Toyota? Fight right dont use dirty tactics. That is message to you.

        1. Are Econet and Tengai stopping anyone from starting a new business? Are they restricting access to anyone? Are they blocking sites or making them slower to access? No – From what I understand, they are only providing customers free access to browse on Tengai. Just like Amazon or any other online retailer deciding to offer free delivery to customers. Seems like a purely commercial/marketing decision. I think it will also promote e-commerce in general which can only be a positive thing in Zimbabwe where only a tiny percentage of people use online businesses.

          1. So if Econet is slowing down other services or stopping other services you agree that is wrong, Right? Why is it when i send a SMS from an econet number to another econet number it gets delivered within a few seconds, but it takes the same message 8 to 14 whole minutes to reach Netone or Telecel? I am sure you are going to tell me that is a netone or telecel problem, or that i should move to econet because its faster. Can you equate free delivery by Amazon to a free website service by Econet which serves other independent services?

            1. But Econet is not slowing down anybody, you can still buy data packages and continue your everyday browsing

    3. First Mobile money was launched by CABS, the Cellcard at Kingdom. Ecocash came after those two and it caught up and overtook

  7. I love Econet!!!

    Stop hating Econet, he worked hard to see him where he is!!!

    God Bless Econet!!!

    1. Thats why we still have the same president/party in power! Zimbos think that if someone suffers to achieve something, then we owe that person forever.

      Yes they worked hard to get to where they are now, but that does not mean we should agree to everything they do.

      1. No l do not agree with most of Econet strategies, but they worked against all the odds including its own parent ie gvt which is suppose to protect its citizen’s interests but hell bent on destroying its own kids business.

        Why is PowerTel, Telone, Netone working hard as well?

  8. This is completely unfair advantage. The classifieds marketplace is still young and killing the competition this early like wat econet wants to do will stifle innovation from other players. From what i can see the people that made tengai are not that innovative and dont see them improving further once they get the market this easily.

  9. so what if Econet is involved? Let Strive buy shareholding in the idea and help the guy grow his Biz. I dont know any parties involved here but James struck a good deal here, got equity funding , got some more funding through free advertising and his idea grows.

    he must make sure he read the agreements before he signed the dotted line

    1. I literally just registered. Got my activation pin sent to my phone. Now logged in. Tried earlier but had no network coverage so didn’t receive the activation key immediately. Did you check your network?

  10. I personally think that everyone is missing the point here… Including TechZim. And my point is accentuated by Tapindwa_R_T’s comment. What is Econet’s core business? Anyone..? no..?

    Its supposed to be providing the best possible mobile telephony services and coverage to the people of Zimbabwe first and then secondly other downstream services provided by mobile networks.

    Has Econet achieved this? So many comments above mention lack of network coverage or undelivered SMSs while trying to register. As someone who has used mobile networks in Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda for example, Econet’s current service offering for 3G and 4G is pathetic to say the least. Safaricom who own M-Pesa offer true 4G speeds and you can get a data bundle of 12GB for $30 plus coverage is excellent. We are still hounded by persistent sms delivery failures and constant useless Edge/2G connections when we pay such a premium for data. Many developers have approached Econet in the past with similar ideas but were turned away only to see Econet start ventures such as this and try to have their cake and eat it too?

    Econet create a level playing field and promote startups not kill them off and focus on your core business which Econet is not doing very well at the moment.

    1. You are absolutely right @FrustratedTechie. Econet should focus on improving service delivery of their core business and maximise the ROIs. This whole mission of theirs to become a monopoly in every industry is not sustainable and destroys competition, which is central to a healthy economy.

      There is certainly no reason for them to refuse to partner with other startups on zero-rated sites and allow only their own startups win such advantages, they get returns from both scenarios. Econet instead would like to have the cake and eat it too. There is a word for it, it’s called GREED.

      1. I think it makes sense for econet to venture into partnerships with ecommerce companies – they wouldn’t be the first mobile operator in Africa to do so. I guess if tengai is successful they will look at other partnerships with ecommerce startups. If both sides have something to gain it makes perfect sense. I like what I’m seeing so far.

  11. T-Mobile Adds Apple Music To Its Data-Free Music Freedom Plan so it seems like its a global trend

  12. Zero rated to my understanding will not attract any VAT and i feel that Econet is a major contributor to government fiscal collections, so creating a platform that does allow us to avoid and save “not so bad” food for thought not anger.

  13. I am always shocked at how people are always quick to assume a conspiracy with every new deal that comes out in the marketplace. Econet has been trying to grow its services for a while now, everyone knows the pressure that every business is under to grow revenues without increasing costs. This partnership requires very little from Econet but Econet benefits from increased transaction volumes on the Ecocash platform which will be the Major payment method. As an entrepreneur in Zimbabwe you need to consider the cost of your innovation to your partner and the effect it will have on their bottom line. Tangai is not the only platform to be zero rated by Econet. Its all about the right synergy at the right time. If your platform does more than benefit your own bottom line and actually provides a service then you can approach any operator and have your service zero rated. As a tech community we need to stop working on shiny toys and actually have a unique value proposition on the market which people can rally behind.

    1. I am no tech person but after reading this story and trying to understand what happening, i just don’t get why people are complaining. So is this zero rating a disadvantage the end user , like me or it’s a disadvantage to econet competitors? For argument sake if econet strikes a deal with DSTV to provide toll free data so customers can watch DSTV online without being charged data, does it affect the other telecoms?

  14. Tengai said in their press launch that Tengai is not part of the Econet group, but owned by Strive himself. Tengai said Econet is set to benefit from this relationship through transactional value created for its mobile money service, EcoCash.

    So by that rationale anyone creating transactional value for Ecocash should also be zero rated by Econet. eg: and many other ecommerce sites

Comments are closed.