As the year 2016 draws to a close most of us are taking the time to look back and reflect on everything notable, crazy and memorable that happened during the year.
In the same retrospective spirit, we took a look at what happened in the local technology space and came up with our list of the 10 most influential in this space.
While influence can be viewed in various ways our selection focused mostly on the impact (good or bad) of the individual’s (or entity) work or exploits in shaping the direction or the discussion of an entire field or industry in 2016. All this had to have been done, of course, with a close relationship to the forms of technology that we follow.
That being said here’s our top 10 list.
Since 2014 when he took over as Zimbabwe’s Master of Coin, Dr Mangudya has been tasked with the unenviable task of figuring out how to maintain the country’s monetary system. In 2016, though, this role was a lot harder as Mangudya had to solve a biting cash crisis.
Though most will forever associate his tenure at the Reserve Bank with the bond note, the man also championed the rapid adoption of electronic transactions.
This creation and promotion of a “cashless society” in Zimbabwe (directly or indirectly) has made an impression on every Zimbabwean and impacted mobile money services, e-commerce, cross-border payments not to mention how banks conduct business.
He’s the firebrand Minister of ICT who’s had a very visible impact on the entire sector.
In 2016 he appeared to do it all – championing the conclusion of the long drawn infrastructure sharing debate, signing off on the ICT Policy after half a decade of formulation, bringing 3 draft ICT bills (including one very controversial Cybersecurity Bill) into play, defending the government’s honour (“We won’t shut down social media! Why would we?”), concluding and defending a mobile network acquisition deal, threatening social media abusers (and lethargic/non-compliant telecom operators) and of course launching a yet-to-be-fully-clarified multi-million dollar slush fund for tech startups.
The exiled pastor and online hacktivist needs no introduction on any list really. He’s the man who harnessed social media as a tool for protest, changing the narrative on what the government views as a political threat and planting a seed of expression that was prematurely viewed as Zimbabwe’s own Arab Spring.
In the process, his movement called #ThisFlag caught the intimidating attention of our President, galvanised the support of an interesting cross-section of the Zimbabwean urban population and triggered threats and actions on social media inspired unrest from the entire establishment, including the speedy deliberation of a cybersecurity bill.
Not bad for something initially referred to by a notable government official as “a pastor’s fart in the corridors of power”.
Here’s a memo to all Zimbabwean artists – the winners in content distribution, brand creation and those making the most out of their artistic brilliance have to embrace technology and learn how to apply it. That’s something that Jah Prayzah and the team at JP Studios caught onto a while ago.
Jah’s 2016 was laced with awards, record record sales, Zimbabwean breakthroughs on YouTube and the extension of a Zimbabwean brand into one of the few international acts we have.
Part of his success lies in his investment in the smart use of social media to build his own army of fans around the world, share his well thought out visual content that’s appealing outside our borders and the online promotion of a smart offline selling strategy. His rule book on how a Zimbabwean act goes global ought to and will be copied by other aspiring stars.
5. Natalie Jabangwe
The biggest financial institution in Zimbabwe isn’t a bank but a mobile money service that’s earned the patronage of three-quarters of the population. That’s EcoCash, the mobile money service which has become one of the leading avenues for transactions especially in a country struggling with a cash shortage.
Its playmaker is Natalie Jabangwe, the celebrated fintech professional who’s taken the lead on the string of service iterations that have made it easier to EcoCash something rather than queue for a limited amount of bond notes.
6. Bustop TV
It’s fair to say that the biggest comedic troupe in Zimbabwe lives on the internet. Bustop TV (formerly P.O Box Reloaded which was a P.O. Box spinoff) is just 2 years old but the outfit has made a major impression on the content viewed on Facebook and YouTube by Zimbabweans locally and abroad.
Stars like Gonyeti and Magi, behind the scenes guys like Lucky Aaroni and Godknows Homwe, impressive alumni like Comic Pastor, and frequent collaborators like Doc Vikela and Zambezi News have all contributed to a new wave of online content created for the internet which is now earning revenue through some Zimbabwean specific strategies for YouTube and Facebook stars.
Econet’s EcoCash might be the largest financial services provider but its sibling and thoroughbred financial institution Steward Bank has been doing quite a bit to defy the image of staid, dour banking practices.
The man in charge, Dr Lance Mamboondiani, has repeatedly proclaimed how people don’t like banks but want just the services.It sounds obvious but it’s hardly how other bankers look at things.
To back up his talk Mambondiani has led a people’s first approach to retail banking, championing an agent banking model (which has “inspired” other players), flooding Zimbabwe’s metro areas with people signing everyone up to the “Steward experience” and made integration with mobile money an effortless thing. Which would explain why they are opening 3,000 accounts a day.
You might not follow what happens in education or what the man in charge is doing there but you’ve obviously heard the stories, even the outrageous ones.
Dr Lazarus Dokora, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Primary and Secondary Education has a radical but somewhat effective way of introducing change. His latest play was the introduction of an online enrolment system for all pupils looking for Form 1 boarding places.
So far the system has been the centre of a lot of controversy. From challenges encountered and pointed out by parents who are struggling to use it, to criticisms from teachers bodies and of course the lawsuit for the alleged theft of the idea there’s so much that has made this system a focal point for Zimbabweans.
Dokora, the man behind this has held his ground and in the process kickstarted a vicious migration of some services to online alternatives.
Zimbabwean politics has undergone a raft of changes in the past three years yet one of the constants has been Professor Jonathan Moyo – the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education.
His spot on this list is firstly for his STEM programme which has encouraged the high school children’s adoption of STEM subjects through an offer for free education at Advanced Level. There is no doubt that this will have a positive impact on how Science subjects are viewed by Zimbabwean students.
Professor Moyo also stood out for arguably the most consistent use of Twitter as a communication platform and political tool. While most politicians in Zimbabwe still shy away from social media, or rather, neglect the accounts that they create (perhaps it’s a fear of technology?), the Professor has taken deliberate steps to adopt the one platform to create dialogue on important topics and defend his positions on a slew of issues.
With a lot of discussion moving to social media it’s what everyone looking at establishing or extending a political career ought to be doing really – embracing on social media and signing up for the same class on Zimbabwean social media politics that Professor Moyo has been participating in.
It’s hard to run company, it’s harder to do it profitably. In Zimbabwe, it’s nearly impossible to do this in the public sector. Which is what brings Chipo Mtasa, the captain of the TelOne ship on this list.
TelOne has experienced one of the most successful
parastatal turnarounds in the past 3 years – turning into an internet company, embarking on an ambitious fibre project and fleeing from the unsavoury image of a dead PTC.
With a huge legacy debt and the red tape hangover that comes with State ownership, the company isn’t out of murky waters yet. However, Mtasa has kept it profitable and adopted tough cost containment measures that seemed pragmatic for any corporate in a tough Zimbabwean economy.
It’s no wonder then that as some of its State-owned telecoms siblings struggle TelOne is now the poster child of what can be done with any sort of well-managed organisation.
People still buy music and in Zimbabwe, this can be done on WhatsApp. Junior Brown, a Zimbabwean rapper made thousands of dollars of his hit track Tongogara, by MacGyvering a distribution model using mobile money and WhatsApp media.
She’s the vocal advocate who’s embraced social media as a platform to air grievances, raise awareness on injustices and keep the activist spirit in Zimbabwe alive. In 2016 she took on Bond notes, banks and government ministers creating some dialogue on issues that people usually just discuss in private WhatsApp groups without an understanding of what’s legal and what isn’t.
He’s the man behind Battle of the Chefs one of the best-produced shows in recent Zimbabwean history. In addition to a successful Season 2 which was broadcast on national TV and promoted through social media the show’s major highlight was securing a 6 figure investment which will allow Bunga and Co. to parlay its success into a continental TV staple.
Econet Zimbabwe has arguably the tightest grip on Zimbabwean technology right now, with its leading role in internet provision, investment, mobile money services and its contribution to the fiscus.
The man in charge, Douglas Mboweni, has maintained the company’s role in all these areas and as the face of Econet in everything from the lawsuit brought against the regulator to the services launched he’s wielded a lot of influence on the sector.
The social security company helped the government in mobilising the funds needed for the acquisition of Telecel Zimbabwe, bringing an end to the speculation on the mobile operator’s future.
Her stint as the acting head of the telecoms regulator was marked by the suspension of the promotions launched and sustained by mobile operators. All mobile subscribers felt that.