Dear Mr President
The obvious first: Congratulations on your inauguration as the third President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. I acknowledge this is a job that comes with tremendous pressure especially considering where Zimbabwe is soci-economically and the high hopes of most citizens that a change of executive will bring an immediate ease to their current problems. I wouldn’t wish such pressure on any woman or man let alone myself. Then again I am not a politician.
Mention of the word politician brings me to highlight that I am not writing this letter to you in your capacity as a politician but in your role as my president. I am writing to you in my role as a citizen of Zimbabwe firstly then in my function as a leader of a humble startup that is privileged to have some measure of influence within the technology and internet startup ecosystem in Zimbabwe. Now to the contents Sir:
Sir, most governments in Africa spew the rhetoric of how growth in connectivity is directly correlated to growth in GDP. I call this rhetoric not because it is untrue but because this realisation seems to dawn on politicians and bureaucrats only when they are on some podium or the other. When they go back to their offices their behavior suggests that they do not believe this at all. To be honest I do not presume to know how to prioritise budgeting for a whole nation but I will share my possibly naive requests:
- Restructure and increase the capacity of state owned internet infrastructure companies so they can focus on expanding connectivity to the general populace.
- Provide tax incentives for Internet Service Providers to connect more people.
Tech Education and Tech in Education
Mr President, Zimbabweans have always celebrated how educated the nation is. I argue that the education Zimbabweans are receiving is not very relevant in the 21st century. This is not necessarily unique to Zimbabwe, the world over education is struggling to keep up with the advancement in technology. A few years from now, a good chunk of the professional skills we possess will be unnecessary as machines take over such tasks. There will be totally new jobs that require different skill sets from the ones we are celebrating at every graduation ceremony. To be frank, a lot of what graduates are leaving formal training with is not even useful today. My thoughts:
- To seriously introduce tech skills education from primary education. By tech skills I do not mean the teaching of Microsoft Office.
- More importantly than the above: to give every child exposure to a computer (yes even a basic smart phone) as a tool. The challenge I see in our school system is that tinodzidzisa ma computer (we attempt to teach ‘computers’). This makes a computer a sophisticated gadget that is a mystery to the child instead of being viewed as what it is a mere tool that can be taken apart, built upon, used and manipulated for all kinds of tasks.
- All the above will be achieved when teachers are trained and retrained to become confident in using the computer as a tool for teaching and learning and other tasks. Kana teacher achitoityawo computer yacho hapana nyaya (if a teacher fears the computer themselves then there is a problem). Of course the teachers should also learn how to impart computer skills to students.
- Informal acquisition of computer skills must be promoted or even incentivised. The government could rehabilitate some of the idle warehouses (let’s face it, some of them will never be reutilised for the original puposes since technology has moved) and convert them into digital skills learning centres and maker spaces. High speed internet (Powertel can do this), 3D printers and a minimal other things can kick this off. The government can partner international digital skills training companies like Udemy and Treehouse and local ones to do this.
The Internet is NOT An Enemy of State
The previous administration was paranoid about the internet. This need not be your stance. The fact that you are reading this letter is because our audience here on Techzim have shared it widely on their social media platforms in the hope that someone close to you will pick it up and present it to you. The internet affords you the unique position to almost have a relationship with the most random of citizens and better serve them. What would I suggest?
- That instead of fighting the flow of information you leverage on it to know exactly what the citizenry thinks. Sure, sometimes people needlessly insult without really saying anything constructive. However, isn’t it better to hear those insults and be informed of our pain than to be in the dark?
- That you have an active presence on social media. I know you have tons of work to do but it would really be cool (excuse the informality) to have my president on social even for just an hour per week.
Investment in Tech Startups
Sir, if you follow this publication, Techzim, you will discover that Zimbabweans are using the most minimal of resources to build the most amazing solutions for everyday problems. If there is a sector that will contribute immensely to the rise of Zimbabwe from the ashes if the right investment is attracted into it it’s the tech sector and through startups. Why?
- Zimbabwe has a largely literate population hence digital literacy will not be too difficult to spread across.
- Zimbabwe has a very young population. How many of them do you see seriously interested in agriculture? How many are fascinated by some aspect of digital or the other?
- Technology is evolving rapidly across the globe and the demand for new digital products that we have not even imagined is developing everyday. There are gaps in meeting such demand and most of these products that need to be developed and sold are for digital distribution and hence the limitation of our road and other infrastructure is almost non existent.
What could your administration do?
- Respect tech entrepreneurs as exactly that: entrepreneurs. Zimbabwe is gripped by a paralysing patronage system that frowns on young age. I dare not use the word youth because that word has come to mean some group that needs handouts, that will lead tomorrow or even a group that is for sell to the highest bidding political movement. We the young are leading now, we are creating jobs and generating foreign currency all behind the most humble of computer keyboards. We are not asking for handouts but for respect because we do have an important contribution to make particularly in the digital space.
- Attract investment and participate in investment in tech startups. Investment not just in capital but investment in business training most importantly. Most of the would be super stars are failing in this area, practical business skills are lacking. Capital investment is of course needed too.
- The warehouses I mentioned earlier can also be converted into co-working spaces and digital studios where content creators have access to good quality internet and decent facilities. If you stop to think, the amazing stuff that is being done by startups like Chill Spot Records, Bustop TV and many others with no resources at all you can’t help but imagine what would come out with just a little support.
- Invite global tech giants like Google to open regional offices here in Zimbabwe. Our tech ecosystem is lacking in exposure, rubbing shoulders with global giants in our own backyards will slap us into life.
This is already too long. I have to end it here, I can’t demand too much of your time. I am sure you have excellent advisors at your side but still I feel better having shared my opinions with you. I hope I have caught your attention and that this letter will contribute to conversation in your office.
Wishing you all success in your new job,
Tinashe T. Nyahasha