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Can The Zimbabwean Economy Function Without The Internet?

Harare CBD

We were without internet access for almost six hours today, from 11:45am to about 17:17pm. The outage was due to a core platform failure on the Liquid Telecom network which in turn affected all those riding on their network.

ZOL and Econet were affected. NetOne was affected but only briefly as they seem to have switched to another provider. Telone switched providers and technically never went down but it was excruciatingly slow it was as good as down. Telone gave a statement. Telecel did not seem to be affected at all.

Seeing as Econet controls about 75% of the mobile data and internet traffic in the country, most were affected despite Telecel and Netone to some extent not being affected.

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ZOL and Telone control just over 96% of the equipped international bandwidth and them going down is as good as saying fixed internet was down. However them going down mostly affects corporates as Zimbabwe remains a mobile internet country.

So is it a big deal?

The initial thought is that Zimbabweans mostly use the internet to go on WhatsApp and share fake news and crude jokes. It is easy to conclude that it’s not a big deal because 98% of all internet subscriptions are mobile and about 46% of the data traffic there goes to WhatsApp and Facebook.

That’s not a fair assessment however as one look at the unemployment figures in the country reveals. Most Zimbabweans are informally employed and use those cheap tools like WhatsApp for their business. It is impossible though to gauge just how much businesses is conducted over those platforms.

What we can be certain of is that as we have all gotten used to always being connected with friends and family the outage deprived us of something we have come to expect. We are social beings after all and failure to socialize is a big deal for most of us.

Was business affected?

We know that Zimbabwe is not as connected as it should be. Our healthcare, power distribution (ZESA) and to a large extent transport network are not affected by an internet outage.

For transport, most Zimbabweans will not be affected by an internet outage as Copacabana does not rely on undersea cables to function. However to those travelling out of the country there could be delays. For example Ethiopian Airways’ systems were down owing to the outage and long queues formed. One can imagine the inconvenience.

There is no business without the movement of funds. This means that if banks are affected then business is affected.

The ability to transfer funds was not really affected by the outage. Swipe was working, USSD was working which means you could transfer money. For most of those who were queuing for cash at banks, life went along as normal.

So the only deal is that you could not access the internet banking portal, instead having to make do with USSD on your phone. If however you had internet access thanks to Telecel for example, you would just transact like you usually do.

With all this in mind we can’t really say banks and with them our ability to transfer funds were affected.

So if the outage was not a big deal to the banks then was it even a big deal as it relates to the Zimbabwean economy and how it operates. It’s hard to argue that it was a big deal unless you consider the bad mood customer service people would be in owing to them not being able to read the latest gossip in their WhatsApp groups.

Of course there are functions, processes and businesses that were affected, Techzim being one but these businesses are hardly the bedrock of the Zimbabwean economy, yet.

To a large extent business went on as normal in Zimbabwe and that’s not really comforting. We are behind the times apparently. Or is it that we have backup plans so solid we rode the wave? Not likely.


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