American experts on why ChatGPT is not available in Zimbabwe

Leonard Sengere Avatar

I have been integrating Bard, the generative AI from Google, into my daily life ever since its launch. Why did I choose Bard when ChatGPT is all the rage? Well, ChatGPT is not available in these parts as some of you know. So, the decision was made for me.

Initially, I tried VPNs and virtual phone number trickery to gain access to the service that many were saying was going to turn the world upside down. However, I eventually abandoned this effort when I discovered that most virtual phone number services were ineffective, and the few that did work had already exhausted all available phone numbers.

I decided to accept the rejection, if OpenAI didn’t want us then I wasn’t going to force the issue. I’ve heard it said, “No means No!” I turned to Bard and Bing AI and that was that until I landed in the US and found myself with an American phone number.

I had to try out ChatGPT, I just had to. I have been using the service for about a month now and I gotta say, it’s not that big of a deal.


Now, when I say ChatGPT has not felt like a big deal to me, it’s because, in all the months that I have not had access to it, I have played around with some alternatives.

Bard started out rough around the edges but has been improving steadily. Such that when I tried out ChatGPT for the first time in September, I didn’t feel like they were worlds apart. Bard got a huge update in September that puts it ahead of ChatGPT in some key areas. We’ll talk about that update some other day.

What I’ll give ChatGPT is that it’s much faster than Bard and it still gives out better answers more times than not.

That’s all well and good but I was more interested in finding out exactly why Zimbabwe and scores of other countries were not deemed worthy of using ChatGPT.

What some American experts think

On the U.S. tour, we got to meet a number of lawyers and policymakers and I would ask why services like ChatGPT are not available in countries like Zimbabwe. See, OpenAI does not really give reasons why we are cut off and so we are forced to speculate.

Shabbi Khan

I asked Shabbi Khan [pictured above], a partner at Foley and Lardner LLP, what he thought could be the legal hurdles preventing OpenAI from offering ChatGPT in Zimbabwe and countries like it and he said,

I don’t know about all the different jurisdictions and what their individual reasons are but privacy is certainly one. Control of the population, in terms of like, what kind of information are they getting access to and whether they sould be allowed to read certain content, would be another. Three could just be that it could have a disparate impact on the workforce or what have you. So, I think it would be more of a country by country specific type of issue.

I then asked him if we could say Google was being reckless with Bard, which is available in all those countries. Or if OpenAI was being too cautious. He said he wished he could comment on that but that he would have to look into it. He found it interesting but it had not crossed his mind. Why would it?


We also got to meet with BSA, who do policy work for enterprise, business-to-business facing software companies. Some of their clients are in AI. I asked them pretty much the same question I asked the lawyer above and here is what I got.

First, we should note that there isn’t an AI Act yet in the U.S. but there still are laws and regulations that AI providers are subject to. Specifically, I asked them if they were aware of any laws and regulations they knew that were preventing OpenAI from operating here. Said Aaron Cooper, Vice President, Global Policy,

We don’t represent OpenAI and so I don’t really know the situation but it sounds like it would be something about prohibition in those countries where they are not allowed to operate that they feel like they can’t meet the regulatory hurdle to provide service. But I don’t know the situation.

You can see how people not familiar with our little issues here in Zimbabwe assume (understandably) that it’s countries like ours that block these services. That’s not the case here.

I later briefly talked to Kate Goodloe, Managing Director of Global Policy and she said she wanted to know why ChatGPT was not in Zimbabwe from me. I told her that no laws or regulations prevent them from coming here and that Bard and Bing AI were available here and that I thought it had to be some U.S. laws or regulations that were to blame. She said,

That’s really interesting because the others, obviously, have U.S. presences, and would be subject to the same [laws and regulations that OpenAI is subject to]… We don’t represent them but that’s very interesting and now I’m curious… I gotta look into that.

She noted how ChatGPT was once banned in Italy but if that wasn’t the case in Zimbabwe then it really was curious that they were not available here.

We managed to talk to more people and the conversations went the same way. What was left was to ask ChatGPT itself.

ChatGPT on why it’s not in Zimbabwe

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, ChatGPT and similar AI models are not universally available in all countries due to a variety of factors, including legal, regulatory, and business considerations. These restrictions can change over time, and it’s possible that the availability of ChatGPT or similar AI services may have evolved since then.

Some potential reasons why ChatGPT might not have been available in Zimbabwe or other countries at that time include:

  1. Legal and Regulatory Constraints: Different countries have varying laws and regulations regarding the use of AI, data privacy, and internet access. Some governments may impose restrictions on AI services for various reasons, including concerns about content control, data protection, and ethical considerations.
  2. Licensing and Business Agreements: The availability of AI services can also depend on licensing agreements and partnerships with local companies or organizations. If no such agreements are in place in Zimbabwe, it may limit access to these services.
  3. Infrastructure and Connectivity: Access to AI services like ChatGPT depends on the availability of internet infrastructure and connectivity. In regions with limited internet access or unreliable networks, these services may not be readily accessible.
  4. Content Moderation and Compliance: Ensuring that AI-generated content complies with local laws and regulations can be a challenge. AI providers may need to implement content moderation and filtering mechanisms to meet legal requirements, which can affect service availability.
  5. Commercial Considerations: AI providers may choose to prioritize certain markets based on commercial opportunities and demand. Factors like the size of the potential user base and the economic conditions of a country can influence availability.

Please note that the situation may have changed since my last update, and I recommend checking with the official website or contacting the AI provider directly for the most up-to-date information regarding the availability of ChatGPT in Zimbabwe or any other specific region.

It must be either 2 or 5, as Bard and Bing AI are here.

There are cases where OpenAI could rely on partnerships with local companies or organisations to help with localisation, customer support, and compliance with local regulations. Without such partners, OpenAI could choose not to offer ChatGPT. I don’t think that’s it but it’s something.

It’s almost always commercial factors. Regrettably, we are a poor economy, hence OpenAI is unlikely to prioritise us. Nonetheless, if we were a significant market and encountered challenges 1 through 4, I am confident that OpenAI would have eagerly found a way to provide their services to us.

It’s important to consider the impact of sanctions on Zimbabwe in regards to commercial decisions. According to Bard, this is why ChatGPT is not currently available in Zimbabwe. However, the evidence supporting this claim is not entirely solid, as it relies on speculation from various sources, which is similar to our own speculation.

I asked ChatGPT about this sanction issue and here is what it said,

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, there were no specific reports or indications that U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe were directly responsible for OpenAI or similar organizations not making ChatGPT available in Zimbabwe. However, it’s important to note that the availability of AI services in specific regions can be influenced by a complex interplay of factors, including regulatory considerations, business decisions, and market demand. Sanctions can potentially affect certain aspects of business and trade, but they are typically applied to specific individuals, entities, or sectors rather than broadly targeting technology services like ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, we know this not to be true. We have heard from many businesspeople not tied to those on the US’s targeted list who have had difficulties working with American companies due to the ‘targeted sanctions.’

There are severe consequences for engaging in business activities within a country that is under sanctions or with a company or individual that is subject to sanctions. This has led to some American companies being hesitant to conduct business in smaller economies such as Zimbabwe. However, I believe that OpenAI’s approach to this issue is overly cautious.

Not about just ChatGPT

You must have noticed that it’s not just about ChatGPT. We are tired of being excluded without any explanation. AI has the potential to change the world as we know it, and one of the most exciting services is not available here. It’s difficult to accept this situation.

We must challenge assumptions/reasons that lead firms like OpenAI to ignore us, or risk falling behind on new tech.

Anyway, I’ll keep using ChatGPT for as long as I can. I will use it in conjunction with Bard, who actually wants to be here. We will talk about the Bard update that changes everything soon.

Also read:

OpenAI claims the AI, ChatGPT, is meant to benefit all humanity but it is unavailable in 45 countries

You will love Bard’s latest update, editing responses works a treat, all while ChatGPT remains unavailable


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  1. T.C

    Quick question, I noted that Bing now has ChatGPT-4, doesn’t that mean we now have ChatGPT-4 here in Zimbabwe or maybe Bing’s ChatGPT-4 is something else? I know developers in Zimbabwe who want access to ChatGPT API are still stuck but at least we get to make funny Elon Musk as a ballerina images with Bing powered ChatGPT.

    1. Echt Quincy

      Yes, we have it via technicality, but at the same time, it was different back then in that it was operating under different key constraints, namely bing chat having access to the internet and not an old, curated dataset.

  2. Creasey Bear

    I’ll say this. A quick look at the excluded countries almost reads like a human rights naughty list. That little piece of context raises a very interesting and obvious connection

  3. Bla bla bla

    Bla bla bla as much as it is “precious n private” to them, It is rearing copycats then dummies when it comes to students. Personally I doubt web safety .

    However it can be really helpful.

  4. Rasta AI Expert

    Bing Chat (ChatGPT 3 and 4) works perfectly in Zim and is much better than Bard.

  5. Dinky Bose

    In many cases for certain products or services, there may not be any specific laws stopping those companies from providing those products and services in some “restricted” geographies but possibly their own interpretation of existing US laws. Ofcourse, reasons such as possible addressable market size and other considerations play a part. In the case of AI, companies could choose to prioritize markets with better prospects to save on computing resources

  6. Tumai

    When im in Zim I use the TunnelBear VPN for ChatGPT and american crypto sites. It’s always worked.

    And also, for coding Bard is inferior to ChatGPT.

  7. Zwenyika Jezerayi has several CHATBOTS including CHAT GPT so it’s here in Zimbabwe 🇿🇼

    1. Admire Kamutimbe

      I like your take on AI. Can we connect?

  8. Tawanda Majoni

    Good read, Leonard! I’m confident the tour was empowering!

  9. Langa

    I too was initially forced to use Bard because of reasons you mentioned above. Travelled, gained access to ChatGPT. Well, I can confidently say Zimbabweans are not really losing much.

    1. Chat GPT User

      I use ChatGPT plus in Zim, I can safely say it’s giving me an edge in doing my work, I analysed data in R without learning R. I am doing maps without ArcGIS, I am analysing qualitative data without Nvivo!

    2. Me

      Speak for yourself if you do not have anything useful to use chatgpt for

  10. Eng. Tororiro Isaac Chaza

    I have used ChatGPT in Zimbabwe but when the session expires and I have to login again I get blocked.
    I also use ZIVAI, a local AI service provider which is linked to ChatGPT 3.5. But sometimes it does not work. Why? I have no idea.

    1. Thabhelo


  11. Me

    Bard is nothing compared to chatgpt

  12. king Mtapa

    You should have made the argument to them that segregation by alphanumerics is unacceptable in this new world we live in.

    Segregation by the alphanumerics of skin color (#hex color code) is no different from segregation by the alphanumerics of location (gpsLatLong).

    If making a blanket judgment on a group of people like saying those below a certain color #hexcode can’t access chatGPT is morally unthinkable – Logic should stand to reason that making a blanket judgement on another group of people based on their #gpsLatLong should equally be morally unthinkable and backwards.

    We are still a long way away from enlightenment as a species.

    1. MwanaWeMuRozvi

      Ah, the hex code and GPS coordinates debate, a classic dilemma of our time! 🌐 It’s like we’re living in a digital age where even our skin color and location have their own alphanumeric hashtags. I guess next we’ll have exclusive emojis for different zip codes and a Tinder for hex codes. 😂 But hey, let’s hope we evolve past these quirky divisions and focus on the more important things in life, like debating the best slay queens on social media or which car Wicknell has bought today or which amapiano beat is killing the streets

  13. ChiChi

    ChatGPT works on my phone and I’m in Zim.

  14. Mandileza

    Does anyone has a Al/chatbot whatsapp number and help me

  15. Charles

    I am in Harare and I have tried all sorts of tricks to use ChatGPT. I even tried to use diasporans to no avail.

    So I agree with you, let’s work with those who want to work with us. Still surprised though about my fellow Natives who say sanctions are targeted. Wake up people havatide vanhu ava. Ngatisiyanei navo

    1. Anonymous

      I’ve used chat gpt in Zimbabwe since it was launched. A simple free vpn like psiphon works for me. No problems at all. It works all the time

      1. E-Solutions

        Yes that’s correct, some vpns like Droid, OpenVPN do not have the power to hide your IP address hence You can’t use Chart GPT

  16. E-Solutions

    In Zimbabwe it’s possible to use chart GPT, only if you have the correct, right tools.. When I say tools, I mean vpns. There are vpns that can bypass the restrictions enforced by chart GPT..

    I have been using Chart GPT for 6 months using a vpn to login and then after that everything is automatic..

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