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Why I am excited about the future of Zimbabwe

Rummaging through some boxes stored in my garage yesterday I came across this Technics Tape deck. My son looked at it and asked, “Dad what is that?” “It’s a cassette tape deck son.” I went on to explain how this was a priced possession when I first bought it. As we continued with our task, which was to find a cable for a Play Station 2 game console, my daughter picked up a cassette audio tape and asked, “What is this for?” I said, “That goes here” pointing to the tape deck player and it then plays the music. Oh really, she said show us and I did. Their eyes beamed in amusement as the tape deck played some old school tunes, which send me down memory lane. They giggled and found it really funny. We all had a good laugh afterwards and I completely forgot about it.

To my surprise when I woke up this morning that incident was still lingering in my mind and it gave me an idea to write this article. We live in a fast changing world, where technology is changing the way we go about our life on a daily basis. We have the Internet of things, Blockchain and Smart contracts. In Zimbabwe we have the adoption of plastic and mobile money, mobile wallets and payment apps. All these things are meant to make our lives better and indeed they are. But more needs to be done.

My Technics home component entertainment system is still going strong, although I might never use the tape deck again, unless some genius finds a new use for the technology. The amplifier and the speakers are still pumping out some high fidelity sound and have been connected to my television and now act as a home theatre sound system. I started to look back at how we used to have dial up internet, in 2004 to be exact. The speeds continued to improve from a 56K connection to 3MB fibre link that I now use today. This massive improvement has taken 12 years and even though others now enjoy over 100MB is significant to me. Unlike dial up broadband internet is more reliable and has become part of our children lives for online games, research and homework.

A lot more things have changed in Zimbabwe, thanks to the investment in technology and some deliberate government policies such as the removal of duties on computer equipment and until recently mobile phones. Smart phone use is rising daily and not a minute passes without the phone beeping as an incoming social media message comes in. You now need a new skill, social media discipline, to be productive. We now speak daily to friends and relatives in remote parts of the world as if they are here, without worrying about the cost of the call.

Whichever way you look at it, technology has changed our lives in Zimbabwe but it is time we tame it and make it work for us. Take for instance the current cash crunch that has seen many people queueing up at Bank branches and ATMs to get cash day in day out. What home grown solutions can we come up with to solve such problems? A mini survey I did just walking past these queues revealed that most of these people have mobile phones, most have android smart phones too. Why should they spend hours in queues for cash when they should be working somewhere?

More Zimbabweans need to learn how to code and solve their own problems using technology. This excites me because we have all the ingredients for a technological revolution. I have shared some ideas and tips on the use of opensource software here. Our kids are already way ahead of us in terms of knowing how to use current technology, but are they learning the digital skills they need to make use of technology. Sadly not, we must teach our children to code because we have empowered them with the tools to make their life easier.

The world is more accessible than ever before and for those who are prepared to learn, there are plenty of resources and people willing to help. All we need is better collaboration and deliberate government policies to reward innovation and creativity. I marvel at what I am seeing in Zimbabwe right now. It is exciting to see the opportunities and space for innovations. In a space of less than 18 months, the country has seen about 4 technology focused hubs sprouting up and I have no doubt more are coming. This is good for our country. The Zimbabwe Start-up Ecosystem might still be in its infancy, but like all babies, it will grow and mature. The good thing is it has been born.

The catalysts for growth might be missing in that the economic environment has not been conducive but the baby steps are happening as evidenced by the number of new start-ups that are springing up across the country. None have grown to a level where they are capable of moving the needle in terms of employment creation or problem solving but that time is coming. The harsh economic environment has made many people entrepreneurs. Although resources are limited, many small businesses are being formed and providing products and services in the economy.

As the internet becomes more accessible and more people learn digital skills to add on to their existing experience in Agriculture, Finance, Banking, Manufacturing, Energy, Health, Education and Tourism we will see more start-ups being formed. I touched on this in a previous article on how Zimbabwe should embrace the new economy and stop looking at trying to rebuild its traditional economy. More jobs will be created by graduates being churned out of our universities if the Start-Up ecosystem support systems and network grow. We need traditional big businesses to help drive this process, but more importantly we need doers, people who are willing to risk everything to make a difference.

The key pillars to a successful Start-Up ecosystem in Zimbabwe are;

1. Digital and Entrepreneurship Skills

2. HUBs and Coworking spaces

3. Government Tax and policy incentives

4. Connectivity (access to internet and lower costs)

Looking back at where Zimbabwe is coming from and what our future generations will look like, our future demands the adoption of deliberate policies and more collaboration to start and nurture Start-Ups. We cannot afford to ignore what is happening around us, we must be active participants and help shape our future.

Nyasha Chasakara

Head: Research & Sales CBZ Holdings Limited

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