NewsSouthern AfricaZimbabwe poised for a tech startup boom in post Mugabe era

Sun,19Aug2018

Posted on Thursday, 26 July 2018 15:33

Zimbabwe poised for a tech startup boom in post Mugabe era

By Reuters

A Zimbabwean reads an sms message on a mobile phone screen in Harare Tuesday, July 18, 2006.Photo: AP/SIPAThis is 'Vote Africa' - a phone application aimed at promoting voter education among youth in Africa.

It was developed by Zimbabwean software developer, Norman Dube in 2016 - the year Zimbabwe started experiencing a severe shortage of dollars, a consequence of former President Robert Mugabe's economic policies.

After struggling for years in a crippled economy, Zimbabwe's tech entrepreneurs like Dube hope that a start-up boom is imminent.

With less than a week to the first election since Mugabe was ousted, Norman is launching his app.

"This app is actually going to help people by that, we're going to have people that are going to be voting, a more educated voter. So, at the end of the day, most of this voter education is essential because you wanna know what options you have, you wanna know why you have to vote, you wanna know where to find your polling station. So, a more educated voter is what we're looking to achieve," Dube said.

Zimbabwe's economic crisis has made the country a high risk location for venture funding.

But there are hopes that if Monday's (July 30) election is free and fair, then that will open up the economy to foreign investment and ease the cash crunch, giving tech innovators like Dube a chance to continue growing in the tech space.

Ripe for tech innovators

"Everybody's got a phone, who doesn't have a smartphone and imagine everything just being there, right there for you to assist. Flyers, look you pass by you give me a flyer, I'll just shove it somewhere. But for me the fact that the information is there on the phone makes life quite easy," said one Harare resident, Clayton.

On paper, Zimbabwe is ripe for tech innovators.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, literacy levels stand at 94 percent and 98 percent of all internet subscriptions are on mobile devices.

Zimbabwe's current government is also keen to reimagine itself as a tech hub, with China's help.

Artificial intelligence facial recognition technology will soon be introduced to the country, as well as so-called smart cities.

Tinashe Nyahasha, owner of an internet cafe in Harare says Zimbabwe's stagnant economy was a significant cause of frustration for a lot of innovators, but with the political changes, many are hoping for new opportunities.

"Since Mugabe left power, I can't say there's been much of a difference in the number of start-ups but there's been a difference in the activity, in the confidence that you then see. So, there are start-ups that already existed that were already working on projects doing different things. Then after the departure of Mugabe, we started seeing them now coming out, telling their story," Nyahasha said.

According to the latest polls, Monday's contest between President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long time a Mugabe ally, and charismatic preacher, Nelson Chamisa, is too close to call, making a runoff on September 8 a real possibility.



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