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In 2015, when Victor Vincent graduated with a bachelor’s in business studies from Tumaini University in northern Tanzania, he didn’t think that six years later he’d be shaking up how the government and private sector spend money.
Vincent’s creation, the Zabuni app, links government and private sector contractors with suppliers throughout Tanzania. More than 4,000 suppliers had registered with Zabuni as of late April 2021.
“Many are just startups,” says Vincent, 30, a startup entrepreneur based in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam.
One of Zabuni’s key unique selling propositions (apart from being free for all end users) is that it collates all tenders from the government, the private sector and international development in one place. This gives suppliers a reference point for new opportunities. Within half an hour of this editor downloading the Zabuni app, at least 10 new tenders had been published.
Continuation of paper-based system
Tanzanian law dictates that all public procurement entities should publish tenders, awards and related procurement information on the Tanzanian National E-Procurement System (TANePS), which is the online portal managed by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA).
Technology is still something new in Tanzania.
“Despite the potential provided by e-procurement, Tanzania is yet to fully migrate all its procurement systems,” said Hivos – a netherlands-based NGO – in a 2019 report. It adds that “only 71 procuring entities out of 540 procuring entities have started to use the platform, pointing out continuation of the electronic and paper-based system.”
Zabuni (which means ‘tenders’ in Swahili) does not have a formal relationship with TANePS, although it does source data from the national procurement agency’s portal. “Other agencies just send us their tenders and procurement information directly,” says Vincent.
Cost is a factor in the reluctance of public procurement entities to publish data through the traditional portals. Before Zabuni, government tenders were published in the state-owned newspaper Mwananchi, as well as other media, or on the national procurement portal. These mediums all charge entities to publish their data, providing little incentive for compliance.
Zabuni does not charge contractors to publish tenders yet some data can still be hard to source. “Not all procurement entities are waiting to give you information,” says Vincent. “Some will say: ‘We don’t have to give it to you’ and they won’t.”
Zabuni has helped many suppliers based outside of Dar es Salaam to engage in the national procurement landscape. While the majority of Zabuni’s users – 76% – are based in Dar es Salaam, at least 24% of users are from outside the port hub, according to Vincent.
The entrepreneur, originally from Kagera – a town on Lake Victoria – says all kinds of sectors use Zabuni. Some in particular are thriving: ICT, ICT equipment, medical equipment, cleaning services, fumigation and spare parts are but a few examples, adds the Zabuni founder. “Young entrepreneurs are benefitting the most,” he told The Africa Report in a telephone interview from Dar es Salaam.
Giving Zabuni traction
Alfred Manyara, a 28-year-old construction engineer working on contracts for government projects, says he uses Zabuni to source materials, recruit personnel and monitor the competition. “Zabuni publishes which companies have won awards for materials,” says Manyara: this helps him understand which suppliers are fast, cheap and reliable.
“A lot of tenders with a value below TSh1bn ($431,261) are not published on the government procurement website,” says Manyara. He adds that not everybody has access to state-owned dailies where many tenders are published. Zabuni does advertise these kinds of tenders, which is perhaps why SMEs have given Zabuni traction.
“I use Zabuni to find work opportunities,” says Henri Buuni, 32, owner of Vikweli Digital – a web development company based in Morogoro. Buuni says he has already won two contracts on Zabuni. “I also use it to contract when I need X, Y or Z.” In the absence of a developed digital landscape serving Tanzania’s workforce, Zabuni inadvertently acts as both a procurement portal and a recruitment and jobs portal.
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Following a partnership with Hivos in April 2020 – and consultations with Open Contracting Partnership – Zabuni began to publish procurement data in September 2020 as Open Contracting Data Standard, the global standard. This facilitates monitoring by civil society organisations, international comparisons, and general data flow.
Zabuni’s founder says future steps include launching more content in Swahili and monetising the app to cover overhead costs. Vincent says the growth has not however compromised the app’s security or integrity: he has not identified any cases of fraud or manipulation so far.
For now, he is enjoying the feedback he is getting from contractors: procuring entities are saving time. Vincent says the number of bidders is increasing because many new suppliers are being brought into the procurement landscape.
“Technology is still something new in Tanzania,” concludes Vincent. “But we have been able to save time and money for everyone by getting all the data in one place.” Zabuni, in the words of its website, aims to be ‘the richest place for procurement information in Tanzania.’
Alex Macbeth writes about global procurement for Open Contracting Partnership, a US-based organization that promotes open data and transparency in public procurement.
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