The Herald (Harare)

16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: ICT News, Noisemakers of 2012

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THERE were so many developments, which transpired in the technology sector last year that had the potential to impact and reshape Zimbabwe. I will attempt to address these issues in the following nine categories.

Newsmakers

The year started off on a good note after Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced the removal of duty on ICT-related imports in his 2012 Budget statement.

The announcement was well received by dealers in ICT products some of whom rushed to cash in on the new policy only to clash with Zimra official at the country's ports of entry over the classification of ICT products which should or should not be exempted.

Needless to say that impasse was temporary and was resolved early into the year.

Zimbabwe online arguably stole the limelight as it was constantly in the news.

Its acquisition by Liquid, an Econet subsidiary, for an unspecified figure was one of the major highlights early in the year.

It also sponsored Jumpstart, a community-driven initiative that brought together ICT enthusiasts, specialists in web applications, web development and mobile software programmers to share ideas on how best to drive the industry forward.

One of the Jumpstart co-ordinators, Mr Limbikani Soul Kabweza -- who is also founder of Zimbabwe's most popular technology blog TechZim -- was also selected together to travel to the United States as part of the United States President's Young African Leaders Initiative sponsored by the US Department of State. He travelled with Simbarashe Mhungu.

The International Communication Technology Association of Zimbabwe in conjunction with the UK-based organisation Computer Aid International identified beneficiaries and provided expertise and back-up service in Zimbabwe

Awards

Econet and biNu lifted the Zimbabwean flag higher by featuring among the nominees at the AfricaCom 2012 Awards, arguably the biggest technological awards in Africa.

However, only biNu managed to walk away with an award for the best application beating giants like

Mxit

The Ministry of ICT also held its rather ceremonial awards where it sought to appreciate and reward the most outstanding players in the industry.

The ministry must be commended for putting together such an event with very limited resources although it left a lot to be desired.

ICT Minister Nelson Chamisa has always been upbeat and passionate about technology and its development but a number of shortcomings will need to be addressed to make future events a success.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe also scooped three awards in the Marketers' Association of Zimbabwe Super Brands 2012.

These were for the Best Telecoms Company of the Year, Best Internet Service Provider and the overall Super Brand Award of the Year 2012 Pastel Zimbabwe also scooped the software/hardware award.

International Interests

Software giant Microsoft listed Zimbabwe among 21 African countries where it's planning to set up web stores.

Prior to the announcement Microsoft representatives for East and Southern Africa visited the country in March and launched a developer's day initiative in Harare that was attended by more than 100 software coders.

IBM, an international award winner and hardware-solution centre company, also expressed interest in returning to Zimbabwe.

Samsung also hogged the limelight when it launched its newest product, the Samsung Glaxy S3, at their Joina City shop.

Symposiums

The year opened with an ICT Summit at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in January.

The summit brought together 14 education and ICT ministers from Southern African countries and major ICT companies such as HP, Samsung, Xerox, NEC, Epson, Intel, Sharp and Core (representing Apple).

The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce also convened the ZNCC 2012 ICT seminar that was attended by more than 100 ICT companies.

The aim of the ZNCC ICT Business Innovation Symposium was to create awareness about the role that technology plays in the transformation of business in modern day Zimbabwe

Mooks Marketing held a convention to help enlighten the ICT players on infrastructural developments and how they can be able to grow their investments through synergies thereby enhancing services improvement.

The Bulawayo chapter of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe convened its first ICT Expo on November 24 and 25. The Expo managed to tackle the going green concept.

School heads, educationists and the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture also met in Harare to discuss the state of ICT in the education sector at an event organised by Blessing Ngorima in partnership with Premier IT.

Mukonitronics organised the Africa Exchange, which was dubbed the ICT Meeting of the Minds, where some school students exhibited energy-saving bulbs that they invented at their schools.

Exhibitions and Expos

The annual ICT Africa Exhibition, which is in its 10th year, was held at the Harare International Conference Centre.

During the event the Computer Suppliers' Association of Zimbabwe changed its name to ICT Suppliers.

The event has been bringing together ICT Suppliers, service providers and ICT consumers. Exactly 11 days later the Ministry of ICT held its inaugural five-day expo making it the longest technology expo ever to be held in Zimbabwe.

The event, which ran from October 1 to October 5, was officially opened by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and was aptly dubbed e-Tech Africa expo.

Comztech, a leading software distributor that is also Microsoft's first channel developer partner, which distributes consumer and business technology products and solutions throughout the African continent, held another prestigious event at Crowne Plaza Monomotapa Hotel.

Talent hunt

Forget Me Not Africa in conjunction with Econet Zimbabwe held an event aimed at exposing talent in computer programming and promote the most creative programme that will be used on the Econet platform.

Programmers were also given an opportunity to showcase their skills in the Hackathon, where local software developers were afforded an opportunity to create a programme used for crowd sourcing as a news application tool.

The event attracted 25 web developers.

ICTs in Education

President Mugabe opened the ICT Centre at the University of Zimbabwe. The UZ also commissioned a digital bar code scanning system hat registers and verifies students' laptops and electronic gadgets to curb against cases of theft.

Harare Institute of Technology also held an open source day in recognition of the importance and relevance of free and open operating systems like Linux.

The Midlands State University introduced an electronic gate checking system for students, a first for Zimbabwean universities.

Liberty Dandira, the MSU director of information services, was the man behind this innovation.

Education Minister Senator David Coltart announced that Government was reviewing the ICT curriculum to align it with international standards. The final document is still work in progress.

Huge targets

Minister Chamisa revealed that his long-term goal would be to have e-learning courses in the country's 8 000 schools by 2015,

He also projected that Zimbabwe will become the hub of ICT in Africa by 2015, backed by serious mobile penetration.

This, he said would be achieved through the upgrading of infrastructural, hardware and software.

Zimbabwe has seen significant ICT penetration with ITU ranking it the fastest ICT developing country in the world

Disappointments

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe hogged the limelight in January when it broke news that it was to launch VoIP.

Of course, many were sceptical that Econet would run such a product when it is the biggest threat to their viability as a mobile phone operator. Suffice to say that not much has been heard of the project since then.

Africom has been pushing VoIP well for years yet it has kept this service active yet locked to its own network, choking the significance of real VoIP connectivity as it does not interconnect with all networks

Brodacom made headlines as it hit the market with its VoIP packages, which were marketed under the banner of "game changers" in a development that aroused a lot of interest.

Sadly, the hype was shortlived as news after it emerged that the company was facing serious viability constraints that forced it to close shop and some of its assets were attached.

The writer is the founding editor of TechnoMag.

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