Wednesday, September 23

Zimbabwe is trying to transform itself into a leading tech hub with China’s help

Harare, Zimbabwe

There’s a quiet buzz in Zimbabwe right now for the opportunity of informational and communications technology might have as a transformational impact on the beleaguered economy.  The southern African country, which has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, is looking to China to help building capacity and technological know-how to build one of the continent’s biggest IT hubs underpinned by big data and artificial intelligence.

Zimbabwe’s tech industry has arguably performed better than other companies in the troubled economy of the last decade and a half under former president Robert Mugabe. The big telecom companies have bumped up investment into enhancing data capacity and capability, led by Econet, the No.1 telco, has spent $1.3 billion over the last decade to expanding its 3G and  LTE networks.

In all this, China has a key role in Zimbabwe’s bid to reimagine itself as a technological hub. Chinese facial recognition technology is being deployed at entry points such as airports and border posts. The project will be undertaken with a Chinese company, called HikVision. All this will build into a converged big data and artificial intelligence capability for the country, whose innovators—although a bit cash strapped—are crying out for the opportunity to break away from their backyard labs and hubs into the mainstream.

The Chinese are even helping Zimbabwe, whose president Emmerson Mnangagwa visited China in April, to develop smart cities, starting with a pilot undertaking in Mutare in the Eastern Highlands. Tech hubs and innovators in Zimbabwe have already jumped onto this, with the Emisha City Hack for Bulawayo selecting innovator teams to benefit from support and funding for development of tech solutions to solve challenges faced by Zimbabwe’s second city. Tami Mudzingwa, a director for the hackathon, told Quartz Africa via Twitter that “ICT will be a potent vehicle for driving growth and development” in African countries such as Zimbabwe. Continue reading

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