Zimbabwe sets up Technology Innovation fund, seeks to Create own ‘Silicon Valley’

Zimbabwe's ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira.

Zimbabwe has set up a $25 million fund supported by all registered telecommunications companies to promote technological innovation, according to The Africa Report.

ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, said the companies would contribute one percent of their revenues to the Universal Services Fund. The Post and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) – the industry’s regulator would manage the fund.

“As a progressive government, which promotes access to technology, we were averse to the idea of stifling these technologies or banning them but rather we should look at an opportunity to develop our own young Zimbabweans who should develop software and programmes that counter those that are coming from Silicon Valley,” Mandiwandzira told a technology symposium in Harare last week.

He said the government wanted locals to emulate innovation that characterised Silicon Valley in the United States. Silicon Valley, which is in the United States, is the home to many of the world’s largest high-tech companies as well as start-up companies.

Mandiwanzira said the fund was in response to calls by the local telecommunications sector for government to either ban or stifle use of over the top services (OTTs) such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype.

The telecoms operators say the OTTs are eating into their revenues but the minister said banning them would not solve the problem. He said only innovation would ensure that local telecommunications companies remained viable.

Mandiwandzira said an agreement was reached that industry players would each contribute one percent of the revenue they generate into the fund. “We expect to have between $20 and $25 million into this fund within the next 24 months,” Mandiwanzira said.

Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators have in the past generated the bulk of their revenues from provision of calling and messaging services, which cost around 24 cents per minute and eight cents per message respectively.

However, the emergence of OTT platforms has given respite to millions of Zimbabweans struggling to pay for a range of telecommunications services in one of the most expensive markets in southern Africa.

The latest available annual revenue statistics from POTRAZ show the sector registered $907 million revenue in 2014.

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