Are Native Ads Good or Bad for Digital Journalism?

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Late last year, The New York Times announced that it will be going big on native advertising in 2014 raising questions about authenticity, particularly on what is and what is not journalism.

Native advertising, described by AdAge as the hottest new form of advertising, is a web advertising method that employs content to lure readers. That’s a very basic definition. According to Sharethrough, a company which specializes in the medium, native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.

On January 8, The New York Times will unveil a new digital look which incorporates native advertising and will be more stronger on visuals such as video and photography.

The New York Times, a lodestar of journalism the world over, will feature the native adverts – first on the newspaper’s website and later on its mobile platforms – as way to shore up revenues in an industry hard struck by technology. Other large publishers such as Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Buzzfeed are already rolling out native advertising which promises greater interaction with users, albeit at the risk of breaking the separation between advertising and editorial content.

There are fears that consumers may be duped by the nature of native advertising – a hot topic in digital publishing – with consumers expected to distinguish between what is paid native advertising versus editorial content. Native adverts are made to be cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Put simply, the ads are supposed to look similar to the surrounding published content

Native advertising seeks to deliver content within the context of a user’s experience with formats including  features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content.

“There is a renaissance underway in digital advertising that is driving brands, publishers and consumers to communicate with each other in more personal and natural ways,” said Patrick Albano, Vice President, Social, Mobile and Innovation Sales at Yahoo, and Co-Chair of the IAB Native Advertising Task Force. “Native advertising is an important piece of this evolution.”

According to IAB, native advertising has emerged both as an exciting new way for digital markets to engage with the consumer, and as a new source of advertising revenue for publishers. If you have been on a web page with branded content, you probably know how intrusive and distracting such content is to user experience. Because such content is formatted just like an news article, users can potentially be waylaid.

New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, was quoted in a letter to employees as saying said that features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content. He added that there would be “strict separation between the newsroom and the job of creating content for the new native ads.”

But whether readers will be able to figure out the difference between editorial content and paid advertising is shrouded in controversy. The seamless integration of branded messaging into consumers’ content experiences in order to acquire attention maybe regarded as an art of deception.

The Time quoted Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission critiquing native advertising saying at a conference last year.

““By presenting ads that resemble editorial content, an advertiser risks implying, deceptively, that the information comes from a nonbiased source,” she said.

If readers don’t fall prey to the deception of native of advertising, it’s difficult to see how the ads will succeed.

“I firmly believe that advertising on the modern internet will be defined by meaningful content, not standard ads. There’s a movement happening, away from interruptive, traditional ads, and towards thoughtful brand stories — and native ads are the most potent and effective distribution strategy for content-based advertising,” said Dan Greenberg, Founder and CEO, Sharethrough. “For advertisers, native, content-based advertising is the translation layer between the modern internet and traditional TV.”

In his letter to employees, Sulzberger acknowledged that native advertising is “relatively new and can be controversial,” but is necessary to help “restore digital advertising revenue to growth.”

Mobile Money Arrives in Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe, which has been very slow to uptake new technological innovations, is currently experiencing abuzz with the introduction of mobile money. For a long time, telecoms and mobile institutions have done very little to introduce new innovations. But a new trend is dawning in Zimbabwe as telecoms position themselves to explore mobile money transfer platforms as a supplementary revenue stream. Telecoms and banks are advertising the benefits of their products on a daily basis in local newspapers.

The volatile economic environment which has prevailed in Zimbabwe over the past decade largely contributed to the failure by telecoms and banking institutions to adopt mobile banking in spite of its power to reach far more people.

In East Africa, Kenya in particular, mobile money services have had a transformative effect especially to the unbanked low-income earners, who had been traditionally ignored by commercial banks. M-Pesa is regarded as a mobile money success story, and time will tell whether mobile will pick up in similar fashion in Zimbabwe.

The story so far is that in recent months, there has been a foray by telecommunication and banking institutions to establish mobile banking platforms. Examples of mobile banking products that have been launched include, Kingdom Bank’s Cellcard, Tetrad’s eMali, Econet Wireless’ EcoCash; CABS Bank’s Textacash, Interfin Bank’s Cybercash and CBZ Bank’s Mobile Banking among others.

CABS Bank’s Textacash and Interfin Bank’s Cybercash, which operate on Telecel Zimbabwe’s mobile money transfer platform. The system allows for transfer, receipt, depositing, withdrawal, inter- and intra-bank cash transfers among institutions connected to the ZimSwitch network. This has brought convenience and faster realtime transacting.

Expectations are high that mobile money will open up financial sector services to millions of unbanked Zimbabweans, particularly in the rural areas.

“The adoption of mobile technology is viral and the use of mobile banking services will quickly spread,” said Palmer Mugavha, Marketing Manager of Interfin Bank.

Undoubtedly, the rapid spread of mobile phone penetration, as opposed to bank outreach, has created a fertile ground for mobile money to grow in Zimbabwe. Mobile banking could be the platform for rapid financial inclusion of people in remote and rural areas that now only need mobile phones to access a certain range of essential financial services they never used to get.

“Mobile banking is largely a win for the customer than the bank. Banks traditionally had expensive distribution channels established in anticipation huge volumes of people would go there to transact,” said Tawanda Nyambirai TN Financial Holdings chief executive.

For people living in the rural areas, there will no longer be a need to travel to the city to withdraw money. Once they received a SMS confirmation that money has been deposited into their virtual account,they can visit the nearest farmer, supermarket, post office or non-governmental organisation that is in partnership with a bank or mobile company to collect their cash.

According to Econet, Zimbabwe’s leading mobile operator with more than 5 million subscribers, 500 Eco-cash agents will be deployed throughout the country. The company has also established partnerships with 200 post offices and 300 independent agents.

“You will not find a bank at every corner of the country, but, thanks to the extensive coverage we have built over recent years, mobile phone access has spread to virtually every corner of the country. Sending and receiving cash will now no longer take days, it can now be achieved virtually instantly,” said Douglas Mboweni, CEO

However, there is concern that EcoCash’s transaction fee are higher than normal bank charges, and this may hinder many people from utilising the mobile banking platform. According to a report in a local business weekly newspaper, the high charges may be stemming from the cost of going solo where the mobile phone operator incurs high IT infrastructure costs to set up the whole platform.

The costs of transacting is expected to go down as competition increases around the provision of mobile banking services. Besides transaction cots, security of the mobile money transactions platforms is any issue that telecoms and banks will have to grapple with. According to analysts, mobile payments fraud may include identity theft, stolen PIN codes, account information hacking, money theft, money laundering and subscription fraud, amongst others.

Overall, a mobile money literacy program will need to be rolled out to ensure the success of the innovation.

Publishers in Africa Lose Out On Online Opportunities

By Chief K.Masimba, Global Editor-At-Large, iZiviso.com

Granted, the disruption happening inside the media industry has left some African publisher’s head spinning from left to right with no solutions in sight. As they see these disruptions unraveling in the developed world, much of what they have done is to put in place responses that are more technology-centric and less of a service to their local audiences.

Put simply, African publishers are failing to see that its not so much about the technology but rather part of the solution is in an intimate and thorough understanding of their key audiences. And that above it all, content remains kings, it in fact is the life blood of the media industry.

Content is important to the success of any publication. The content has to be strong, relevant and timely to hold the attention of any savvy audience.

According to Meqouda.com, it is hard for traditional print publishers to add an online component. Many times there won’t be budgets for new hires, so the online components are slowly developed upon the shoulders of already extremely busy editors. This half-hearted approach to online publishing which often regards the online product as a competitor of the print product is self-defeating to say the least.

As Steve Forbes succintly put it: “The Internet is a platform to reach our basic constituency.” And in ignoring this basic fact, many African based publishers have failed to harness the full potential of the medium.

To succeed online in Africa, internet publishers have to recognize that they have a significant role to play in increasing the numbers of people visiting online platforms. At the moment, numbers are simply insignificant. But building a large affinity audience is critical to any successful online publishing effort.

The problem with most traditional publishers venturing online is that they are unwilling to strip away old models and experiment significantly with new ways of reaching audiences and creating revenue.

Oftentimes, there’s a lack of understanding of how the online medium works, which is seen in a clear reluctance to invest in thinking through strategies that can help traditional media to survive in the new media universe.

Underlying both the traditional print and the online universe is the fact that the publisher with the biggest audience usually wins. If someone is going to disrupt your market, let it be you is a mantra that ought to drive African publishers.

To achieve the full potential of new media technologies will require an entrepreneurial mindset and spirit among our publishers.

Is Traditional Journalism Facing A Demise?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Berlin Germany – There is no question that the internet is transforming the news industry, just as it has reshaped so many other industries.

The internet has democratised access to publishing tools, making it much easier for new entrants to join the news ecosystem, from blogs to new organisations like WikiLeaks, the Sunlight Foundation and the Huffington Post, none of which existed six years ago. And smartphones let people publish text, photos or video wherever they are.

That is not to say that everyone is now a journalist, but it means that the chances of something important being captured by somebody at the scene are much higher. All these developments provide new ways to do journalism, and can also improve the practice of journalism by making the activities of its practitioners more transparent.

Technology has redefined the space of news and information:

We can read whatever we want

Wherever and whenever we want

The tyranny of news media and traditional journalists is over. In 2005, one of the leading publishers Rupert Murdoch made this ominous state, “I BELIEVE too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers.”

The centuries-old profession of journalism is undergoing change so cataclysmic that it may soon be unrecognizable. Traditional, or “legacy,” journalism models are indeed in a state of decline.

Modern journalism exists due to a curious convergence of factors that trace their origins back to the beginning of the last century. We think the world needs journalism and journalists.

However, the days of relying god-like figures from above to tell us what’s important, presenting journalism as gospel are over. The model of traditional journalism which often regards readers as stupid is over.

The internet, by altering the underlying economics of the news business, has thinned the ranks of professional journalists. Has the net created other modes of reporting to fill the gap?

The very foundation of traditional journalists which relies on advertising is increasingly becoming obsolete, and a disaster is already beginning to happen to the profession of journalism as it has been traditionally practiced.

More than ever in human history, there are more people that can source information, assess, interpret, share and analyze. Put simply, journalism is no longer an exclusive practice. The tools of the trade are no longer an exclusive reality in today’s media environment.

Lets starts with a basic definition: journalism refers to the journaling of selected daily activities. What new media has done is to provide people with the tools to create their own content, they are doing that, and this is enabling an emerging global conversation

Traditionally, journalism was the preserve of a news or media house with a structure, system and style and the news house.

News media houses had preconceived objectives to package, report news, issues and people which they would sell to audiences or so called eye-balls.

However, in the beginning, journalism was practiced to inform people – it was a social good. But as a result of industrialization, an industry grew round journalism and enterprising business people emerged and built a business round the business of informing people.

Today, the power of the grip on the audience is being lost and now being replaced by the power of the audience. Now, people are easily sidestepping the traditional practice of journalism which relied on monopoly of knowledge and information and are becoming part and parcel of the creators of news and journalism themselves.

The exclusive professional role of the journalist is no longer tenable. In other words, the exclusivity of the role of collecting, analyzing, verifying and disseminating of information  is now throroughly disperse  d due to the power of new technologies.

Costs

Traditional journalisms was highly prohibitive in the costs of collecting and disseminating content as well as footing the costs of journalists but this is collapsing.

Moreso, traditional journalism was severly limited in diversity, variety and individualization but the new media has built a wide variety of choices for audiences.

In this respect, traditional journalism could never tell whether it engaged with its supposed audiences relying on things such as Letters to the Editor but the advent of new media platforms such as Facebook has largely shifted this dynamic. Today, the audience has become less predictable, and exists in real time presenting real challenges to traditional journalism.

Today, audiences can come up with their own analysis of news thereby upturning the fixated old presentation formats of traditional journalism.

Traditional journalism involved audiences in a miniscule way due to the limitations of space, time and resources.

The advent of citizen journalists, a complete no-no in traditional journalism, has also resulted in new perspectives. Because journalists cannot be everywhere, new media tools now give power to audiences to collect and share information anywhere and at anytime. Take, Syria or Egypt as an example.

Ethics

While new media has been accused for the proliferation of ethical breaches, it is fact that ethcal breaches are not exclusive to the new journalism platforms. Take for example, former US Today’s Jack Kelley, who fabricated portinons of stories and plucked quotes from other newspapers. In addition, former Washington Post’s Janet Cooke, was forced to return the famed Pulitzer Prize for fabrication in 1981.

Ownership

Ownership and commercial pressures largely influenced traditional journalism with journalists having very little room to maneuver. This in itself limited the breath and scope of content, the very essence of journalism.

Breaking News

Traditional journalism is no longer positioned to provide breaking news due to its snail pace. Stories of significance  are now being broken on new platforms in ways that are far from the formats of traditional journalism.

What we are saying is that new platforms have refashioned traditional journalism to its very foundation, which is, simply, to communicate and exchange information.

According to the Pew Centre report 2010, in 2002 only 24 % of the people got their news online, 43% got it from radio and about 45% got it from reading the newspaper. But in less than a decade, the transformation has been tremendous. In 2010, 34% of the people got their news online, 34% on radio, 31% from newspapers and 44% on mobile.

An Introduction to Blogging for Journalists

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha and Nozima Muratova

Berlin, Germany- Journalists can use blogs as a way of practicing their skills and getting challenged  by the comments their readers leave. Blogging has become common among journalists worldwide who open their own blogs as it is a cheap and easy way to reach a wider audience and  to  write informally about the subjects they  choose to  and without editorial interference.

Journalists can use blogs and other tools to improve traditional reporting and storytelling.  Concepts like blogging are presenting new ways of distributing journalism instantly and letting readers interact with the journalistic product.

The blog is a publishing innovation, a digital newswire that, due to the proliferation of the Internet, low production and distribution costs, ease of use and really simple syndication (RSS), creates a new and powerful push-pull publishing concept.

Many magazines and newspapers are already using blogging to build their legitimacy in targeted communities and societies thereby adding a new dimension to traditional publishing. Blogs are a low-investment and low-risk enterprise, as opposed to traditional media projects.

Blogs are goldmines for journalist and provide a huge source to tap new ideas, arguments and leads to new stories and for follow-ups on stories on other sites.

With the coming of Facebook and Twitter, it might be thought that blogging would be considered old fashioned.  A blog, short for weblog, is a page on the Internet that contains regularly updated content displayed in reverse chronological order. Web logs, have been around since the early 1990s. According to BlogPulse.com there are 170,639,380 blogs globally, and the number is growing.

Individual articles on a blog whether video, audio, pictures or text are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries”. The activity of updating a blog is “blogging” and  someone who  keeps a blog  is a “blogger.”.Some bloggers choose to collaborate with friends and together open a multi-authored.

Weblogs differ in the type of content they contain. Some bloggers choose to post a combination of text, video and photos, while others may only use one type of media such as video (vblog), photos (photoblog) or audio. A blogger can publish  original writings, videos, pictures or ideas, or can use content that is available and written by other people to comment on. There are millions of blogs out there in all shapes and sizes and there are no real rules on what and how to post.

How do I open my own blog?

There are many hosting software available on the Internet, which allow one to open a blog  in  roughly five minutes. The free international ones include WordPress and Blogspot.

In general, you can open a blog by registering in one of the hosting websites, filling in some personal details, choosing a blog title and a username and password. You would then choose a design for the blog and the option of incorporating several features such as adding  a blogroll which  is primarily  a list of links to  other blogs and  sites of interest.

However, opening a blog does not end at this stage. A blog should  be updated  regularly. Some bloggers choose to update daily (sometimes with more than one post per day) while others may do it weekly or even monthly. Ideally, try to find a rhythm where you can update regularly without feeling burdened. In  general, a regular pace helps you  get it out there and  contributes to building  stronger ties with  its readers, whether they  are other bloggers or general internet users. The more you are active on your blog, the faster it will get out there.

Three things to remember when blogging.

Create good content. Write about what you love and know well. Share information useful to your audience. But, Make sure to check your facts before publishing posts or articles, else you might not only look dumb, but also misinform and damage other people.

Make your readers think, change their minds, or even laugh. Don’t just copy and paste content or news you found elsewhere; tell your readers what you think about it. But also make sure to consider the implications of what you write.

Be social. Try to browse other blogs in the net… leave comments, connect and interact with other fellow bloggers. Share your posts via Twitter and Facebook. Engage in a conversation with your readers.

Don’t plagiarize. Give credit where credit is due. Always reference your sources. This practice is not only important under an ethical point of view, but it also ensures that readers can eventually dig to the root of the facts.


Taku Mafika Lights Up Bassment

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Fresh from a study and music tour in Germany, nyunga nyunga mbira maestro Taku Mafika and his band, Tru Bantu,  lit up the newly renovated Bassment Nightclub on Wednesday with fresh beats from his upcoming album.

Wearing a dashiki, the husky voiced musician showed mastery of different genres of music but putting his signature nyunga nyunga tune as he sampled songs from his forthcoming album titled, “Black to Colour.” The music on his new project, which is constructed using an eclectic selection of musical instruments,  portray Mafika in a whole new light. His lyricism touches on a wide range of issues, including, love, freedom and peace but the ultimate beauty of his work is in the precise manner in which he plucks the mbira keys and makes them sing.

A fervent crowd at Bassment Nightclub danced intensely for almost three hours as Mafika went through his musical repertoire with gusto and evident passion.

“I feel exhilarated to be back home performing in the motherland and before an audience I know best. We’re making art with the mbira and taking it to a new level. All I can say is that I want to move to a whole, new international level with my music. The response, thus far, has been positive both locally and in the countries that I’ve performed in abroad,” said Mafika who is also a UNESCO-ASPNET Schools  coordinator in Zimbabwe.

While in Germany, Mafika said that he was involved in media competency and journalistic studies. He also performed at the internationally acclaimed Intercultural Summer Party, a cultural festival that brings together changemakers from around the world to promote intercultural learning.

Mafika reiterated the need for local artists to take advantage of new media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr among other.

“I am simply saying srtists should be able to know how to use the Net because it brings the whole world int a single village. With the Net, the world is a click away. In the past Africa was regarded as a backward place but because of the Net we’ve an equal opportunity with the rest of the world. So artists should take advantage of social networks to market their products to the whole world,” he said.

Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s Death Lights Up Social Media

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Once again, social media and mobile telephony makes the news for breaking the news.

Early Tuesday, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with news of Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s death. Mujuru, who was 62, died in a fire accident at his home.

Social networks carried vital information to Zimbabweans both locally and abroad ahead of traditional news outlets.  Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, had by mid-morning updated its profile on Mujuru to indicate that he had died.

If anything, this proves that social networks and the mobile have indeed come to Zimbabwe in a big way, and will increasingly become a source of local news developments.

The news went viral as people shared news via their mobiles phones and on social media platforms.

By mid-morning, the national broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, had not yet carried news of Mujuru’s death, prompting some people to question its news-gathering approach.

With technology and news in the digital age spreading information so quickly, the broadcast network was rather slow to fill the information gap.

Regardless, the news spread like wildfire across the twittersphere and of course on to Facebook, with many Zimbabweans expressing shock, commenting and sharing the sad news.

Reporting on Mujuru’s death confirms that conventional news media in Zimbabwe have to position themselves appropriately in relation to the social networks and mobile phones to report news.

However, even though people heard the news of Mujuru’s death on social networks, they still wanted the information to be verified. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks encourage people to speculate.

As much as they can be a source of news, social networks can be a repository for false or misleading reports.

What is required is for conventional news outlets to leverage on the power of social networks without compromising traditional journalism principles such as accuracy, brevity, objectivity and fairness.

In the face of social networks’ ubiquitous distribution of news that maybe false or true, traditional news outlets still have a key role to play in providing investigation and context into issues.

Solomon Mujuru, also known as Rex Nhongo (May 1, 1949 – August 16, 2011) was a Zimbabwean military officer and politician who led Robert Mugabe‘s guerrilla forces during the Rhodesian Bush War.

In post-independence Zimbabwe, he went on to become army chief before leaving government service in 1995. After leaving his post in the Zimbabwe National Army, he got into politics becoming Member of Parliament for Chikomba on a Zanu PF ticket. He was generally regarded as one of the most feared men in Zimbabwe. His wife, Joyce Mujuru, became Vice-President of Zimbabwe in 2004.

BarCamp Zimbabwe scheduled for August 3

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s inaugural BarCamp event will be held on August 3 at the at the Keg & Maiden at Harare Sports Club.

The theme of the event is “Technology and Entrepreneurship: We Are Stronger Together” and is aimed at promoting the need for converged thinking and collaboration among individual start-ups, developers and others.

According to the technology blog site, TechZim.co.zw, the event is targeted at tech startups, geeks, entrepreneurs and generally the whole tech community in Zimbabwe.

“The conclusive aim of a BarCamp is to get likeminded people interacting and mapping a way forward. Zimbabwe’s BarCamp is historic as it is the first startup focused event to happen in the nation,” reads a statement on the BarCamp Zimbabwe website.

“BarCamp Zimbabwe is a FREE event for anyone who is interested in using their skills, talent, and resources to benefit Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.”

Zimbabwe Online (ZOL), which is the main sponsor of the event, will award successful startups will with US $25,000 in cash and internet services.

A BarCamp  is an international network of user-generated conferences (or unconferences). They are open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants.

The first BarCamps focused on early-stage web applications, and were related to open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats. The format has also been used for a variety of other topics, including public transit, health care, and political organizing.

The name BarCamp is a playful allusion to the event’s origins, with reference to the programmer slang term, foobar: BarCamp arose as an open-to-the-public alternative to Foo Camp, which is an annual invitation-only (for Friends of O’Reilly) participant-driven conference hosted by Tim O’Reilly.

The first BarCamp was held in Palo Alto, California, from August 19–21, 2005, in the offices of Socialtext. It was organized in less than one week,[1] from concept to event, with 200 attendees. Since then, BarCamps have been held in over 350 cities around the world, in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australasia and Asia. To mark the first anniversary of BarCamp, BarCampEarth[2] was held in multiple locations world wide on August 25–27, 2006. The second anniversary of BarCamp, BarCampBlock,[3] was held in Palo Alto at the original location, but also over a three block radius on August 18–19, 2007, and was attended by over 800 people.[4] The largest recorded BarCamp happened in February 2011 with over 4700 confirmed registered attendees in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). The previous year (January 2010) BarCamp Yangon attracted over 2700 attendees (confirmed with registration forms) Barcamp Yangon in Global Voices.[5]

JCI Zimbabwe to honour ten Outstanding Young Zimbabweans

Harare, Zimbabwe – Junior Chamber International’s Zimbabwean chapter (JCI-Zimbabwe) will on 30 July host a gala to celebrate ten outstanding young Zimbabweans aged between 18 and 40 at the 7 Arts Theatre in Harare.

According to JCI Zimbabwe president, Patson Mahachi, the aim of the event is to honour young people who are creating positive change in the country in business, environmental activism, personal development, cultural activities, community service, child and women’s rights activism among others.

“The theme of the 2011 gala is “Celebrating Success”. We are expecting many young people to come through and join us in celebrating fellow young active citizens creating positive change,” said Mahatchi.

Founded in 1967 in the then Rhodesia, JCI Zimbabwe currently has more than 220 members across the country. Its mission is to provide development opportunities that empower young people to create change in their communities.

JCI Zimbabwe National Public Relations Director said that the ten finalists will compete at international level with nominees from over 100 countries around the world. He added that Afro-jazz musician, Victor Kunonga is expected to perform at the event.

“Victor is a symbol of success as shown by the number of accolades he has collected. We find him befitting to lead the line-up of young artists that have agreed to come and celebrate positive change with us. His music has good doses of inspiration,” he said.

“It is a great honour to come and share the evening with great achievers. We hope that this will be a good opportunity to showcase ourselves as alternative role models and be recognised as good ambassadors for positive change,” said Kunonga.

Four Zimbabwean have made it into the top 10 nominees in the world to date, including, Charlene Hewat, founder of Environment Africa in 1995, Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Econet Wireless in 1999, Advocate Sabelo Sibanda founder of the School of African Awareness in 2005, and Betty Makoni, founder of Girl Child Network in 2007.

Mobile Internet Rises in Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The queue of people waiting to have their mobile internet activated snakes out of the mobile phone shop owned by Econet, Zimbabwe’s leading mobile operator until the customer consultant directs new arrivals to another branch.

According to the customer consultant, Chido Masunda, over 1,000 people are coming to the shop on a daily basis to get their mobile internet activated on their mobile phones.

“From the time we open the shop in the morning until we close we have so many people that come into the shop. There is definitely a lot of interest in mobile internet,” she said, adding that she is forced to turn away some people.

Many of the customers interested in mobile net are young, technologically savvy urbanites; the service is largely unheard of in the country’s rural areas where 70 percent of the population resides.

“I want to use my mobile internet to check out my Facebook, my email, download music as well as read newspapers,” said Nobukhosi Ndlovu, who activated her mobile net a month ago.

According to Masunda, subscribers can buy internet bundles ranging from 1 to 1000 megabytes to allow them to connect to the internet. Each megabyte costs 50 US cents. At such a cost, many people will struggle to afford the luxury of sending and receiving large files. But early signs are promising.

Since Econet launched its mobile broadband package in the last quarter of 2010, the uptake has been exponential. Latest statistics show that 1.8 million people, that’s more than 30% of the mobile operator’s 5,500,000 subscribers now have mobile internet, and the number is growing on a daily basis.

In fact, Zimbabwe’s mobile phone industry has been projected to reach 13,5 million subscribers in 2015 and worth a phenomenal US 1,34 billion by 2016, according to IE Market Research (IEMR) and the growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan (F&S), respectively. Projections are that Zimbabwe will have universal mobile connection by 2014, and with demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around mobile internet and broadband provision.

“With demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around mobile internet and broadband provision. Both mobile operators and internet access providers will benefit from this second wave of growth,” reads the Frost & Sullivan report.

Unlike a decade ago, today it is very easy to secure a mobile phone and a sim card – prices have drastically gone down. More lower-income Zimbabweans, in both rural and urban areas, are now using the mobile unlike in the past when it was a preserve of the elite. The arrival of cheap, Chinese-made mobile has also increased mobile usage in the country.

Unfortunately, there has been little to no innovation in the local mobile sector in terms of value added services which could be attributed to the lack of meaningful investment in the technology sector over the past decade due to the country’s political fallout. Voice and SMS-text messaging remain by far the most popular uses of the mobile phone.

There has been very little development in mobile banking, farming, health care provision, environment protection or improving  human rights among others. With exception, though, Kubatana.net, a grassroots organisation have been pioneering the use of mobile technology in civil society work. According to Kubatana, the project titled, “Freedom Fone” leverages the fastest growing tool for personal access to information 24/7 – the mobile phone – & marries it with citizen radio programming. Freedom Fone makes it easy to build interactive, two way, phone based information services using interactive audio voice menus, voice messages, SMS and polls.

“Audio files are stored by Freedom Fone in a Content Management System (CMS) which is updated through a simple to use browser interface. These audio clips populate an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu through which callers can navigate for information. Deployment in any language is possible as key global files for menu prompts can be uploaded through the browser interface to the CMS,” states Kubatana on its website.

“Individuals can contribute questions, content and feedback by leaving voice messages via the IVR interface. Freedom Fone can be operated as a collective, with different groups managing different channels (IVR menu options) of information from the same installation.”

Apart from this, the main benefit has been increased access to cheaper voice services and mobile internet. In addition, the overall growth in mobile has significantly contributed revenue to the telecommunications sector. Currently, the mobile penetration rate is 54 percent. According to statistics, Zimbabwean mobile communications market earned a total of $372,2-million in 2009.

“Mobile operators are the largest contributors to telecommunications revenues in Zimbabwe,” said Frost & Sullivan ICT Industry Analyst, Protea Hirschel. “As 3G networks expand, mobile operators compete more directly with Internet access providers. These, in turn, have entered the voice market, adding to competition.”

Despite the fact that mobile operators are raking in a lot of profit, network quality of mobile networks in Zimbabwe is generally considered to be poor by subscribers. To make matters worse, erratic power supply remains a significant challenge for all telecommunications operators.

Nonetheless, F & S reports that the mobile market in the country will experience a compound annual growth rate of 20,1%, considerably lower than the 40,6% revenue growth experienced from 2008 to 2009. The company’s forecast report released in May 2011 titled “An Overview of Zimbabwe’s Vibrant Telecommunications Market” says that subscriber numbers in Zimbabwe trebled from early 2009 to mid-2010, whereas fixed-line subscriptions remained stagnant. Mobile subscriber numbers jumped from less than two million at the end of 2008 to 6.9-million in mid-2010.

According to IEMR’s five-year Mobile Operator Forecast on Zimbabwe issued in April, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator, Econet Wireless is expected to take 70 percent of the market share.

“I think the company that will emerge the winner is the one pouring money into infrastructure right now, Econet Wireless. New entrants will obviously have a hard time penetrating as they will face some resistance from the incumbents,” said Limbikani Soul Makani, founder of TechZim, a blogging platform on technology in Zimbabwe. “Interconnection, for example, hasn’t been a walk in the park for Internet Access Providers wanting to introduce voice services. Small entrants are therefore facing delays while the incumbents grow their networks even bigger.”

The country’s decade-long political and economic fallout coupled with international isolation clearly resulted in little to no investment in the technological sector. The Global Information Technology Report 2007-08 ranked Zimbabwe in 125th position on the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), out of 127 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum.

With the political system still in somewhat of a limbo, there are fears that the projected growth in the mobile telephone sector will be inhibited.

The impact of politics on mobile telephony in Zimbabwe is without a doubt. Take for example, the country’s mobile penetration rate rose from 9 to 56 percent since the inception of the inclusive government in September 2008.

When incumbent President Robert Mugabe signed a power sharing agreement with arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai, and Arthur Mutambara two years ago, hyperinflation was estimated at 6,5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent, or 6,5 followed by 107 zeros. Violent elections in which President Mugabe was declared the winner result in Zimbabwe being ostracized at international level, stemming the transfer of technology into the country among other things.

According to Information, Communications and Technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa the country is making strides in the technology sector and is looking at actively taking information technology to rural communities. Further, ICT products can now be imported into the country free of duty.

Recently the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) completed the installations of the optic fibre cable that now links the state owned fixed operator to the East African Submarine System (EASSy) undersea cable through Mozambique. This is expected to significantly increase Internet and other communication connectivity speeds. The fibre, covering a distance of about 280km, is the first phase of the planned national backbone rollout.

A combination of growth in mobile telephony, installation of the fibre optic projects and increased use of data services are likely to result in a boom in the technology sector.

Mobile telephony is likely to stimulate a host to innovations in the country. In effect, experts say that an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people typically boosts gross domestic product (GDP) by 0,6 percent per annum in developing nations.

There is no doubt that technology will play a vital role in Zimbabwe’s political, social and economic recovery, and the mobile phone will feature prominently in that trajectory.