StoryMaker Mobile App Empowers Citizen Journalists to tell Stories

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba  | January 24, 2013

Approximately 40 Zimbabwean citizen journalists received training in May last year to produce community based stories using a free Android mobile-powered App called StoryMaker that facilitates the creation of video stories.

StoryMaker, developed by Small World News, is an open source application that comes with templates and lessons to guide would be storytellers on how to shoot professional videos with mobile phones. Continue reading

Advertisements

Africa’s Growing Mobile Market

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Africa is the fastest growing mobile market, according to a new report released by the industry group GSMA, or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association. 

The report titled, Africa Mobile Observatory 2011, states that for each of the past five years, the number of subscribers across Africa has grown by almost 20 percent and is expected to reach 738 million by the end of next year. It further stated that voice service is predominant but the use of data service is increasing steadily.

Nigeria now has the most mobile subscribers in Africa, with 93m connections. This represents 16% of the continent’s total. SA, with its more developed infrastructure, leads the way in terms of broadband penetration, at 6%, followed by Morocco at 2,8%.

The mobile ecosystem in Africa generates about US$56bn or 3,5% of total GDP, with mobile operators alone contributing US$49bn. The report says the mobile industry contributes $15bn in government revenues

“In releasing its report, GSMA called on African governments to allocate more mobile broadband spectrum and cut taxes on mobile operators to further spur expansion. Citing studies by the World Bank and others, GSMA says that in developing countries, for every 10 percent increase in mobile penetration there is a 0.81 percent increase in GDP,” reported the Associated Press.

“The mobile industry in Africa is booming and a catalyst for immense growth, but there is scope for far greater development,” said Peter Lyons, a GSMA policy expert.

According to the Associated Press, Africa has been described as the Silicon Valley of cell phones because of the innovative ways they are used on the continent.

“Cell phone networks have been set up to help health care workers in remote villages consult with doctors in cities. Researchers have used cell phone technology to track animals for wildlife studies. Africans use cell phones to make payments across borders,” it reported.

The benefits that mobile services have already brought to hundreds of millions of Africans can be extended to those who have yet to connect. By so doing, the African continent can continue to bring not only communication services, but also improved financial services, healthcare and education to its people and drive an increase in the economic wealth and development.

Connected Agriculture: An Opportunity for Smallholder Farmers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Smallholder farmers’ lives and livelihoods can potentially be transformed by mobile telephony and wireless technology services such as weather forecasts, agricultural extension services, commodity market information and mobile banking.

Through mobile telephony, new business models can be developed that offer greater opportunities and reduce risks for smallholders and  help to meet the challenge of feeding an estimated 9.2 billion people by 2050.

According a new analysis conducted by Accenture for Vodafone, many farming communities in emerging markets are economically excluded with little or no access to capital or banking services. The report titled, Connected Agriculture, states that smallholder farmers lack the means to trade (beyond basic barter arrangements), borrow to acquire new assets or invest to provide their businesses with sufficient resilience to withstand macro-economic changes.

Against this background, the ubuquitous mobile telephone has potential to help the poorest farmers towards greater food and income security. The greatest potential benefits can be generated by enabling mobile financial payments and mobile information provision, each delivering almost 40% of the total estimated increase in agricultural income, according to the report.

“Mobile networks are now more widely established in emerging markets than traditional fixed networks and have the potential to transform market-led agricultural practices,” said Peter Lacy, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Given that global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, requiring a 70% increase in food production above 2006 levels, there will be need for increased yields, particulalrly in emerging economies. In remote and rural regions, mobile telephony is expected to play a greater role in improving the productivity and sustainability of agricultaral systems.

According to the report, mobile telecommunications can connect farmers to markets, finance and education, making it possible to monitor resources and track products. This will unlock productivity potential while helping to manage the impacts of increased production, such as increased water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“One third of humanity is fed through an estimated 500 million smallholder farms with less than two hectares of land. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the dependence is even higher, where small farms produce about 80% of the food consumed. These holdings are typically managed by families with limited technical and mechanical support and with poor access to finance. It is often difficult for them to make ends meet, let alone grow their business,” says Vittorio Colao, Vodafone Group Chief Executive Officer, in the foreword to the report.

“Looking ahead, the impact of climate change, water scarcity and increasing land scarcity will make this even more difficult. With the world’s population expected to grow by 750 million in 2020, and demand for food to increase by 70% by 2050, it is clear that something has to be done to improve the efficiency of food production and distribution.”

As access to mobile networks becomes increasingly available even in remote rural areas, the mobile phone can be used as a simple, inexpensive and convenient to not only stay in touch with friends and relatives but to also provide access to finance, improved healthcare solutions, supply chain efficiencies and increasingly automated mobility. In other words, mobile communications technology can be used as an enabler of sustainable growth particulalrly among marginalized and underprivileged populations.

“Mobile financial services can fill the banking gap felt by the poorest farmers. With access to savings or insurance services, farmers can reduce the impact of extreme weather events and invest in improving production. Meanwhile, mobile information platforms open up significant additional routes to potential markets, relaying information on prices for inputs and produce sales, as well as information on how to grow and respond to a context of climate change through the dissemination of reliable seasonal weather forecasts,” says Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam in the report. 

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.

Zimbabwe Operators to Share Rural Network Infrastructure

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – IN a development that will potentially boost Zimbabwe’s rural mobile telephony, the telecommunications regulatory authority, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, recently announced that it is installing shared telecommunications infrastructure in the country’s rural areas.

Among the players in the telecommunications sector, infrastructure is highly regarded as a competitive advantage hence the reluctance to open up platforms.

“The duplication of infrastructure is reversing the aggressive expansion mood that investors are approaching the telecommunications sector with,” said Taonaziso Chowa, an investment analyst with Old Mutual Zimbabwe’s investment research division.

The reluctance of Zimbabwe’s mobile operators to share infrastructure has been widely reported as a shortcoming which has resulted in the duplication of infrastructure such as towers for base stations, and missing the opportunity to channel resources into other areas. It has been cited as one of the limiting factors of Zimbabwe’s telecommunications industry’s growth potential.

Moreover, mobile telecommunication operators have traditionally targeted urban areas, but it is the demand from rural and low-income areas that is likely to exceed all expectations. As urban markets become saturated, the next generation of mobile phone users will increasingly be rural based. Rural areas, where a majority of Zimbabweans live, are particularly in need of better mobile and broadband service.

According to POTRAZ, the programme is expected to improve coverage of mobile phone networks through the installation of towers, power back-ups and equipment rooms. Installation of the infrastructure will be financed by a total of US$20 million dollars from the Universal Service Fund (USF).

According to the state owned weekly newspaper, Sunday Mail, the USF was established under Section 10 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act. Essentially, licensed telephone operators and other ICT providers contribute 2 percent of their gross income to the USF which is used to finance provision of services in remote areas.

“We are already installing the passive infrastructure in one district in all the eight provinces and work should be completed before year end,” the Sunday Mail quoted Engineer Charles Sibanda, POTRAZ director.

Sibanda added that the three mobile phone operators in the country and ICT service providers would share the infrastructure to install transmitters for providing their services.

According to previous media reports, POTRAZ is planning to prohibit the number of towers that each operator can erect in a given area.

“This infrastructural development will certainly ensure that our rural areas that are often ignore by the big telecommunications players in the country will now be better connected. Its very important for the future development of our country, and is a welcome development,” said Bethel Goka, an IT specialist.

The infrastructure sharing arrangement will allow the telecommunication operators to increase their coverage by utilizing the proposed base stations to reach new subscribers while concentrating on value added services.

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]

Zimbabwe Mobile Telephony’s Scope Of Growth

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large| Harare

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 data, mobile internet and broadband provision.

Currently, the mobile penetration rate is 54 percent, while the internet penetration rate stands at 14 percent. According to statistics, Zimbabwean mobile communications market earned a total of $372,2-million in 2009.

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 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.

“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,” states the Frost & Sullivan report.

According to IEMR’s five-year Mobile Operator Forecast on Zimbabwe, 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, Zimbabwe’s leading technology blogger. “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.”

Zimbabwe, which is projected to be at least five years behind technologically, is currently undergoing an expansion of its technological infrastructure which will – all things being equal – see the country universally connected by 2014.

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.