2019 was a year that for many, started of bad and ended off worse. Not much else can be said about that and unfortunately our country’s multiple crises affected our tech as well. Hence the following is a run-down of most of the biggest things that happened in Zim that involved tech or were all about it and of course, how that affected many of us’ daily lives. Not all of it is bad thankfully, in fact as has been said during dark times new light tends to shine through and such was the case for us as well. But we won’t keep you here any longer and let you read it all for yourself below:
January Internet Shutdown
The January protests are something most Zimbabweans should never forget, even if they might want to, as they were a violation of multiple human rights and freedoms that affected too many Zimbabweans to begin with. While we could go into a deep dive about the physical abuse and people injured, we’ll instead focus on this year’s internet shutdown instead. Whether it was to cut of protester communication, help from the outside world or a myriad of other reasons which all probably make sense, It was a move that infringed on our right to information and communication, and another dark look into the direction our country is heading. All we can hope is that we don’t get another one.
Call it Cyclone iData, call it the Datapocalypse, call it Econet and friends stepping on our throats or whatever else you want, the financial situation’s effect on data prices has made the internet an elitist luxury again. In a time where our engagement with the world out there and usage of the internet’s vast resources should be increasing, a lot of us are instead shying away because we simply can’t afford it. In fact we’ll take this moment to thank everyone reading this because well, you literally could be saving data or checking something you deem more important. As we go into 2020, who knows how this situation will evolve. All we can hope is it doesn’t have to make us think twice about buying a WhatsApp bundle.
Now this one relates directly to our last entry, with people buying less data also leading people to being less active in our social media “streets” as we like to call them. Be it Twitter, Instagram or even Facebook (because some of you still use that often, that’s why we have a page there after all) the engagement of these platforms has fallen quite a lot since these data tariff changes started. Jokes even exist about all the work and school Wi-fi networks keeping people’s social media accounts on life support, and most of us only laugh at them because we know that deep down, they’re funny because they’re true.
It’s near impossible to buy tech
To be honest, it’s a struggle to buy any long-term tool, device or asset right now. Zim just isn’t a conducive place to buy things with all the price hikes and our currency situation in constant chaos. But buying tech? That’s its own special kind of ridiculous. The prices of phones, laptops, tablets and any kind of accessory you can think of has gone through the roof, with even the USD prices not making sense (I mean even earphones make you think twice about buying them now, and those will be the cheap fake ones). Simply put, anyone who hasn’t completely required a tech product this year, isn’t buying one and of course that isn’t great for anyone selling tech products either. Heck it even makes us feel a little bad when we post articles about new products, but hey, what can you do right *smiles nervously*. And yes of course there are exceptions, in fact anyone who’s good at negotiating a deal can buy things for a cheaper price because of the fluctuating currency rates and this is the country where USD $ 1100 iPhones are sold for $640 (eyebrows raised yet?) but the general situation on buying tech still isn’t great, and you can see that every time your friend with an iPhone brings out their worn out, barely functional lightning cable.
ZUPCOS(and all their lovely little surprises)
ZUPCO buses have essentially become most people’s main mode of public transport especially in the capital city, but the buses have interestingly enough brought in new tech-based scenarios of their own ; namely the Tap-Cards and ZUPCO focused WhatsApp groups. We’ve already gone into detail over the former, stating how they should stop being a commercial based implementation and instead be made into a standardized civilian based card that every citizen in a city should have. The latter, WhatsApp groups made to track ZUPCO buses are an inspiring reminder of what people can do with the internet and social media to help each other. Both have brought changes to how a lot of Zimbabweans live and commute and while we still haven’t gotten our “promised” ZUPCO Wi-Fi buses, we’ll take their adjacent tech impacts instead.
Rise of Podcasts
One of the few good things on this list, podcasts in Zim have become a vibrant local entertainment and creativity medium, with local podcasts increasing in number and quality and having listeners all over the world, Zimbabwean or otherwise! From Two Broke Twimbos to Sadza in The Morning to even newer podcasts like Undomesticated and Voice Notes, the caliber of Zim podcasts keeps increasing in uniqueness and diversity as well and we hope to see more from this space in the coming year.
Continued Growth of Meme Culture
Meme culture is not an exclusively Zimbo thing, and it’s not new either. But when some of the most recognizable people in the country are skit artists and meme makers there’s reason to pay attention. Meme culture has essentially permeated into all of our lives now, and we reckon none of us can go 24 hours without running into a meme of some sort when connected to the internet even in limited capacity like WhatsApp bundles. What’s crazier however, is the heights meme culture has reached this year, with a viral Miss Universe x President Mnangagwa photo edit meme causing a certain amount of commotion between the government and creative houses in the country. The meme revolution keeps growing, and we just hope it won’t get anyone physically attacked.
Econet/Elevate’s Youth-oriented (at least initially) Yo Mix! Platform is a product many people are still trying to truly figure out. Especially when it comes to the basic question of what it is for, besides the obvious data discounts. The seeming lack of an exact direction is why the app’s rollout, functionality and usage were essentially all over the place, with data bouquet discounts being its only must-have feature. Amusingly enough, that same feature seemed to have a “bug” around the October/November period which let users buy crazy amounts of data at crazy low discounts. This little hassle actually seemed to boost Yo Mix usage for a time being, and one of course has to wonder the nature of said bugs. But either way, like the seeming adolescents and young adults it’s marketed to, Yo Mix needs to find an identity, and be okay with being itself (when it final knows who that is).
And here stands the other Econet APP that the company was banking on. Sasai is supposed to be Econet’s analogue to WeChat, a superapp that can integrate with seemingly every part of a Zimbabwean’s life. Except unlike China where literally almost everything can have an online store portal that you can talk to and operate through WeChat and Sasai does not have that kind of tech ecosystem backing it up. Instead it banks mainly on EcoCash, which is ubiquitous to be fair but doesn’t need Sasai to be accessed by users. Simple put. Econet was betting big on Sasai but still hasn’t made the app worth anyone’s time or interest, despite it constantly being a headline stealer from it’s inception as an allegedly stolen idea, to it’s multiple spam related incidents that just make potential users steer clear off the app . Stop getting desperate with this one Econet, and instead make it worth people’s time.
Now Twitter(along with any social network) are obviously fair game for anyone to join and use, government parliament member or otherwise. But over the past year the increased “political twitter” atmosphere in Zim has continuously increased and we’re certain that almost no one is a fan. This year more politicians and official ministries joined Twitter and have started using it to various degrees. Of course the country’s temperamental political state doesn’t really help when many political figures voice their opinions and beliefs on the timeline (which again, is allowed), but if you know Zimbos on Twitter, you know that never goes unpunished. And as such these always make up some of the funniest comments sections one could lay eyes on.
Another dark chapter in this list, the abduction of comedians like Gonyeti who were known to openly make fun of the government and ruling party struck fear into other independent comedians and common Zimbabweans as well. We won’t point fingers at who was to blame for these , but we will state how again , a certain feeling of something robbed from us permeated through Zimbabweans who kept an eye on the matter. It’s another reminder for us to be safe out there, and another depressing element of the past year.
This one in all honesty might be the biggest show of incompetence that Econet and all it’s subsidiaries have ever shown since their inception. The EcoCash issues beginning ever since their system upgrade and still being felt today have caused so much trouble in the country that they’ve affected the exchange rate in forex black markets. EcoCash was insane to essentially “wing it” on upgrading the most popular form of trade in the country and have no backup plans whatsoever where it ever to go wrong. Except it did go wrong, and now EcoCash has lost the trust of arguably millions of customers, while NetOne’s OneMoney seems more appealing by the day.
And finally, what we reckoned is a new Zimbabwean form of internet stress relief on the government and all the powerful companies we can’t control. Parody accounts got the attention of ZESA ,Econet and other pranked corporations and individuals as they had to rush to clear their name after a parody account pulled a prank on them. It’s childish to be honest, but it does at least communicate how fed up people are of the things going on in this country, and sometimes that’s all people need to help them deal with their stress.
And that pretty much wraps it up for our year in tech. Again, not exactly the most exciting or even uplifting affair, but we can only hope 2020 will be better, especially since no one can bare things getting any worse! And we know we missed a few other things, from Enzo Ishall inspired dance challenges to our first e-sports professional in Zim, but we thought the entries we put were the best and most impactful ones we could present to you.
Tell us any moments in tech you think we missed in the comments or on our socials, and have a blessed Holiday Season.