Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe flag

Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, was one of the last countries to gain its independence from colonial rule in 1980. Prior to independence Zimbabwe had a diversified economy, well developed infrastructure, and an advanced financial sector. It is now one of Africa’s poorest countries.

Harare_Zimbabwe_2010-5The current president, Robert Mugabe, has been in power during most of Zimbabwe’s short history. Mugabe’s time as leader of Zimbabwe has been controversial. Mugabe faces claims of human rights violations, corruption, and his economic policies have been questioned. The Mugabe administration redistributed commercial farms owned by non-black-African farmers to native Zimbabweans and many in the international community have also claimed he is racist to minority whites because of his “Indigenization” policies, which gave Black Zimbabweans the right to take over and control many foreign and white owned businesses.

Welcome to Zimbabwe

Mugabe recently gained a new term as president during heated elections in 2013. Leaders of the opposition party, the MDC, claimed that Mugabe and his party, the Zanu-PF, fraudulently stole the election even though results showed a landslide victory for the 91 year old Mugabe.

Business Environment

Zimbabwe has a population of over 13 million and English is the official language with multiple dialects being spoken throughout the country. Zimbabwe, like much of Africa, has a large youth population with 62% of the country under the age of 24.

Youth in ZimbabweZimbabwe remains one of the world’s least free economies. The labor market is one of the most restricted in the world, and business licensing forces most workers to seek employment in the informal sector. The violent seizure of land through the indigenization policy has underscored poor government land reform policies and upset investor confidence in a once-vibrant agricultural sector. Prior to the land reform Zimbabwe was a major tobacco producer and a bread basket for surrounding countries.

 Zimbabwe’s economy had a decade of contraction from 1998-2008 followed by hyperinflation in 2009. The country  was ravaged by hyperinflation, which officially reached 500 trillion per cent in 2008. The economy started to stabilize between years 2009-2012 but appears to be backsliding at this time.

Zimbabwe does not have its own currency and uses eight others as legal tender, with the US dollar and South African rand most commonly used. By 2009 the worthless Zimbabwe dollar was replaced by a multi-currency system based largely on the American dollar. The switch to the American dollar brought stability, but at a cost. As the dollar rises in value against other currencies in the region, such as South Africa’s rand, it makes Zimbabwean business less competitive.

Zimbabwe has a huge informal economy with unemployment as high as 95%. 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. Zimbabwe has its share of problems from political violence, human rights violations, land reforms, and an economic collapse but it also has hope and opportunity. Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s highest literacy rates at over 90%. The population is usually better educated than the African average, making the people one of the greatest assets of the country. It also has a growing telecommunications and mobile money industry.

Zimbabwe mobile market look

Zimbabwe has a mobile penetration rate of 104%. There are currently 13.5 million subscribers and the largest telecommunications company is Econet, with 9 million subscribers. There are over 5 million mobile data subscribers with 98% of those subscribers accessing the internet via their mobile device. The current internet penetration rate in Zimbabwe is 64%.

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Zimbabweans have very little confidence in their formal banking sector. A record number of banks have failed in the last decade. Apart from that, many account holders lost fortunes to the banking sector when the Zimbabwean economy crashed in 2009. Not a single penny of the Zimbabwean dollar value held by the banks was paid to account holders when the country changed over to the US dollar. The adoption of the US dollar has brought about its own headaches to the Zimbabwean economy. Major problems include illiquidity and the lack of small denominations. Getting change when transacting is therefore a problem. This kind of environment has favored the widespread use of mobile money –which is cashless.

Zimbabwe is one of nine countries in the world where more people use mobile money than have bank accounts. According to a study conducted by FBC Securities in October 2014, only 14% of Zimbabwe’s 13 million population have bank accounts (approximately 1.8 million Zimbabweans). The country’s three mobile network service providers (Econet, Telecel and Netone) dominate the mobile money sector. Econet through its EcoCash brand is by far the biggest mobile money service brand in Zimbabwe. EcoCash pioneered the service in the country and enjoys all the first mover advantages. It has made a significantly higher investment into brand and platform awareness than any other player allowing EcoCash to become a household name. Econet Wireless has 3 million registered users for its mobile money product and now accounts for about 20% of payments and purchases in Zimbabwe.

EcoCash, offering domestic P2P money transfer services, is just the first step towards a much bigger goal: becoming the dominant payment system in Zimbabwe for the banked and unbanked alike. EcoCash is currently targeting two pain points with major commercial opportunity: enabling retail payments to merchants and creating a bridge between the informal and formal sectors. To capitalize on these opportunities, EcoCash is building two important structures: a merchant acceptance network and full interoperability with Zimbabwe’s banks. EcoCash sees interoperability with banks as the key to linking Zimbabwe’s formal and informal economies. There is substantial demand for payment services between these sectors, with money flowing between banked and unbanked families, and between unbanked individuals and the formal sector in the form of retail payments, school fees, and utility bills.

The key regulators in Zimbabwe include The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for the financial sector and Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) a telecommunication regulator for the communications sector. Regulation has lagged behind the technological innovations happening in the telecom/mobile money sector. Initially, the Post and Telecommunications board had oversight over the activities of the mobile network service providers but with the emergence of the mobile money –the central bank has also become involved. The responsibilities of the two regulatory authorities overlap and of late they have been fighting for turf at the expense of developing the mobile money sector.

City of HarareIn the last decade Zimbabwe has seen the worst and is hoping the future will be better. Things are still on the brink, as the current backsliding of the economy has shown, and many are confident things will change once Mugabe is no longer in power, which may happen soon considering his advanced age. There can be no question that certain policies, such as the land reform policy, have hurt the Zimbabwean economy and its people. The growth of the telecommunications and mobile money sector gives the country hope that it is turning a corner and that the future will truly be better than the recent past!

Anthony Bio for Blogs