The Digital Revolution is on the horizon. As the world begins to adapt and look towards the future post-COVID-19, I wanted to look at how countries such as Zimbabwe can use this opportunity to move the country forward into a new age. Zimbabwe recently celebrated its 40th year of Independence in April 2020 and although the celebrations were muted due to the pandemic, over the last 40 years, Zimbabwe has been one of the most important countries in the Southern African Development Community. But in these 40 years, a lack of investment in infrastructure and moving with the digital age has hindered the progression of the country, and as we look to the next 40 years, what changes post-COVID can we look at to help Zimbabwe.


According to UNESCO Zimbabwe has an adult literacy rate of 88.69%. While the male literacy rate is 89.19%, for females is 88.28%. With remote learning and access now looking like a huge part of education in the future, Government initiatives should look to start supporting startups and infrastructure projects in this space so as to maintain such a high literacy rate and ensure education is accessible for all. But one stumbling block, not common to just Zimbabwe, is the high cost of data. A new study has analysed information from 6,313 mobile data plans across 230 countries in order to compare the cost of 1GB (Gigabyte) of mobile data (mobile broadband) around the entire world. Zimbabwe unfortunately in 2019 had the highest cost of 1GB of data in the world. Factors such as low penetration of internet in the landlocked country are not helping to make the internet more accessible. But this low internet penetration doesn’t reflect the appetite of the country. If we analyse data from Data Reportal focused on mobile phone usage in 2020, we can see that in Zimbabwe, there were 12.18 million mobile connections in January 2020. The number of mobile connections in Zimbabwe in January 2020 was equivalent to 83% of the total population. To put this into context, whilst internet connection prices remain high, Zimbabweans continue to use mobile phones utilizing technologies such as SMS based e-wallets as a way to handle mobile money. In a post COVID world, will countries require physical cash as much as we do?


Over the years, Zimbabwe has allowed multiple currencies as legal tender. From paying in  US dollars and then receiving your change in the Zimbabwe bond note mixed with South African rands. In 2018, Zimbabwe reverted back to using its own currency, and post-COVID, investment in telecommunications has the potential to increase the accessibility of cashless e-wallets across the country. The doors and opportunities this will open will be a much-needed boost to the economy as more areas are able to gain access to new spending and receiving technologies. With such investment, comes an opportunity to also propel a modern Zimbabwe into the internet age. With the world becoming more adoptive of remote working, a digitally enabled Zimbabwe will also help propel the nation into being the SADC destination of choice for businesses. Internet-connected wallets also present an opportunity for the diaspora to invest in Zimbabwe through remittance. As Government departments adopt the digital strategies being pushed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, it will present the opportunity for the government to leverage the diaspora and create schemes where citizens abroad can support a family in Zimbabwe.


Recently, World Remit, one of the largest online money transfer platforms released their 2020 financial report and it brought some insight into the flow of money from the diaspora, back into Africa. World Remit offers users in the diaspora a cashless solution to send money to Africa, often partnering up with local businesses (e.g. M-Pesa — Kenya, EcoCash — Zimbabwe) to provide mobile money or cash. The top nations from which people are sending money to Africa are the United States of America, Australia, Canada, and Sweden, with the UK sending the most remittances (via WorldRemit). The top receiving African nations are Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Collectively, including other remittance platforms, the value of remittances is three times larger than official development assistance (ODA), and has been forecasted to become higher than foreign direct investment for a handful of African countries in the near future.


Zimbabwe has a bright future, the time is now for Zimbabwe to start investing in infrastructure to maintain the country’s high literacy rates by ensuring that post COVID, citizens are not left out from digital transformation. Telecommunication companies must now look to enhance their growth and strategy to include rural areas and ensure that access to 3G and SMS is widely available. The government should also look to regulate the telecommunications industry and ensure that pricing is fair and open. NGOs and Business hubs should now be looking at how they can also play their part, working with small businesses and entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe and ensuring they will have the right support to still continue to build the business sector in Zimbabwe. And with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement currently postponed due to the pandemic, infrastructure improvement, i.e., roadworks will be important in the months ahead in preparation to connect landlocked Zimbabwe to its neighbours. Facebook recently announced itself as one of the key delivery partners in the 2Africa project. The 2Africa project, championed by a group of telecom giants including China Mobile International, aims to bridge the digital gap and accelerate internet speed in Africa.


2Africa is expected to be one of the largest submarine cables in the world, linking up both West and East Africa, and will connect around 23 countries, starting with the UK and ending in Spain. For countries such as Zimbabwe who are not geographically blessed to be involved in this project, it will now see its neighbours such as Mozambique and South Africa benefit from 4G & 5G technology, which will be a great boost to the economy. But by being able to invest in the fibre cables in the future, there is nothing stopping Zimbabwe from joining this digital revolution


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Future Africa Forum.