Catching up with Southern African Tech
The past few months in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has seen 3 regime changes in prominent countries in the region. The military coup d’état (which was vehemently denied by the Military when they took over local TV airwaves at 4 am) in Zimbabwe which saw Robert Gabriel Mugabe resign after ruling the country first as Prime Minister from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017 was a significant event in the region as for much of the technological era, Zimbabwe has had one leader. A by-election which is usually common in most countries when a President resigns or dies in office never came for Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa was sworn in on 24 November and immediately declared that Zimbabwe was open for business.
In an effort to re-engage with the world with the aim of reviving Zimbabwe's economy, Mnangagwa has cut new trade deals with Belarus, Russia and China. A positive step taken by President Mnangagwa was the amendment of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, a controversial law which allowed the Government to take over and control many foreign-owned companies in Zimbabwe. Specifically, over 51 percent of all the businesses in the country could be transferred into ‘local African hands.’ The bill defines an indigenous Zimbabwean as “any person who before the 18th of April 1980 was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person.” For foreign companies looking to bring tech to Zimbabwe or build a base providing jobs, this law was seen as problematic. In his first 100 days, President Mnangagwa ensured this Act was amended. This is a positive step for Zimbabwe in rebuilding its economy. As of March 2018, Zimbabwe now has 13 operating Tech Hubs.
A positive sign in Zimbabwe announced recently was that Zimbabwe would be following fellow SADC member states Zambia & Swaziland by utilising technology from Ipsidy, an American company to use fingerprint identification technology during the 2018 General Elections. Ipsidy will supply de-duplication hardware and software which will include an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (“AFIS”). Ipsidy CTO Thomas Szoke while commenting on the contract said it, “represents the continued recognition of the efficacy and value of Ipsidy’s identification platform, software and services in the African election market.”
In December 2017, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa held their congress where a new leader was voted to lead the party. Like déjà vu; the sitting President was replaced by his Vice President. A familiar story in South Africa as in 2009, sitting President Thabo Mbeki was replaced by his former Vice President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Fast forward to 2018, Jacob Zuma resigns with impeachment looming and corruption charges. Former Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa would succeed Zuma in February 2018. Markets rallied strongly the day after Ramaphosa assumed the presidency with stocks rising by 5% and the Rand reaching its firmest since early 2015.
With South Africa chairing SADC this year, it was no surprise that President Ramaphosa prioritised his first visits to Angola, Botswana and Namibia with an official tour. The three countries play an important role in SADC with Angola chairing the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation; Botswana is home of the SADC Secretariat; and Namibia is set to chair SADC in 2019. But with intra-SADC trade only accounting for 15% to 17% of member states trade portfolio, there is hope the new regimes will aim to improve this. Most SADC countries still predominately trade with former colonial ties and Asia.
President Rapamphosa who recently attended the African Continental Free trade Area Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda voiced his support for a unified African currency:
But South African economist Thabi Leoka, who has researched the impact of a single African currency, has her doubts about the implementation, management and execution of a single digital currency for Africa.
It was no surprise in 2018 that Botswana, deemed one of Africa's beacons of Democracy, the constitution was followed and Botswana made way to elect it’s 5th President; Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi. As former Minister of Education, it will be interesting to see what steps President Masisi takes on improving Botswana. For SADC states, the democratic process of Botswana should be the standard across the region to ensure leaders don’t overcome their welcome or amend the constitution to hold onto power. Gambia saw the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deploy troops after former President Yahya Jammeh refused to recognise election results and make way for Adama Barrow. Although SADC intervention was not required in any of the elections, the assassination of Lesotho Army Lt Gen Khoantle Motsomotso in September 2017 led to SADC troops from Angola, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia & Zimbabwe being deployed into the region to ensure stability.
It’s not all doom & gloom!
Google Launchpad Accelerator
Google recently announced that 12 startups in Africa will participate in their inaugural Google Launchpad Accelerator class being held in Lagos, Nigeria. The program is aimed at assisting startups in utilising the latest Google technology to scale up their business and provide mentoring. Of the 12 startups chosen, SADC is represented by Tanzanian company Tango TV; the leading video on demand service for African Swahili content and South Africas Swift Vee (Livestock); an agri-platform addressing water scarcity, food security and market efficiency for the livestock sector.
FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme
Launched in 2017, the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme supports female-owned businesses within the bioscience space in the SADC region. They successfully raised £295,000 (R5,000,000) for this years round. In 2017, they held 6 workshops across the region in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa with startups receiving grants. For 2018, the program will be running in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe but countries across the SADC block are encouraged to apply.
By Stephen Chapendama