THE Minister of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), Jenfan Muswere, has effectively gone missing in action during the time the nation should be benefiting from hands-on ICTs solutions that help individuals and businesses work from home, manage and track Covid-19 data using ICTs as well as ensure cost-effective online educational solutions are available.
There have been calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to look beyond his immediate clansmen and family friends when making Cabinet decisions, and nowhere has it become clearer than in the ICTs portfolio, where Zimbabweans on Twitter have begun asking that Muswere be replaced by former Cabinet Minister Supa Mandiwanzira.
Muswere, who is close friends and business buddies with one of the President’s children, was expected to have done better considering his young age which some hoped could have helped him grasp immediate ICT needs of a nation facing the Covid-19 pandemic, but it seems he has let even his most avid supporters – and the President himself – down by hiding himself from the face of the Earth at a time the nation should have been seeing innovations from his portfolio.
The ICTs Ministry since the days of the Government of National Unity (GNU) has as a matter of principle been handled by fairly younger politicians, and a bit of histroy here will do justice to this article.
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Alliance leader, was the ICTs Minister during the GNU era and did a decent job in the period after 2009 and leading to the 2013 elections when his party then left Government.
His time in the Ministry saw rapid growth in cellphone usage in Zimbabwe, the evolution of fintech and mobile money such as EcoCash and their effectiveness in solving payments challenges the nation faced.
Chamisa also oversaw the massive reduction in the cost of internet services in Zimbabwe, making connectivity possible for the country’s schools, medical facilities as well as previously marginalized sectors of society.
Post-GNU, then President Robert Mugabe appointed Supa Mandiwanzira, the Zanu-PF legislator for Nyanga South, to the portfolio, and the trajectory left by Chamisa continued at an unprecedented scale as data cost went further down as Mandiwanzira pushed for infrastructure sharing among service providers.
ICTs hubs were opened across the country, making pupils in Gokwe, Rushinga, Jotsholo and Chiredzi able to get into the www information super (or Supa?) highway.
Favorable government policies saw optic Fibre being installed by internet service providers, backed by loans and own funds as well, much to the benefit of Zimbabwe’s people and businesses at large.
A good number of Zimbabweans who have a home Wi-Fi connection today most probably had it installed during this era. Enter President Mnangagwa in November 2017…
Mandiwanzira, a very effective operator wjo mingles easily with the most common of man or woman, remained at the helm of the Ministry between November up until the July 2018 elections, becoming one of the several that President Mnangagwa didn’t “shuffle” as he navigated his first months in State House.
After the elections, Mandiwanzira was replaced by Kazembe Kazembe.
Whilst Supa’s career started off being a well-renowned radio journalist, Kazembe Kazembe’s career started off being a school teacher before he set up a very successful business in automation, biometrics and security systems.
At face value, it probably looked like Kazembe was more qualified for this job than his predecessor and believed that made him a good appointment, without taking anything away from Supa Mandiwanzira who also has one of the biggest independent media businesses in Zimbabwe.
President Mnangagwa’s early days were filled with the term “technocrat” as many Zimbabweans wrongly thought making good policies or being a competent minister requires technical expertise or knowledge.
In that wave that was sweeping across the country, Supa Mandiwanzira was easily replaced and went quietly into his business and duty as MP, or whatever he is doing at the moment, without as much as an outcry from the public.
Besides, Kazembe came loaded with degresss that seemed to matter in his new Ministerial posting:
- Tertiary: MBA (Africa University), B. Tech Degree in Marketing (Technikon SA) Graduate Diploma in Marketing (IMM) SA, Electrical Power Engineering (Harare Institute of Technology), Data Communication and Networking (University of Zimbabwe), B.Tech Level 5 in CCTV surveillance ( TAVCOM Training College, UK)
- Access Control Systems & Biometrics – Impro SA, Access Control Systems – GYYR, UK Electronics/Mechanical Technologies Rotor Spinning Machines (Rieter, Switzerland) Milestone X-Protect CCTV systems, Milestone. Work Environment Management (Harare Institute of Technologies) Electrical Artisan Class 1 – Ministry of Labour & Manpower Development Refrigeration – Harare Institute of technology
If there was need for proof that qualifications on paper are just that – paper – the proof was there for all to see as Kazembe sidi virtually nothing while at the helm of the ICTs Ministry for the year he was in charge.
His reign saw internet data costs oscillating from pillar to post, while the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) failed to stamp its authority on the service providers or to provide them with a reasonable working environment.
Mobile network operators like Telecel and NetOne, who had become viable options and challengers to the Econet stranglehold on the market, began sinking into a hell-hole that has continued swallowing them even to this day.
The small start-ups and families that had installed internet facilities at their homes began pulling out altogether as it became difficult to plan and manage costs of data due to unreliable data pricing methods.
When Kazembe was replaced by Muswere, his deputy and understudy after the 2018 elections, a ray of hope might have shone through considering Muswere had the youth on his side. It was expected he would do light work of the Ministry, as internet usage has been heavily tilted on the younger age groups at the individual level.
It’s been over six months now since Muswere took over, and the guy has been a huge disappointment. He comes from a human resources background, but even that is immaterial for now as Cabinet postings have proven to be more than just a matter of degrees.
Never mind that he seemed unsure what Artificial Intelligence (AI) was when representing Zimbabwe at an international event in Europe, Muswere has completely been wrongfooted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses need reliable internet facilities to ensure workers generate revenue from home. The nation needs smart solutions to help manage the pandemic, tracking and storing data on patients, generating virus heat maps and ensuring medical frontline health care workers can plan ahead.
Schools and universities in other countries, even sub-Saharan nations, have now looked up to their ICTs infrastructure to help keep the children learning, and businesses generating revenue.
If ever there was proof that Muswere has failed to fill the shoes left by his predecessors, Mandiwanzira in particular, Muswere’s shortcomings are evident now. Schools can’t implement home-based online learning because data prices have shot through the roof and the pricing model is unpredictable. Businesses too have to make do with the same unpredictable policy direction, or complete lack of it.
The whole ICTs portfolio is on autopilot, and the nation is bleeding revenues while businesses which could have easily gone online to save jobs risk sinking into oblivion.
One observer of this glaring shortcoming was Tichaona Zindoga, the former Herald Editor, who posted on social networking site Twitter: “Zim could as well have an absent ICT Minister. What has this Muswere guy done in this fertile #COVIDー19 to promote digital and ICT solutions by companies and start ups? What of access to, and usage of ICT? A @SupaCollinsM (where is he?) could have done a decent job, no doubt.”
Prominent analyst Alexander Rusero also had this to say, in response to Zindoga: “True, even the neglect of universities and schools and a time Online learning has become the norm, not even a shrill voice from him. Table manners I guess – kudya hake anyere.”
If this doesn’t aptly capture the state of Zimbabwe’s ICTs Ministry, then we are not sure what does.
When Zimbabwe entered into the first three weeks of lockdown beginning April, President Mnangagwa went across the country ostensibly to see the way citizens were coping under the lockdown.
Many observers thought an ICT-driven method to that would have saved the President some travel, as drones and bots were better placed to do that at a cheaper cost.
The nation needs its ICTs department to provide solutions that save jobs and lives, and it’s a huge disservice that the shortcomings are getting more glaring by the day. – Zimbabwe Voice