'Opening Up Spaces': The Politics of Black Economic Empowerment and Indigenization in the Telecommunications Industry in Post-Independence Zimbabwe.

Author:Mpondi, Douglas
Position:Report
 
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Introduction: The Political Economy of Telecommunication Reforms in Post-Independence Zimbabwe

With the coming of independence in 1980, the new government of Zimbabwe set upon an ambitious plan of reconstruction that included telecommunications reforms, land distribution, mass educational reforms and access to health for all citizens. The new government had a socialist orientation and this led to the nationalization and centralization of the economy along with five-year development plans. The telecommunications sector that include telephone and broadcasting was a critical area of social transformation as open access to information was conducive to development and social change. The government monopolized the sector by controlling the issuance of telephone and broadcasting licenses. The government did not issue new licenses for the broadcasting and telephone services to private players during the first decade of independence. This has led to Strive Masiyiwa challenging the state monopoly in the courts and clandestine radio stations started beaming from outside Zimbabwe using the shortwave system. According to Hammar, Raftopoulos and Jensen (2003):

In the 1980's the signs for Zimbabwe's growth and stability looked encouraging: new government focused on reconstruction, reconciliation and redistribution under an apparently socialist banner carefully tempered by pragmatism. A political priority for the new government, driving years of armed struggle was to reverse seven decades of racially biased inequalities in land and asset distribution, and to bestow fundamental civic and human rights on all its citizens. Sovereignty formed the centerpiece of the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist rhetoric used by Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) to counter critics of their revived land revolution and new brand of authoritarian nationalism. The new government focused on the nationalization of the economy including the telecommunications sector. The 'anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric' meant that the flow of information has to be controlled and regulated by the government. This led the government of Robert Mugabe to have a grip and state monopoly on telecommunication policies. The privatization of the telecommunication sector was viewed as a drawback to the aims and objectives of the revolution and against the political engagement of a one party state. The revolution had to have one voice and the ZANU PF party was both the ruling party and the spokesman for the interests of the majority. Makhaya and Roberts (2003) argue that 'the main focus of governments trying to develop an information infrastructure in developing countries will usually be on increasing access to telecommunications, given the low levels of provision in these countries' (p.45).

At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had only one fixed line operator, the Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (PTC), inherited from the colonial system. It was not until 1996 that Zimbabwe started operating mobile cellular telephone services through the government-run Net*One. McCormick (2003) states that the telecommunications sector acts as a catalyst and facilitates and integrates the economy:

The telecommunications sector is decisive in enabling countries to achieve socio-economic goals as well as compete in the international economy, since effective use of electronic communication permits improved coordination and configuration of goods and services. The telecommunications network is arguably the most fundamental infrastructure with a pervasive effect on the performance of the economy (p.98). The development of the new nation of Zimbabwe realized that improved communication services were going to help in developing the erstwhile colonial economy after almost one hundred years of British colonialism. The political direction of the economy expected the telecommunication sector to toe the government's left leaning policies and ideology that was premised on socialism and communism. Mugabe's forced resignation as the President of Zimbabwe in November 2017 was a result of a struggle of the political elites fighting for the control of power and resources that sustain the patronage system in Zimbabwe.

Literature Review: History of communications and telecommunications in Zimbabwe

The Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (PTC) was the regulatory authority for the telecommunications sector in Zimbabwe since colonial times. Howard and Mazaheri (2009) points that 'for many years in many countries, the telecommunications regulator was a political agency under the direct supervision of the executive of government, and its appointments both a political sinecure and a means of shoring up control of public assets' (p.1161). It was not surprising that in post-independent Zimbabwe, the government continued with the colonial structure of monopoly in the telecommunications sector. Djiofack-Zebaze and Keck (2009) assert that:

National monopolies that have dominated the industry in almost all countries until the mid-1990s have been faced with competition and in many countries have been privatized. Traditionally, telecommunications systems in Africa were run by the government. The existing telecommunications infrastructure of the colonial era was inherited by the state after countries became independent (p.919-920). The Postal and Telecommunication Act of 2000 in Zimbabwe ended the monopoly of PTC and provided for the creation of the Postal and Communications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), which was created to ensure a level playing field in the posts and telecommunications sector. The 'legislation brought about a new institutional framework for telecommunications: Liberalized the sector and introduced distinct roles of government, regulator, operators, and consumers' (Sirewu, 2011, p.2).

POTRAZ's mandate include: ensuring provision of sufficient domestic and international telecommunication services; ensuring provision of services at rates consistent with the provision of an efficient andcontinuous service; promoting the development of the sector services in accordance with: Practicable recognised international standards and Public demand; to represent Zimbabwe internationally in matters relating to the sector; further the advancement of technology; establish, approve of controls; the National Numbering plan; manage the Radio Frequency Resource, and advise the Government on all mattersrelating to the telecommunication services (Sirewu, 2011, p.2-4)

The government of Zimbabwe 'currently controls the Information and Communications Technology regulatory agencies which include POTRAZ, Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and the Media and Information Commission (MIC). (African Development Bank, 2012, p.2). Even with the 'opening up' of the playing field, the government continues to control the ICT sector in Zimbabwe through draconian laws and indigenization policies meant to prevent private players from getting licenses to run their own broadcasting services and other ICT companies:

Until 1993, telecommunications services in Zimbabwe were the exclusive responsibility of the Zimbabwe Post and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC). In the 13 years since independence, the PTC had not succeeded in its mission of making telecommunications accessible to the masses. In 1993, the country had only 145,000 fixed telephone lines, with a penetration of 1.3 telephones per 100 people, a waiting list of 95,000 and very poor quality of voice transmission. In spite of this poor service, there were a series of factors motivating Mugabe and his regime to maintain monopoly control.(Goodstein and Velamuri, 2009, p.497) It is surprising that a country such as Zimbabwe that started on a promising note took a long time to open up spaces for both broadcasting and telephone services. Braathen (2004), in comparing Zimbabwe and Mozambique claims that 'Zimbabwe's slow digitalization was due to the dominance of neo-patrimonialism, and Mozambique's rapid digitalization was due to advanced professionalism' (p.32).

Developing countries, especially in Africa, have undertaken reforms aimed at 'corporatisation, privatisation, and liberalisation of telecommunications services' (Makhaya & Roberts, 2003, p.42). The Zimbabwean government, while eager for the masses to have access to communication tended to 'choke' the privatization and liberalization of the telecommunications sector. In developing societies such as Zimbabwe, 'competition and regulation are associated with lower prices and improved availability of telecommunication services' (Djiofack-Zebaze & Keck, 2009, p.929).

When most African countries gained their independence from European colonial rule in the 1960s, the euphoria that swept across the continent was infectious. All over the continent the new national leaders, in their inaugural addresses, thanked and praised their people for their support in united common struggles, stressing that:

The victory belonged to every one of them, and pledged their governments to economic self-reliance through indigenous control of resources, to the rehabilitation of African cultural identity, and to programs of detribalization, democratic modernization, and equal opportunity" (Wright:1997:1). With independence, therefore, there was an effort by the Zimbabwean leadership to rid themselves of colonial structures and establish more participatory political and economic institutions by restoring a sense of self-belonging and community after all those years under the yoke of colonialism. Zimbabwe experienced colonialism for almost one hundred years, far much longer than most African countries. The coming of independence was a time for reconstructing what was destroyed during the period of colonial rule and struggle for nation. Muzondidya (2009) posits that:

The major challenge confronting the post-independence government of ZANU (PF) in 1980 was nation-building in a society...

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