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Information technology for Zimbabwe's future - Interview with Limbikani Makani, founding editor TechZim
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
October 26, 2011

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Inside/Out with Limbikani Makani - Read more

Limbikani Makani is a technology entrepreneur who is working tirelessly to build a vibrant start-up culture in Zimbabwe. He is the founder of ZimLyrics, host on and the founding editor of the Technology Zimbabwe (TechZim) blog. Limbikani is also one of the convenors of Barcamp Zimbabwe incorporating the start up challenge. Techzim has become a widely read news blog focusing on IT news, product reviews and Internet services in Zimbabwe.

What was your first experience of the Internet like?
That was back in 2001. I was working for a guy who had a couple of supermarkets and a bar in Gweru. I worked for him as a clerk. He bought a dial up package, and he'd check his email on Yahoo. He actually didn't want me to use his computer except to compile numbers and so on. So one day I was working and then I thought let me click on the Internet icon, and it connected. So on comes AltaVista and I started entering stuff, like trees and cars . . . all this information came up. It was a religious experience. I thought the amount of planning and books I'd need to have just to get the same kind of information from the nearest college or library.

Eventually, I started thinking about the possibility of creating something online. If you remember there was a tool back then called Yahoo geocities. I thought why not put stuff online. My friends and I enjoyed music, and I decided to put Zimbabwean lyrics online. So I created a geocities site called ShonaLyrics. I started with lyrics form Lenard Dembo, Tuku, System Tazvida and the Tazesesa Challengers. By that time there were a lot of people in the Diaspora. People started writing me letters requesting that I upload actual songs.

How did those experiences shape you and what you do today?
I had just finished high school, and I had to look for a job. I'd be lying if I said I knew what I wanted to do. So when I found the Internet, I found something that I loved. Learning how to put content on the Internet felt so good and it influenced what I studied at college. I applied to do Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and in the end I studied computer science. While in college I was maintaining and adding content to the site.

After college I worked at CARE International, and moved to Harare with the same organisation. It was very boring. I couldn't create things; I had to look after a network. My passion was geared towards using the Internet to create content. In 2009 I started blogging, and that grew into what is today Techzim.

What function do you think TechZim serves in the Zimbabwean ICT sector?
I think what the ICT sector lacks is some sort of feedback from the consumer and someone knowledgeable in the field. I've met a lot of people at technology companies like Econet, senior people who are big fans of TechZim and who give comments on stories, in confidence. I think there are a lot of good people who realise that they need the feedback, and they use the feedback. We have had newspapers like the Independent or the Daily News pick up what we have done, and they speak even louder, they have a wider readership. Listen

Your organised a Barcamp here in Zimbabwe, what were you hoping to achieve?
The point was to provide a platform for techies and entrepreneurs. We wanted to get people to know more about how other entrepreneurs are innovating. We also discussed some issues that were important to us. For example, a good business opportunity is provided by tapping into Econet's 5.4 million subscribers, or using existing platforms to create business. A lot of developers, a lot of web companies and mobile app developers are curious about those things. Barcamp was about asking those people what they cared about, and what they wanted to see. It was a place for discussion for solutions. I met a lot of incredible people. The one thing I loved was that everyone was mixing and talking regardless of race or what they've achieved. For me that was amazing. Listen

I've been following your coverage of ZISPA and domain registration. It seems to be a very Zimbabwean problem that it's an unnecessarily complicated process. What are the issues that stop ZISPA from making it simpler?
The big problem is that it's all unclear. No one knows, and the few people that do know are the ISPs that do the registration. The truth is if you go to a registrar with your paperwork, they will register you. The problem is that they don't make this information (registration requirements) available. Either they don't have the resources, or they don't want to or they're afraid. Afraid that if this becomes something that just anybody can do something negative might happen, or the resource that they've been feeding from might disappear, or it might get into the wrong hands. Because of that they're afraid to just let go. I think they can let go. Is it too expensive? It's actually not. ZISPA doesn't charge the ISPs for domain registration at all. What they charge is a membership to ZIPSA which is $30 a month, which is nothing to a big organisation like Utande or TELCO. Unfortunately, there is not enough information out there about domain registration. The ZIPSA website hasn't been updated in several years. ZISPA can immediately improve that. Secondly they can make the entire process simpler. Listen

Since you have a bird's eye view of the ICT industry what do you think were some of this year's major successes?
One is mobile money. I think it has the opportunity to do a lot of things for people who want to do transactions.

Do you think it's going to be on the same scale as M-PESA Kenya?
Just yesterday I was reading that M-PESA moved more money around than the whole of Western Union globally. M-PESA has been a huge success in terms of money and in terms of changing lives. I think mobile money has the same potential. Will it make the same money? Definitely not. Kenya has a population of 40 million; we're only 12 million. But in terms of person-to-person it will improve lives.

This is the year when companies have launched mobile broadband, and this is the one time when seven or eight million Zimbabweans have an opportunity to use their mobile phones for something other than voice. This is the year when the power of the Internet is so close to being available to everyone. It's still at a cost, but that will come down. You can explain the Internet then show a person how to use it on their device, provided it is Internet enabled. For me that's success.

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