Do the people of Zimbabwe generally pay for computer software? This is a question which you may have asked yourself if you have ever considered making money from software or are just wondering how many of your fellow countrymen are as naughty as yourself. Well, the answer to that last part is that you are probably in good—or more fittingly “bad”—company. If a series of damning reports by the Business Software Alliance over the past few years are anything to go by, Zimbabwe is to software piracy what Somalia is to the maritime kind.

The 2018 Global Software Survey estimated that around 89% of all the software installed on Zimbabwean computers is pirated. This means that as a rule, if you demand payment for your software in Zimbabwe, it will either wallow in obscurity or get pirated into oblivion.

The causes

There are several factors which have contributed towards Zimbabwe attaining the dubious title of being a hotbed of software piracy—though if we are being honest, far lot more than just software gets pirated in the country.

Culture

I cannot discuss all the other factors which contribute towards piracy in the country without first pointing out that all those other factors have over the years led to the development of, for lack of better words, a culture of piracy. A culture of piracy, much like that of corruption in high places, developed because the practice became so pervasive and widespread that it gained a life of its own. Piracy in Zimbabwe has become so commonplace and widespread that doing the opposite (i.e. actually paying for the software you use) can seem extravagant and wasteful.

Lax enforcement of copyright laws

Zimbabwe has a couple of laws which are supposed to protect intellectual property rights such as copyright. However, as evidenced by the sheer amount of pirated material which once used to line our sidewalks, law enforcement agents i.e. the ZRP is ill-equipped to deal with piracy.

If the bodies which represent local artists—mostly musicians— have repeatedly fought and lost the battle to contain the scourge of piracy in the country, then there is very little hope for software development companies, much less foreign ones. To illustrate this, in Zimbabwe you can very publicly advertise your small business of installing pirated software onto people’s computers without anyone batting an eyelid (unless you are considered too expensive).

Software is too expensive

A more understandable (but still reprehensible) reason for the prevalence of piracy in Zimbabwe is that locals are expected to pay the same price as their counterparts in more developed countries for the same software products. The problem is that for many Zimbabweans, owning a computer in the first place is an achievement; having to also pay a steep fee for the software to use on the said computer becomes too much of an ask for many. This eventually drives locals towards free pirated software.

The demand for payment methods which are not accessible to Zimbabweans

Nowadays software is distributed via the internet rather than through physical channels. This has allowed software companies to be paid directly for their products. Unfortunately, even during the multicurrency era, very few Zimbabweans had ready access to international payment methods such as VISA or Mastercard. The fact that there are far more computer users in the country than there are users of international debit and/or credit cards does not bode well for international software companies which expect payment from Zimbabweans and yet still take this for granted.

Who is affected?

The biggest losers in terms of lost revenue are international software companies but the amount lost to Zimbabwean piracy is practically insignificant compared to that which is gained from the bigger and more lucrative markets of other countries. It is the Zimbabwean developers—both individuals and companies—who end up suffering the most since they can’t use their own country as a launchpad for any of their paid software products.

Possible solutions

Authorized dealers of software in the country

One way international software companies can reduce the amount of potential revenue which they are leaking in the country due to piracy is to engage local companies which will act as their agents or dealers. These dealers can then market and sell their software products to Zimbabweans via channels which are most accessible to the country’s populace.

Use of local payment methods

The previously mentioned dealers can also be engaged to set up platforms which will allow Zimbabweans to pay for software using the country’s own most commonly used payment methods such as Ecocash.

Pricing for Zimbabwe

In the same way that some books are priced differently depending on where they are being sold, international software companies can try to set lower prices for their customers in Zimbabwe and other less developed countries.

Embracing cloud computing/SaaS

Software as a service (SaaS) applications is those which are accessed via the internet, usually using a browser. In recent years, everything from CAD to POS software has become available as SaaS applications. The developer or provider of a SaaS application usually has complete control over who can access it and any kind of unauthorized use is virtually impossible. This means that it is far much easier to ensure that whoever uses your software has your blessing to do so.