Earlier this month we saw the outage of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The outage took about 6 hours plunging billions of people worldwide onto their knees. This was the first time all 3 platforms ever went down at once. About 2 years ago, there was a Facebook that lasted 24 good hours. WhatsApp has 2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has around 1.3 monthly active users. Instagram has about 1 billion monthly active users. Looking at those numbers it is clear many people rely on these platforms. Their going down made plain how unhealthy people’s dependence on these platforms is. We need to start shifting towards homegrown Zimbabwean digital solutions.
Do We Have Zimbabwean Digital Solutions?
During the outage, I noticed there were discussions around the subject of looking inwards. We would not have been bothered if we had our platforms. So people started talking about the importance of having our own. Others then questioned whether we did have our platforms. The answer is, interestingly, we do have some homegrown Zimbabwean digital solutions. I can even cite some examples for you:
Dandaro Online – this is Zimbabwe’s very own social media platform. Most of you use Facebook regularly. Dandaro Online offers you that social media experience you get on Facebook. When Facebook was down, Dandaro Online was up and running but seems most people are yet to know about it. You can access the Dandaro Online social media platform here. It is accessible as a web app or mobile app.
Sasai – this is your all in one app where you can pay, chat, and explore. In essence, you can chat, send, and receive money, pay bills, make mobile payments, and more. You could say it is like your WhatsApp but with more features. You can explore more about it here. It is accessible as a web app or mobile app.
Etsocial – this is a social media network where you can connect with friends, share photos, videos, get news, buy and sell online, plus more. You can learn more about it and sign up here. It is accessible as a web app or mobile app.
These are just 3 examples I have shared with you. There are countless other examples of Zimbabwean digital solutions for many different areas. Suffice to say we do have a considerable number of our homegrown digital solutions.
Where Are We Missing It?
The obvious question here is why such platforms not getting popular in Zimbabwe. The first thing that comes to mind is the mindset issue. I think there is a natural tendency by Zimbabweans to esteem foreign products or services more than local ones. It probably could be a mindset stemming from the remnants of colonialism. This is open to debate I know but there are indications in that regard.
The other issue is on the developers themselves. When you set out to develop a homegrown solution you must bear in mind the stakes are high. For example, creating a social media platform for Zimbabwe entails competing with well-established global titans such as Facebook. Thus if your solution does not measure up or exceed people will stick to what they are used to. I am sure that is where most miss it in Zimbabwe. The sole focus should not just be on the fact that this is Zimbabwean so people will love it. People are big on convenience and great service. A product or service must be better than the pre-existing ones if it is to overtake them.
I have used some Zimbabwean digital solutions that are like versions of global ones. Though I appreciate the effort and vision usually fall short in many ways. It could be a lack or inadequacy of technical expertise and also financial limitations. These issues end up leading to half-baked solutions. So this is on the developers; they must come up with solid solutions competent enough to eclipse the pre-existing ones.
The Marketing Side
This again is on the developers because it is incumbent on them to build brand awareness. During the outage, I would see people highlighting some of these Zimbabwean platforms. Interestingly, I would see several people being unaware of their existence. Ironically some of these local platforms have been around for a while yet still unknown. This shows that developers are slacking on the marketing side. They must do more to build awareness so that people know their platforms exist.
One of the challenges that impede the progress of local digital solutions is related to government policies. I think some of the ways through which local digital solutions can be widely adopted will need governmental assistance. It might be radical but necessary – open to debate of course. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Take, for example, China, which banned platforms like WhatsApp to give traction to homegrown ones like WeChat. Food for thought! Then overall, some government policies are unfriendly to the development and adoption of homegrown solutions. This can be direct or indirect and deals with so many topical issues.
In closing, we cannot ignore the effects of internet connectivity-related issues in Zimbabwe. Adopting digital solutions is out of the reach of many due to limited or erratic internet infrastructure. It is also exacerbated by the high cost of data and smartphones which translates to low internet and smartphone penetration. After all, is said and done we cannot escape the need to have and use our Zimbabwean digital solutions. It is possible and it is imperative!