The Road to Harare, and the Zimbabwe Tech Hubs

We made it into Harare, Zimbabwe last night after a long 17-hours traveling. Due to the rainstorm in South Africa we were forced to sleep 230km from the Beit Bridge border crossing, well shy of the 30km we had planned. The wind was blowing and gusting so hard we were forced to ride at odd angles. Eventually we were forced to call it and went to find a place to sleep by 11:30pm.

Driving at the crack of dawn

A 4am wake-up and we were traveling and at the border by 7:30am the next morning.

Beit Bridge Border

Beit Bridge border crossing is something of a legend, where you’re usual transit time is 3-5 hours, but can take up to 7-8 if you’re unlucky. The SA side was fine, taking only 20 minutes or so. We then spent the next 3 hours going through the ridiculously disorganized and obtuse Zimbabwe side, until finally we popped free.

Zimbabwean Clampetts

Zimbabwean Clampetts

Border crossings in Africa make you realize that they’re about revenue generation, not security.

Beit Bridge border crossing procedure

Beit Bridge border crossing procedure

Zimbabwe has thin but good roads, and many (15+) police checks and radar guns along the way to Harare. They really do try to stop you We got in at 9:30pm and slept almost immediately.

Roadside

Hypercube and the Zim Tech Community

Today we spend with the tech community here, with leaders from the different tech hubs in Bulawayo as well as Harare.
Zimbabwean Tech Hub leaders

Lunch with tech leaders in Zimbabwe

Lunch with tech leaders in Zimbabwe

The Tech Hubs:
@HypercubeHub
@myarea46
@MuzindaHub
@emergingideas
@Neolabtech (Bulawayo)

The most advanced one seems to be Hypercube, which has an amazing house that has been converted into a nice space. They hosted an event where I talked at length about building tech communities, startup thoughts, and what we’ve learned about building hardware through the BRCK experience.

Overall, I really like Zimbabwe and the tech community seems to have their heads and hearts in the right place. They’re working together to try to make something out of a hard situation, they’re hungry and they’re bright.

Zimbabwe has the core infrastructure necessary for real growth, and with a few changes in the business climate here I think they’re ready to take off. With their current drive and strong foundation, I think they’ve got a bright future ahead.

Quick Hits Around African Tech

South African, Matthew Buckland, has launched Memeburn a site that tracks emerging technology trends and has opinion pieces by key influencers.

Amheric/Ethiopic translations have been launched within Google’s applications.

Freedom Fone, a free and open source IVR (interactive voice response) system, which started out of Zimbabwe, has now launched. You can download v1.5 now.

Afrinnovator has launched a news aggregator for African tech news.

I was interviewed by CNBC about the iHub and Ushahidi.

Panacea, a South African mobile phone company has the first (legit) bridge between Africa and Paypal live on the continent. Finally, at least one country is able to send/receive payments via PayPal.

Kahenya, from Virn, is launching a new ad platform, called Metro, that distributes ads to all of their sites and affiliate sites. They anticipate to start Web Marketing Campaigns from as little as 500 Kenya shillings (

Watching Zimbabwe: Sokwanele Charts are Damning

Part of you wants to ignore it and hope it will go away. Zimbabwe is such a messed up place that it hurts to even think about it. In the midst of it all, one group is making sure that actions and events are being documented: Sokwanele.

It’s amazing how simple visuals can take a bunch of data and make it real. Above is a chart showing the mayhem, broken down by type. It’s a sick story, but one that can be told in almost real-time because of our current technology.

This is why mapping and other visualizations are so important. Sokwanele is simply collecting the news reports then archiving and parsing them for information. When those stories come in ones and twos throughout the week, it’s easier to ignore. When they’re put forward as a body of evidence using visuals to show their aggregate statistics, it becomes damning and impossible to ignore.

That’s a busy map above. In fact, so busy that you’ll be surprised to know that it’s just the violence that has been perpetrated since the elections at the end of March. Anyone remember the “old” map, from way back then, 3 months ago? I do, and have the screenshot below:

By the way, both of those maps only show a small sample of what is being done. Not everything is reported to news organizations or directly to Sokwanele.

Some people might ask, “But, does Sokwanele’s map help at all?” I’m guessing that it doesn’t directly. However, what it does do is proved fodder for organizations inside and out to make an even stronger case against this repressive regime.

[Note: if you can handle graphically violent images, check out Sokwanele’s Flickr stream.]

On a Personal Note
Those of us on the Ushahidi team think on this stuff a lot. We’re not off trying to win mashup competitions and raise funding for further development because we think it’s a fun startup idea. No, we’re doing this because it matters and we believe our tool will help raise awareness and empower organizations to understand and activate against wrongs.

If anything, I’m compelled more than ever to figure out how technology can continue to create change in truly screwed up places.

Online Shopping Services for the African Diaspora

There are more and more services popping up created for Africans living abroad to shop and deliver commodities to their relatives in their home country. As covered in a previous story, the sub-Saharan African remittance market is about $20 billion annually, so it only makes sense for more tech-smart businessmen to tap into this.

The lack of any cost-effective traditional money transfer service has also played a part in the creation of this financial back-channel. Africans in the diaspora can buy (or send) a wide variety of goods and services including; airtime minutes, flowers, cakes, school fees, shopping vouchers, etc… the list goes on.

Below are a couple of these websites and their respective country:

iCare – Uganda
iCare - Uganda online shopping

Happysend – Cameroon
Happysend - Cameroon online shopping

Akyedie – Ghana
Akyedie - Ghanaian online shopping

MamaMikes – Kenya
MamaMikes - Kenyan online shopping

Zimbuyer – Zimbabwe

I’m sure there will be more innovation and interesting sites building out in this place throughout the continent. In fact, I’m sure I’ve missed a great deal of the sites that are already out there. If there is a site that you think I have missed, add it to the comment area below.