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Can Zimbabwe's ICT, telecoms attract critical investment?

Can Zimbabwe's ICT, telecoms attract critical investment?

Would-be investors in Zimbabwe's ICT sector and telecommunications industry are wary, say industry insiders, because of policy uncertainty under the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led administration.

The government has reassured local operators Econet Wireless, TelOne and others, and while the market (especially telecoms and internet) is generally considered attractive to potential international investors, the government's economic policy is a key factor.

"There are opportunities in existing and new infrastructure projects in areas such as ICT, telecom and mining in Zimbabwe," said Joseph Otto, an investment specialist with London-based Mayer Brown International.

However, the country continues to experience a shortage in forex and this continues to place telecom and ISP companies under pressure, particularly in terms of payment for imports of equipment and bandwidth.

The Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) said the forex crunch has had far reaching implications for internet companies in the country.

The organisation said that Zimbabwean ISP, Africom, had been disconnected by a large bandwidth supplier for failure to settle its foreign payments obligations.

"Mobitel, Mozambique disconnected Africom as a result of Africom's failure to pay bandwidth costs because of the current foreign currency shortages," read an excerpt from a recent industry report.

Economists say Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa has to stick to policy pronouncements made during the campaign trail to help the country unlock its potential for the telecom sector.

This includes opening up the investment framework, reforming policies and aligning new legislations.

"You cannot pay lip service to issues to do with investment attraction into ICT and telecom. People need to know what they should expect when coming to invest and policies should not be changed over-night. We need certainty and clarity on such policy fronts to promote growth and investment in ICTs," said independent economist Moses Moyo.

During his state of the nation address Mnangagwa sought to re-assure potential and existing investors, saying that the new legislature will prioritise the ICT sector and also protect consumer rights.

He also highlighted that the "development and modernisation of ICT infrastructure will be accelerated" and re-assured investors that his government will "continue to ensure policy consistency, transparency and predictability, underpinned by fiscal discipline, hard honest work and a responsive bureaucracy".

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