Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

'Opening Up Spaces': The Politics of Black Economic Empowerment and Indigenization in the Telecommunications Industry in Post-Independence Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

'Opening Up Spaces': The Politics of Black Economic Empowerment and Indigenization in the Telecommunications Industry in Post-Independence Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Political Economy of Telecommunication Reforms in Post-Independence Zimbabwe

With the coming of independence in 1980, the new government of Zimbabwe set upon an ambitious plan of reconstruction that included telecommunications reforms, land distribution, mass educational reforms and access to health for all citizens. The new government had a socialist orientation and this led to the nationalization and centralization of the economy along with five-year development plans. The telecommunications sector that include telephone and broadcasting was a critical area of social transformation as open access to information was conducive to development and social change. The government monopolized the sector by controlling the issuance of telephone and broadcasting licenses. The government did not issue new licenses for the broadcasting and telephone services to private players during the first decade of independence. This has led to Strive Masiyiwa challenging the state monopoly in the courts and clandestine radio stations started beaming from outside Zimbabwe using the shortwave system. According to Hammar, Raftopoulos and Jensen (2003):

In the 1980's the signs for Zimbabwe's growth and stability looked
encouraging: new government focused on reconstruction, reconciliation
and redistribution under an apparently socialist banner carefully
tempered by pragmatism. A political priority for the new government,
driving years of armed struggle was to reverse seven decades of
racially biased inequalities in land and asset distribution, and to
bestow fundamental civic and human rights on all its citizens.

Sovereignty formed the centerpiece of the anti-colonial,
anti-imperialist rhetoric used by Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African
National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) to counter critics of their
revived land revolution and new brand of authoritarian nationalism.

The new government focused on the nationalization of the economy including the telecommunications sector. The 'anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric' meant that the flow of information has to be controlled and regulated by the government. This led the government of Robert Mugabe to have a grip and state monopoly on telecommunication policies. The privatization of the telecommunication sector was viewed as a drawback to the aims and objectives of the revolution and against the political engagement of a one party state. The revolution had to have one voice and the ZANU PF party was both the ruling party and the spokesman for the interests of the majority. Makhaya and Roberts (2003) argue that 'the main focus of governments trying to develop an information infrastructure in developing countries will usually be on increasing access to telecommunications, given the low levels of provision in these countries' (p.45).

At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had only one fixed line operator, the Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (PTC), inherited from the colonial system. It was not until 1996 that Zimbabwe started operating mobile cellular telephone services through the government-run Net*One. McCormick (2003) states that the telecommunications sector acts as a catalyst and facilitates and integrates the economy:

The telecommunications sector is decisive in enabling countries to
achieve socio-economic goals as well as compete in the international
economy, since effective use of electronic communication permits
improved coordination and configuration of goods and services. The
telecommunications network is arguably the most fundamental
infrastructure with a pervasive effect on the performance of the
economy (p.98).

The development of the new nation of Zimbabwe realized that improved communication services were going to help in developing the erstwhile colonial economy after almost one hundred years of British colonialism. The political direction of the economy expected the telecommunication sector to toe the government's left leaning policies and ideology that was premised on socialism and communism. …

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