Zimbabwe desperately needs a reliable mobile network operator as current crop has dismally failed!

In Zimbabwe, the cry on everyone's mouth appears to always be - "It never rains for us, but pours. Why do we have to struggle with nearly everything on a daily basis. Things that other country's citizens take for granted?"

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

 

From water taps that appear to have their own seasons – characterized by long dry spells, and occasional water here and there… with some having been experiencing continuous severe drought for years!

Then we have stubbornly persistent electricity outages – whereby, every time one decides to cook, they need to always have Plan B (usually firewood) on the ready, since even frying a simple omelette is never a guaranteed process, as power can easily go mid-cooking.

As such, after waking up early in the morning to fetch water at the nearest borehole, rushing to cook the family breakfast (whatever one can afford in an economy where over 75% of the population lives below the poverty datum line) on a hastily-made fire, and taking a bath to wash away all that smoke smell – one would expect to, at least, get down to some serious work, usually conducted online during these COVID-19 pandemic days.

However, that also comes with its own set of irritating and infuriating frustrations – because, most likely, one finds that none of the mobile network operators (MNO) is functional – which effectively renders our efforts to make a living an even bigger challenge.

Indeed, it never rains, but pours for the people of Zimbabwe!

And, this is not even in rural areas – but in towns and cities!

Oftentimes, I find myself asking – “So, what actually works in this country?”

Personally, I use all the three MNOs – not as a result of privilege, but purely a business survival strategy, since at any given time, one, two, or even all of them will be erratic at best, or dysfunctional and non-functional at worst.

This “business survival strategy” has inadvertently made me very knowledgeable about each of these MNOs weaknesses – which, as far as I am concerned, transcend the boundaries of what can be regarded as “normal challenges”, but border on unmitigated failure, due to blatant incompetence and mismanagement.

Let me start with Telecel Zimbabwe – which has been embroiled in ownership squabbles for as long as I can remember, thereby, making it the smallest and most ineffective of the three MNOs, in spite of the fact that this was the first to be licensed when mobile technology reached the country in 1996.

Who can forget the “glamorous” days of those “brick” cellphones with their “Mango” network – which became a status symbol for the well-to-do, where the Shona name “mbozhanhare” (phone for the wealthy) emanated?

Yet, today, Telecel Zimbabwe – 60% owned by Telecel International (a State-owned vehicle), and the rest by Empowerment Corporation (a consortium of various local groups) – has become a sad and pathetic shadow of its former self, having been reduced to a shameful nonentity, whose network is hardly operational even in cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, most people no longer consider Telecel Zimbabwe as existing – and, ceased being counted amongst the country’s mobile network players – despite providing what could have easily been the most attractive affordable packages, such as MegaBoost, yet has dismally failed to take advantage of their popularity.

This brings me to NetOne – wholly owned by the government of Zimbabwe – which was established in 1996, after the unbundling of the then Post and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC), into ZimPost (Zimbabwe Posts), POSB (People’s Own Savings Bank), and TelOne.

This was another promising entity – which still holds tremendous potential – however, has been on a downward spiral for the past years, maybe as a consequence of perennial leadership wrangles that have dogged the MNO, or the “curse of the Zimbabwe regime” (who have an uncanny knack of turning whatever they touch into oblivion).

When this network is “behaving” itself, it is arguably the best in the country – with affordable promotional data bundles, which provide world-class standards, without any underlying and hidden deception (as opposed to the next MNO), and widespread coverage which covers even the depths of rural areas.

Yet, like the biblical Legion – the company consistently gets “possessed” by some seemingly nefarious spirit, whereby the network has a maddening tendency of frequently performing a disappearing act, especially when one needs it the most.

We move on to the largest and “youngest” MNO, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe – which has been in operation since 10 July 1998 – after a bruising battle with the government of Zimbabwe, most specifically its then information minister, Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, who adamantly refused to award them a licence, until the intervention of late vice president Joshua Nkomo.

As soon as a licence was eventually signed, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe hit the ground running – swiftly becoming a leader in the industry, with its most attractive packages, largely driven by their pioneering nature in various innovative technologies.

They were the first to introduce fast and reliable Internet (always being at the forefront of the various broadband communications standards), mobile money services (EcoCash), amazing promotional bundles, and numerous other benefits.

However, as the “curse of success” slowly crept in, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe – owned by Strive Masiyiwa – appeared to become complacent and began to take its clients for granted.

As I write this article, the network is erratic – which has been the case for months now, despite it being my favourite network operator, forcing me to switch between Econet and NetOne, both of which are giving me headaches right now, forcing me to put pen to paper, in a desperate cry for a huge shakeup in this sector.

Amongst the most troubling and frustrating challenges being faced by Econet Wireless clients is unreliable and inconsistent network – especially, Internet – which is compounded by promotional bundles that never do what they are intended.

Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp bundles (the most expensive between the three MNOs) never properly work for their prescribed apps – unless one buys additional separate data bundles.

One can not even make WhatsApp audio and video calls using WhatsApp bundles – on top of facing phenomenal difficulties sending and receiving simple messages – until one purchases data bundles.

This is in stark contrast to NetOne – whose promotional bundles do exactly what is expected of them – if there is any network, to begin with.

Further compounding these irritations is the poor and pathetic unacceptable customer service provision – whose staff appears content with merely asking for complaining subscribers’ mobile numbers and location, without ever fixing the problem.

In this day and age – with the so-called “forth industrial revolution” well and truly underway – one would have thought information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly in the form of MNOs, would be upping their game, and ensuring that they provided exceptional world-class services.

Furthermore, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most people to work and study from home, the need for reliable, unblemished, and fast Internet has never been more imperative.

Yet, in Zimbabwe we seem to be going backwards – straight into the stone age – leaving some of us questioning the country’s seriousness in developing with the rest of the world.

Surely, we can not continue on this retrogressive path, and desperately need a MNO that actually delivers what they promise their clients.

Seriously, can it be said to be normal for someone to repeatedly switch between two networks just to Google something – as none of them (the best the country has to offer) are providing any reliable service?

Zimbabwe now needs to urgently and actively invite a forth player into this sector – who can be trusted with guaranteeing services that compete with the best in the world – as the current crop has shamefully and irretrievably failed.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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