Harare, June 7, 2012: Zimbabwean youth entrepreneur, Limbikani Makani (31), is travelling to the United States for Barack Obama’s Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership for Young African Leaders. He says he is counting on Zim’s youth to take IT innovations to a new level.
“The achievement Zimbabwe has made in terms of human capital is immense. We have a youth that is capable of delivering on a global scale, but we also have a youth that has been disconnected from the world in terms of communicating or exchange of ideas…. The sooner we tap into it, the sooner we benefit,” says Makani, founder and managing editor of TechZim.
Makani sees himself as a true ambassador of that human capital and is focused on getting the most out of this program as he heads to Washington D.C. , where he will meet top U.S. government officials, IT experts, company executives and representatives of civil society organizations.
Makani is a true internet devotee. He speaks passionately, with youthful enthusiasm and an eager smile, about the infinite possibilities and opportunities available to Zimbabweans online. He also has an unbending faith in Zimbabwean online entrepreneurs and their power to change Zimbabwe. “The internet is so powerful,” he repeats, “And it is really pointless to try to block it – there are always ways around to get to what you’re trying to find. Because it’s the internet – the whole idea is we are all connected on it and you can find anything.”
Makani studied information technology and, in 2009, started TechZim, arguably Zimbabwe’s leading technology website featuring product reviews and local IT news. With 3,000 page views per day, TechZim has set its sights on building a culture of start-ups and innovation in Zimbabwe. “A lot of Zimbabweans see the internet as a product, not a platform,” he laments. “They think they are just an audience, but they need to see how much they can do and put on the web.”
Limbikani had never seen the internet until the day his boss at the Gweru shopping center where he worked after finishing high school, bought a PC and got a dial-up connection. It was 2001 and there were 500 million internet users worldwide – many in the U.S. but few in Africa. The search is what hooked him. “When I did my first search, I couldn’t believe how much I could find on the internet. I kept saying, ‘All this, I can get all this…,’ and I just kept looking up more things.”
Exploring the internet took Makani’s life from black and white to color in an instant. “My first time on the internet was a religious moment,” he says, smiling a deep, knowing smile and recalling intimately the experience. “Today, internet uptake in Zimbabwe is still slow but that ‘moment’ is happening now to a lot of people.”
On the U.S. tour, Limbikani is travelling with another youth entrepreneur, Simbarashe Mhungu (32), founder and executive director of Harvest Fresh, an agro-business concern in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province. Makani sees synergies between the IT and other sectors, including agriculture. He observes, “A lot of applications can be solved from exchanging information, and agriculture is one such area…. Moving forward I see a lot of closer cooperation between the traditional economic sectors and ICTs in Zimbabwe.”