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Kwese TV, Zimbabwe and the mirage of digitalisation

By barring Kwese TV, the Zimbabwe government has shown a trademark tendency: for political reasons, it will jealously hold on to a business it does not know how to run.

This week, Econet Media announced the rollout of its Kwese TV in Zimbabwe.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) immediately announced that Kwese was not authorised in the country.

This was not surprising — the government has too much to lose, both commercially and politically.

Apart from its refusal to allow alternative voices, the government has commercial reasons; it holds shares in the dominant player in satellite TV, MultiChoice, and has been planning, but failing, to launch its own digital broadcasting services.

The government has for years been trying to control digital broadcasting.

In 2002, it arm-twisted MultiChoice Africa into ceding shares in its Zimbabwe operation to the State.

That was just the start.

 In 2013, when MultiChoice launched GOtv, a satellite service for the low-end market, the government again came knocking, demanding and getting a 30 percent stake in the new venture.

GOtv was “a giant step in the right direction”, then Information Minister Webster Shamhu said at the launch of the service in 2013.

GOtv charged just $6.50 per month for its 26 channels, and was soon gaining market share.

Still, the government wanted more.

It demanded that part of that subscription fee be handed to Transmedia, to fund the digitization programme.

There was, inevitably, a dispute, and soon GOtv transmitters were knocked off air in January 2014.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the establishment was deepening its foothold in the ICT industry.

In 2013, an Ernst & Young analysis of the shareholding of telecoms firm Africom revealed how some of the firm’s shareholders could not be traced at the Registrar of Companies.

It only emerged later that a company that had become the majority shareholder, Fernhaven, was the investment arm of the Ministry of Defence.

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