Using social media to shape lives


HARARE – James Makamba, founder and chairperson of Telecel Zimbabwe is an adorable figure with more than 90 000 pan African people following his life on Facebook.

This is a sudden turn of events for a man, who, at one time was considered a security risk in his  country native Zimbabwe.

And Makamba now cuts a jubilant figure from the one that was incarcerated over allegations of farming out money from Zimbabwe during a crackdown on violators of exchange control regulations.

Thanks to social media, more than 90 000 people know what time he goes to bed.

Strive Taputaira Masiyiwa, has built a remarkable business empire and impacting many lives on the African continent through his selfless efforts to improve agriculture and offering education to thousands of disadvantaged students.

And the Econet Wireless International founder and executive chairperson, has become also a commander-in-chief of God’s ‘‘army’’ — playing a prominent role in church to save souls.

Again, thanks to his use of social media, Zimbabweans and those enamoured with his works, now follow his life via his official Facebook page.

The story of these two Zimbabwean businessmen, who are also rivals, is a remarkable one which captures the power of social media — which they are putting to good use.

But have we thrown away the baby with bath water?

And this has a ring of truth given some of the decisions that were taken by our government in suspicious circumstances.

Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless International, the holding company of blue chip Econet Zimbabwe — has spread tentacles in the mobile telephone and data business in many countries —Africa, Europe and the United States.

Makamba, has built a strong profile — with Telecel Zimbabwe overtaking state-run Net*One to become the country’s second largest cellular company.

What makes the Masiyiwa and Makamba stories remarkable are the genesis of their businesses and the rivalry that accompany them.

Econet is Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone company while Telecel has stormed the figures to command a second position ahead of State-run Net*One which had a head start in 1996, the year cellular services were launched.

It is ironic but yet painfully real, that their reputations are enhanced by their works which are hugely appreciated elsewhere in African and some parts of the world as evidenced by interactions with different audiences through Facebook.

Masiyiwa’s stock has been rising on the continent through his push for sustainable agriculture, education and good governance.

Where it has taken thousands of Zimbabweans 13 years to interact with the Econet founder, it has taken less than seven years for 13 African countries in which Masiyiwa is part of drivers of green revolution.

Each step and effort made, Masiyiwa shares with the world on his Facebook page.

Masiyiwa left Zimbabwe in February 2 000 as word reached high crescendo that he had been targeted in a blitz aimed at flushing out business people suspected of "aiding" the then fledgling MDC.

A devout Christian with unshakeable faith, Masiyiwa, before leaving for South Africa, had earlier been tipped to be the next President of Zimbabwe by the once influential weekly Zimbabwe Mirror readers, in 1999.

The Zimbabwe Mirror is now defunct.

But time away from home, during which he has built his telecommunications business to compete with some of the finest, Masiyiwa has also built a strong character, both as a God-fearing person and a cheerful giver.
In his 13 years away from Zimbabwe, he is compensating those he inspires both here and across the continent through regular posts on his official page.

His journey is now being told via Facebook.

Masiyiwa is a board member of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, Agra, a pan African organisation founded in 2006 through a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Agra is headquartered in Accra, Ghana and seeks “to develop and disseminate technologies that rapidly increase agricultural productivity in ways that are environmentally friendly and empower smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women as well as improving farmers’ access to technologies, knowledge and other resources needed to transform smallholder farming, paying special attention to ensuring that these innovations address the needs of and are accessible to women farmers.”

Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Advisory Board of the Counsel on Foreign Relations, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Boards for Sustainable Energy, and for Education.

He is a juror of the Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize.

He is also one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson of the global think tank, known as the Carbon War Room.

He  is also pushing for transforming small-scale farmers through the Eco Farmer project which he explains on his page.

“For a small holder in rural areas, a drought is often catastrophic, and can lead to hunger for the family. Our passion as Econet, is finding solutions to help smallholder farmers be more secure, and prosperous, in a sustainable way.

“I am really quite excited about a project that is currently being pioneered by our team called Eco-farmer.

“I believe that this concept has the ability to totally transform agriculture in Africa, because it makes it possible for small-scale farmers, to purchase what is known as “Weather Indexed Insurance”, which until now was only available to large scale farmers,” Masiyiwa said.

His presence on the social media has given his followers an insight into the challenges and temptations he faces in business.

“In one country, we had a contract, on which we earned over $30 million a year. It was very important for our business. Two very powerful politicians demanded that I pay them a bribe of $8 million, to keep the contract. I refused. They had our contract cancelled and we were thrown out.

“They then replaced us with one of our largest global competitors from Europe. Whose executives immediately paid the bribes. I reported them to the US Justice Department, as they are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They admitted that their officials had paid the bribes, and fired the officials.

“They then left the country. One of the politicians was later indicted for corruption and is now serving a 13-year jail sentence. Years later we returned to the country, and we are building again, our presence in that wonderful country,” wrote Masiyiwa.

For Zimbabwe, the visibility of Makamba and Masiyiwa, whose networks are part of the growth of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) use, is a sign of the new era.

Zimbabwe now has about 4,5 million Internet subscribers, up from 3, 2 million recorded in 2012.

For Makamba, social media has liberated and plucked him from a life dogged by rumour-mongering stemming from unsavoury remarks about his private life.

He has dusted and ‘‘resurrected’’ himself via Facebook where he breezed past 90 000 likes last Thursday.

“As we approach 90 000 followers I cannot help but be thankful to all of you who have not only liked this page but have shared the content, liked the posts and most of all shared your own thoughts and opinions in the comment box. Thank you!

“Gratitude is an attitude that is at times easy to neglect. We can forget that expressing our thanks is an important way to build and maintain healthy relationships. Whether it is to family, friends colleagues and above all to God, gratitude is a key that unlocks fruitfulness and joy in all of our lives,” Makamba said.

When he started in June, he had 5 000 likes and the decision to use Facebook to interact with friends was not expected to open him to new frontiers.

Of the more than 90 000 followers, Zimbabwe has 50 percent while the rest is shared among Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, Namibia, Malawi and Uganda.

Makamba discusses different topics ranging from politics, football, business, authors, social and economic.

The bearded former Mashonaland Central Zanu PF chairperson and twice Harare mayoral aspirant, has built a strong profile which includes supporting charities and education.

He is the founder of Ibbamo Foundation whose full name is Inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama) Ibbamo assists talented, underprivileged African children to fulfil their potential through higher education. The foundation also seeks, through education and mentorship, to prepare young Africans for future leadership roles.

“We believe it is the ideas of yesterday that created how we live today and it will be the ideas of today that create how we live tomorrow.

“The Ibbamo Foundation believes in the power of young people and their ideas, we believe it is important to not only entertain young people in our societies but to begin the work of engaging them and their ideas,” Makamba says of his project.

It is no coincidence that Zimbabwe has improved in ICT access and use.

Zimbabwe’s mobile cellular penetration went up from 72 percent in 2011 to 97 percent last year.

In the use sub-index, wireless broadband penetration doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent over the same period.

After this revolution, perhaps it is not misplaced to argue that the baby has still found life outside after being thrown away with the bath water.

Masiyiwa and Makamba make a strong case on that!

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