Strive Masiyiwa founded Econet Wireless in Zimbabwe in 1993
It now has now has operations and investments in 17 countries
The company is the largest mobile operator in Zimbabwe with nine million subscribers
Strive Masiyiwa, who set up his Econet Wireless company in Zimbabwe in 1993, believes the world is on its way to being connected “in ways we never imagined.”
Masiyiwa’s company is not only playing its part in the constant growth in cellphone use in Africa, it also does vital work in establishing the technological networks that enable that to happen.
He explains to Marketplace Africa host Zain Asher why he thinks that, amongst other things, this revolution can “democratize” education across the continent.
Zain Asher: What is the future of mobile data?
Strive Masiyiwa: The amount of data usage that has taken place globally in the last two years is greater than all the global data usage in the history of humanity.
This is only going to increase, and Africa is not going to be left behind or outside it. The world is too connected now, so we are going to see far greater data usage, far more devices and appliances connected… we are going to be connected in ways that we never imagined.
ZA: Mobile is the big buzzword. Where does your company stand in this explosion of growth?
SM: We are active in about 17 African countries, and we are active across a broad spectrum of technologies.
We are involved in the cellphone industry but also in building much of infrastructure that support the networks themselves. We are the biggest builder of fiber in Africa – we build 100km a week of fiber across Africa.
Many people don’t realize that for you to be able to get a smartphone to work, you need a lot of bandwidth. The networks buy that bandwidth from us… all the big mobile network operators in Africa buy that capacity from one of our companies.
We have also got to lay out infrastructure for new technologies like 3G, 4G and so forth. Then we have to ensure that there’s smartphone penetration. We have to ensure that prices are coming down but also sufficiently attractive for investors who are putting the capital up front. It’s give and take.
ZA: Many parts of Africa are going to go from having no internet to having internet via mobile and wireless. What does that mean for the continent and its development? What does the future look like?
SM:: Pretty exciting. For a start, opening up access to the internet attracts opportunities.
Sixty percent of our population in Africa is under the age of 30, which means there’s a lot of young people and they need education.
We don’t have the resources or time to put up your traditional brick and mortar schools. We have over 30 million kids who should be in school who are not even in primary school. If we can harness the technological platforms that are available, the tools that are there now, we can leapfrog some of the costs and, as I like to put it, democratize education.
Why should a child in the capital of a country not have access to exactly the same quality of education as someone in the rural areas? If you create platforms around the internet you can achieve that.
So we will gain access, but we cannot say it is a panacea for all our problems. Technology is only a tool. It’s only as good as we are able to use it.
Editor’s Note: CNN Marketplace Africa covers the macro trends impacting the region and also focuses on the continent’s key industries and corporations