Econet, POTRAZ, and the regulation of BlackBerry services in Zimbabwe

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar

At the end of March this year, we reported that Econet’s intention to launch BlackBerry services had attracted the interest of the government. This we observed in an article in a state owned weekly newspaper, The Sunday Mail. Yesterday, the Sunday Mail had another report on the matter. This time the paper reports that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has banned Econet from using BlackBerry services until it gets a license for the services.

According to the article, both Econet and POTRAZ are being “diplomatic” about the issue but the paper is “reliably informed that Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has been banned from using the service until it is licensed.” POTRAZ Deputy Director-General Alfred Marisa is also quoted in the article explaining that POTRAZ currently doesn’t have a ‘BlackBerry license’ as part of its statutes. This could of course mean a major delay for Econet or the unlikely, POTRAZ waiving this requirement.

The last we heard from Econet (back then in March) was that BlackBerry services would launch soon as the company was in advanced stages of preparation. A month or so later, we got information from some Econet employees (and we verified) that they were now using the services, probably in some kind of test phase. Apparently, POTRAZ got wind of this too and asked Econet to stop. Now, considering we’re nearing the end of June, the “very soon” promise by Econet in March may indeed have been disrupted.

Canadian Research In Motion’s (RIM) secure BlackBerry Services have not been an issue in Zimbabwe only. In the UAE for example, authorities threatened to shut down BlackBerry services in August last year citing RIM’s encryption technology lack of compliance with national security laws allowing access to data traffic. The UAE telecoms authority later assured subscribers this year the services would remain. There have been similar issues in India.

In Zimbabwe, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) gazetted in August 2007, requires that all telecommunication services have the capability to be intercepted. Section 12 (1) (a) of the act reads:

(1) Notwithstanding any other law, a telecommunication service provider shall—
(a) provide a telecommunication service which has the capability to be intercepted;

There’s clear demand for BlackBerry Services in the market and for Econet, the services present an opportunity to differentiate itself in a market where basic voice and SMS services have been commoditized.


  1. Kurai

    This is depressing news. 

  2. Charles Garanganga

    very depressing indeed l hope they will find a way of resolving this…..otherwise there is no use of carrying a BB any phone can do voice and data…

    1. robasta

      nyika yedu inga budirira sei nemitemo yakadai? that service provides cheaper internet access(in SA you pay about 70rand per month for unlimited on-device browsing). I cannot even begin to describe the benefits of such a service for Zimbabweans. (since kusina magetsi pple can browse pa foni mhani!)

      1. Tawes

        price for unlimited browsing on blackberry is not set but RIM but by networks themselves. Econet will probable still charge u the same for browsing thru blackberry, iphone or android based phones.

  3. JamesM

    POTRAZ is legendary for making one fumble after another! Given their track record there are definitely not serving the interests of the telecoms industry. How sad is that when that industry is playing a pivotal worldwide by creating jobs and bringing about economic growth. Zimbabwe’s POTRAZ hasn’t got a clue on the dynamics of industry it purports to serve. ICT is such a dynamic industry that in a couple of years Blackberry services won’t mean much as they are likely to be replaced better encryption and security protocols current in incubation. It’s very real that those security methods will become standard in all mobile devices sold. Then what POTRAZ?

  4. Anonymous

    I believe Econet and Potraz knows one another, there is progress there at Econet about BlackBerry

  5. Thebusinesseyez

    National Security is a priority. We must be forward looking and need not imply that POTRAZ is being unreasonably unfair on Econet.

  6. Muzukuru

    This has nothing to do with Potraz or Govt, RIM should know the kind of environment its releasing its products into beforehand. Everywhere Govts want to snoop into comms, that is obvious, security first, rest later.RIM provide their services with this in mind. 

  7. Anonymous

    The Telecommunication Acts in Zimbabwe and some of the regulatory laws of Potraz need to be revisited because there are a number of new trends in the telecoms space worldwide. Laws need to be aligned with these changes for us Zimbabweans to harness these opportunities otherwise we will fail to sustain the local telecoms market in the future.

    1. Tawes

      all RIM (blackberry) services worldwide r given a go ahead by the host country’s security services, so plse do research b4 comment. I am here in a democratic country (UK) but all my phone call, sms, email even my driving is monitored at some point. 

      1. innovatorZim

        If you read my comment i sugested that we look at the laws meaning we can either change or maintain them. There are a number of telco services and products which need regulations relaxed or introduced coz they can potentially help a nation if they are monitored well. If you were in the telcom business in zim u would understand more.the uk and usa infringes on peoples rights more than in zim when it comes to monitoring etc.

  8. robasta

    So, Muzukuru, you are cool with the idea of being denied cheaper and better methods of communication because the government will not be able to intercept your messages to your loved ones? RIDICULOUS!

    RIM can ignore the ZIM market. The issue here is not RIM vs ZIM gvt. What other services will be banned in ZIM? 

    Question: Does that law mean Ecommerce sites (e.g. Ebay, Amazon, Google checkout) will be banned? coz to my understanding the data is secured.

  9. Murambwi

    Whats so unique about Zimbabwe the rest of the world uses BB, why not us?

    1. Macd

      whats unique is that Blackberry have not clearly stated where the servers which Zimbabwe is going to use will be hosted! Econet is only providing the network for a service, not the actual servers and encryption which BB uses. Until there is a clear understanding, POTRAZ must bock BB in Zim.

      1. Tapiwa

        I think the real difference is no other country on earth has ad-hoc laws that require an operator to purchase a ‘BlackBerry License’. WTF? What’s next, a WhatsApp license? Yahoo Messenger license?

        Who had ever heard of a ‘BlackBerry license’ before today? POTRAZ is a law unto itself. Surely they are doing their best to keep Zim lagging in the telecomms field

        1. Macd

           Probably they meant so say written permission.  On such vital pierce of tech, POTRAZ might not be ready to just rely on gentleman’s agreement. They might have  flawed ideas in law but on this one, prevention is better than cure, and l support them.

  10. Macd

    RIM agreed to give access keys to all security services around the world for snooping and installed local servers in respective countries,  until RIM can agree to do the same in Zimbabwe, no BB in whatever form should be entertained.

    National security first then playing and entertainment after!

    1. ANonymous

      Where your government would clearly love to have clever snooping technology for all communications they actually have neither the money nor expertise to implement. I think that much cruder methods of information gathering used.

      1. Tawes

        get a life a pc n simple software hooked to RIM servers is all thats needed for zim gvt to snoop on yo BB interactions, hapana chiri special apa. 

  11. David

    Agreed national security first but whats in Zim that we have to worry about.
    Its not like we gone have terrorist come and bomb Zim

    1. Macd

      why do you need keys to your house if no one have ever stole anything from it? We might not have anything today but who knows what we might have tomorrow? 

      1. David

        give me an idea of what we might have tomorrow?

        1. Macd

           @dedb693f50daead05c8fc535eb97c7d5:disqus  Security should not be any after-thought, you should know better. Security must be an integrated party of any business be it at street level or national level.

          Security put as patches never holds water. It must be from the start, foundation level upwards.

          Things which we might have tomorrow:

          As a SP you should know about hackers creating BGP black-holes, internet traffic re-direction, targeted countries internet black-outs, route poisoning, hackers after banks

          organised crime like human trafficking, woman raping men, drugs, gambling syndicates……

        2. Tawes

          national security is not abt zanu pf, gvt or mugabe only, it includes a lot of things………….even zesa can b compromised by an enemy if left open ( lol zesa )

  12. Loft

    So many countries India,UAE etc  rubbed their shoulders with RIM over security concenrs. However, the RIM issues can be addressed easily especially if all stakeholders  work in tandem(Potraz, RIM, Econet). Its a matter of putting the correct controls to mitigate the security risks and concerns. Once in place , there is no need for potraz to deny the zim citizens the right to use BB.

  13. chief

    MACD is actually right we cannot compromise on national security for some company’s interest

  14. Cde Kunakirwa

    POTRAZ is manned largely by frustrated people most of who have been there for donkey years who could hardly find another job elsewhere because they are not employable materiel. You get the Deputy Director General Mr Alfred Marisa has an accounting background but the way he comes out and comments on Telecoms Technical issues is very embarrassing to technical people listening (Unotomunyarira). Thats why he mentions ‘Balckberry License’ which is a joke to those who understand technology. They concentrate on semantics and petty things and instead of promoting telecommunications, they actually choke it due to lack of direction and wisdom. Innovation and vision is completely lost. It is shocking to hear how they are trying to block Blackberry service and that scratch card system from Pastor Makandiwa among many others. What POTRAZ seem not to realize is that in the circles of Telecoms Regulations, it is a futile effort to try and regulate technology that way. That approach was there when telecoms regulation started some 15 years ago but most 
    Telecoms regulations organisations have evolved and abandoned that approach cause technology is ever changing yet POTRAZ hangs on in the past on principles derived by the late Dr Madungwe when POTRAZ was born in 2000 which were applicable back then. For Telecoms operators, there should be only 3 licenses1. Infrastructure/facility license (Hardware, Towers, Transmission Systems, Switching Centres etc)2. Services License (Mobile, Fixed etc)3. Application/Content  License (Voice, Data, Video)So a Company like Econet would have and pay for all three licenses, but when it comes to services use the Mobile Category. Telone would take everything since they have been recently given even a Mobile licence besides the fixed one they already have. In the end you can have a company running a say a Data service but without owning infrastructure while running on Infrastructure of those licensed for it. When it comes to application license, every company should have all the 3  (Voice, Data, Video) cause an attempt to regulate this area is like chasing the wind since any end user gadget can almost give you these things especially a Mobile phone handset.This makes life very simple for everyone (the operators and the regulators), hence there will be no need of regulating things like Blackberry cause it would be either voice, Data or Video and can never be anything else. POTRAZ should find a consultant to handhold them to the new eraYou can also see that there is lack of seriousness at POTRAZ if you visit their website. You will find the following short comings among other things1. Its not always online 2. Some pages show mis-alignment for an organisation of that calibre3. There is no information about who has been licensed so far yet this should be public Knowledge4. There is no copies of the licenses themselves yet the public should have access to any of the public license5. There is not even basic information such as application forms for all license categories, i would expect in this day and age to even be able to apply online. POTRAZ website should have countless information but it appears nobody cares about it and hardly updates it.I could talk on and on about the rot at POTRAZ and I think the Minister should do something to change the picnic culture at POTRAZ. To justify their apathy this is why they find energy work on trivial things such as baring blackberry which makes us a laughing stock to the world.

  15. mdara

    Ladies and Gentlemen, If RIM has nothing to hide, why can it not give full access to its servers so that Gvts can also monitor  data in and out.Gvts vane responsbility to secure citizens from both internal and external threats.Dont jus think this is a ZANU PF issue, is there ZANU PF in UAE,India  and other countries without  the BB service?

  16. Dread

    Those who say POTRAZ is wrong should understand that all “private communications” technology is first used by security forces and the algorithms and other secrets are classified until the security can safely and easily decode them. For example spread spectrum technology on which CDMA networks is based is very very old and is difficult to intercept or interfer with but was only allowed for civilian use very recently when the powers-be knew they could deal with it. The US considers encryption codes arms (weapons) and tightly controls their export. Do you think US officials’ Blackberry messages are stored in Canada?

    We may not be a target for terrorists as in al-Quaeda, etc, but we have people running drugs, laundering money, etc. And the security of BB makes logistics of such activities easy.

  17. Hurber

    Mugabe regime is fighting against development suppressing people’s rights

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  21. Anonymous

    Zvakaoma zvemu zimbabwe polite