Good Surprise! The Disruptive Role of Technology Given Centre Stage by the Competition and Tariff Commission

Tinashe Nyahasha Avatar
Typing on laptop

I have been to a number of business conventions and conferences in Zimbabwe and in most cases I have been left with the question: on what planet does Zimbabwe reside? Developments in tech have been largely ignored in our economy more so by regulator types.

That is why I am impressed by today’s event being hosted by the Competition and Tariff Commission. They are launching the National Competition Policy. This launch is coinciding with the World Competition Day commemoration.

Yea so apparently the 5th of December is World Competition Day. This started being a thing in 2010 when the International Network of Civil Society Organisations decided to mark this day in recognition that on the 5th of December 1980, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Set of Multilateral Principles and Rules for the Control of Restrictive Business Practice.

Why am I impressed? Their theme for this event is Re-Imagining Competition Policy and Law in the Era of Disruptions. This is a good theme. I have seen paragraphs being quoted as themes to these types of events but most of such paragraphs were just meaningless words stringed together.

Era of Disruptions

The internet is disrupting every kind of business in ways we never thought possible. I fondly remember my Form 1 Commerce teacher. She would define commerce as made up of trade and aids to trade. When you use that simple definition, you realise the internet is not disrupting businesses no ma’am it’s doing more than that: the internet is disrupting commerce.

Under aids to trade we would learn of industries like transport, communication, banking and insurance. I hope the current textbooks have been revised to show how these industries and their cousins have been and continue to be shaken down by technology particularly the internet.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) advances and becomes more robust and pervasive the insurance industry will look so different from what it has been for centuries. Uber and others continue to change transport heck we are talking about driverless cars now! The communication industry besides being the source of a lot of this disruption is not immune from the disruption as well: OTT services like WhatsApp are munching the lunch from the telecoms heavyweights’ lunchboxes. Outside of the media industry, the banking sector is probably the hardest hit by disruption and it’s only the beginning for them.

They are right: this is the era of disruptions.

Competition Policy and Law

The first thing about the law as it relates to the regulation of business in this era is that the law is too slow and sometimes too myopic. Slow? The pace of change is just too much that no laws the world over have been able to keep up let alone our laws in this country. I am no expert but there are a lot of deals that have happened within our small market that should not have been allowed for competition purposes. I hope the CTC is awakening to that realisation…

Myopia? The tricky balance when it comes to any anti monopoly regulation is that it cannot only be effected based on what can be seen presently but also based on the invisible what could have been perspective. What the internet has done is that it has made it possible the creation of businesses that leverage on massive network effects and a lot of times these effects are not visible at the time of a merger or acquisition. Once done however, it may mean game over for any other new entrant into that space. This will remain the regulator’s dilemma in this era…

Hopes for Today’s Event

I hope that these difficult conversations and decisions will start to be deliberated upon. The programme looks well suited to do that with representation from all the local MNO’s, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the Bankers Association as well as the regulators in the banking space RBZ and the regulators in telecoms, POTRAZ.

It looks like the convergence of banking and telecoms will be used as a case study of how competition policy can be crafted and redesigned to remain relevant in this era of disruptions. We will be keeping you all in the loop as all this happens via a livestream on this page.

Let competition thrive.