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The Bitcoin Revolution is upon us!

Publishing Date : 12 November, 2018

Author :

TIGELE MOKOBI


“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity,” Mark Zuckerberg 


The Biblical story of David and Goliath played itself out in Zimbabwe in 1998 when a fledgling, intelligent and ambitious telecoms engineer took on the colossal might of government monopoly and repression to bring the mobile phone revolution to the country. Born in what was Southern Rhodesia in 1961, the enterprising man’s cosmopolitan family had succumbed to the bright lights effect of the socio-economic and technologically advanced infrastructure of industrialized Europe earlier in his life only to return home to the newly independent Zimbabwe in 1984. 


Educated in Scotland and trained at the University of Wales where he obtained his degree in electrical and electronic engineering (Cum Laude) he took a job with the state-owned telephone company upon his return to his native country. He however soon grew frustrated with the bureaucracy and excesses of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial ruling elite and formed his own engineering company. His battles with the Zimbabwean government began when he was denied a license for the country's first mobile phone operation. The intense legal battles that ensured went all the way up to the country’s supreme court before he could ultimately connect his first subscribers in 1998.


Financially wounded by the bruising fight with the state, the determined and highly ambitious entrepreneur sought to expand his business into neighbouring Botswana whose flourishing economy, democratic credentials, peace and stability appealed to investors at the time. The West had imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe for its failed land reform programme and recurring political flareups. Once the breadbasket of Africa, with an impressive human development index (HDI), effective health care system, the country was now teetering on the brink of political unrest and economic collapse. 


Out of pocket, our modern-day industrious David, initiated what could perhaps be counted amongst the country’s first major crowdfunding (motshelo) initiative to establish Botswana’s first mobile phone service provider. The establishment of this cutting-edge technology was however not easy, very few gave him a chance, many could not grasp the inordinate disruptive power of the mobile technology and its imminent evolution from a two-way pager to a GPS navigation device, web browser, hand held game console, and its continued surge into spheres of mobile computing and wireless networking. 


At the time the public was accustomed to the landline, fax machine and postal services for long distance social and business communication. Skeptics poured scorn on the investment and business opportunities presented by the emerging wireless communication technology. Our protagonist’s business proposal was called a scam, farfetched and something only possible in a science fiction movie. Compounding public resentment to the brilliant business idea was the fact that it was championed by a Zimbabwean. A man whose country was ravaged by economic sanctions. The low regard with which Zimbabwe was viewed owing to public perception of its, ‘despotic government, moribund economy and high crime rate among its citizens,’ did not help.


Notwithstanding what seemed like a hard sell, those that were bold enough to take the risk and invested the asking price of P24 thousand in 1998 received handsome dividends of P7 million each five years later. The man who initiated all this, risked it all to ensure his fellow Africans benefitted form the technological advances that swept across the world at the time was none other than, Strive Masiyiwa and the company that ushered mobile communication services to Botswana in 1998 is Mascom, derived from Masiyiwa Communications. 


History is replete with stories like this one. In 2004, 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg invited five of his friends to his dormitory at Harvard University to discuss a business opportunity. It is said only two showed up and invested, and shortly after that Facebook was launched. Today, Facebook is a household name and Mark’s estimated net worth is US$61.4 billion while his partners Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin command a net worth of US$9.8 billion and US$9.1 billion respectively.


Reflecting on the windfall Facebook presented him and his two co-founders, as well as the missed opportunity for the friends that failed to show up at the dormitory meeting and take up the business proposal, Mark would say, “Nothing is more expensive than a closed mind, and a missed opportunity. ‘Thinking about it’ for too long can cost you a whole lot of money and time. Taking action now can earn you a whole lot, its your choice, your life, its up to you to make the decision today…”  


Fast forward to 2018. Today the world stands at the cusp of radical and rapid technological changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The advent of these nascent technologies has witnessed the evolution of the internet from the internet of information to the internet of value. In its initial state, the internet transmitted information through emails but the technology has since evolved and is entering its second era where it now transmits value and assets through digitization.


Like the first generation of the internet, the second era of the internet signals the emergence of technological breakthroughs that promise to disrupt business models and transform industries through the elimination of middlemen and intermediaries in the exchange of money, intellectual property and other rights and assets. 


The World Bank states that the breadth and depth of these rapid and profound technological changes heralds the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics; artificial intelligence (AI); nanotechnology; quantum computing; biotechnology; the Internet of Things (IoT); 3D printing; autonomous vehicles; blockchain; smart contracts and even technology in our bodies, allowing more people to participate in the economy, create wealth, and improve the state of the world.”

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