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Zimbabwe’s tech star asks Obama about sanctions

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It took less than 15 minutes for Zimbabwe’s 21-year-old ICT entrepreneur and Mandela Washington Fellowship recipient, Takunda Chingonzo to convince US President Barack Obama to promise a relook at the targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe.

REPORT BY JOHN MOKWETSI IN WASHINGTON DC UNITED STATES

 

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Chingonzo interviews Obama

In a ground-breaking interview held in front of dozens of African leaders, world business executives and the media at the US Africa Business summit, Chingozho, who was selected among the 500 African fellows, took the opportunity to tell Obama the need to give business in Zimbabwe a chance.

Watched by people in Zimbabwe and all over the world via live internet streaming, Chingonzo touched on a pertinent issue that has been discussed on social media and here in Washington.

Takunda, who is co-founder of Neolab Technology, a multi award-winning startup and co-founder of Saisai Wireless, asked in an elaborate question:

“And I understand that the sanctions that we have — that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right? But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity. These entities believe that Zimbabwe is under sanctions. So what really can we do to do try and clarify this to make sure that we as the young entrepreneurs can effectively develop Africa and engage in business?”

This drew a long answer from Obama who, at first centred on the political conflict between Washington and Harare that has seen President Robert Mugabe being excluded from the three day US Africa Leaders’ Summit.

Obama answered:

“Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique. The challenge for us in the United States has been, how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.”
He then extended an olive branch to Zimbabwe entrepreneurs asking them to use the Department of Commerce and the other U.S. agencies where they could meet and propose projects “that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.”

Obama added in response to further pressing on the issue of sanctions: “Well, let’s see if we can refine them further (sanctions) based on some of the things you’re talking about.”

Articulate and confident Chingonzo spoke to NewsDay about how he came to share a stage with Obama.

“I was interviewed over the phone, as were a good number of other fellows I think, and they selected me. I was more than excited but also came to the realisation that this was bigger than me, that this opportunity was for everyone else back home working on their project, product or service.”

He said he had brought up the issue of sanctions because it was a genuine concern for most business people in Zimbabwe who are often turned down by US entrepreneurs.

“It is an issue that has affected a good number of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. These sanctions are allegedly targeted, they however in effect have been affecting individuals trying to do business in Zimbabwe, and US organisations are not treating them as “targeted” hence my question. It’s important that politics should not interfere with business.”

With Obama telling the audience to partner with young entrepreneur, the sun is certainly shining on the young leader’s future.

“There are quite a few business people who are interested in the work we are doing at Saisai, and others interested in investing in Zimbabwe and other startups that I work with at Skyhub in Bulawayo. The future is bright, and Zimbabwe is the best place to be right now, as an entrepreneur,” Chingonzo said.

 

Watch this Interview, go to 18 minutes

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