Is Starlink going to accept a questionable license in Zimbabwe?

Source: Is Starlink going to accept a questionable license in Zimbabwe? | The Zimbabwean

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

After stalling for what appeared an eternity in approving satellite internet provider Starlink’s application for a license to operate in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa dropped a bombshell on 25 May 2024. 

He announced, through a tweet on X (formerly Twitter), that he (yes, he) had approved satellite internet provider Starlink’s operating license!

No one saw this coming!

Apparently, even the telecommunications regulator POTRAZ and the responsible ministry were caught totally off-guard.

Since when has a whole head of state announced the approval of a telecommunications company operating license – what more, claiming to have personally issued the license?

As if the president taking on the responsibility of approving a telecommunications license and going over the head of the institution with the authority to issue these licenses was not bad enough, Mnangagwa was not finished. 

In the same tweet, he proceeded to announce that a sole and exclusive local partnership deal had been secured between Starlink and a company associated with his convicted criminal friend Wicknell Chivayo.

Both POTRAZ and the ICT minister Tatenda Mavetera were seemingly left dumbfounded.

This was quite clear in the respective statements in interviews with various Zimbabwe media.

“The application came in March, and we were still looking at it, so yes, we were surprised like anyone else when the President made his Saturday pronouncement. Honestly, no one saw it coming,” a POTRAZ official told Newsday.

Mavetera told the state-controlled Sunday Mail, “We are soon going to announce the technical modalities together with POTRAZ. 

“Already, there has been a pronouncement that has been made by the President.”

The two statements are very revealing. 

Both the telecommunications regulator and minister had no idea the president would by-pass them by making such an announcement.

However, the number one question on everyone’s mind is: Does the President have the authority to approve an application for a license submitted to POTRAZ, more so without even consulting the regulator?

If I am wrong, may legal experts out there correct me – but the President has no such authority.

According to section 37(4) of Postal and Telecommunications Act (Chapter 12:05),  subject to laid down conditions, “the Authority shall issue a cellular telecommunication license, a postal license, a radio station license, a telecommunication license or a private telecommunication license, as the case may be, to the applicant.”

Nowhere is the President cited as having the authority to issue such a license. 

So, how on Mother Earth did Mnangagwa manage this feat when he proudly tweeted, “I am pleased to announce that I have approved the licensing of Starlink by POTRAZ to provide advanced internet and related digital processing services in Zimbabwe?”

Under what authority did he approve Starlink?

What I am now curious to know is whether Starlink itself, owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, will actually accept an undeniably questionable license.

Would the company surely want to operate in Zimbabwe under a dark cloud of suspicion as to how exactly they secured their license and whether it is even legitimate?

We all welcome Starlink to operate in Zimbabwe – something most of us have been pushing for in a country where internet connectivity is not only deplorable but also disproportionately expensive. 

Nonetheless, everything has to be done procedurally and above board – something Starlink should desire as a globally reputable company.

Starlink similarly needs to take a second closer look at how Mnangagwa’s convicted criminal ally’s IMC Communications (Pvt) Ltd secured the sole and exclusive local partnership deal.

Why would Starlink want its good name to be soiled by such a dubious association?

In fact, is this why the company has hardly uttered a word on this dubious licensing by Mnangagwa to operate in Zimbabwe?

I have just gone through their X posts, and there is absolute silence. 

It is as if nothing of the sort ever happened.

Over the past few weeks, Starlink has proudly announced its new operations in the Republic of Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Uruguay, and Indonesia. 

In spite of the announcement by Mnangagwa now three days old, the deafening silence by Starlink is very curious.

I pray Zimbabweans will finally enjoy seamless and more affordable internet connectivity with the long-awaited coming in of Starlink.

However, this needs to be done transparently and in accordance with the country’s laws. 

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