Ignatius Munengwa, an information communication technology innovator and entrepreneur based in Harare, has escalated his dispute with mobile network operator Econet to the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Tatenda Mavetera.
Munengwa alleges that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) failed to address his complaint regarding Econet Wireless stealing an initiative he had proposed to the company for a potential partnership.
In a letter dated October 18, 2023, Munengwa reached out to Minister Mavetera, succeeding his predecessor, Jenfan Muswere, whom he had initially contacted on January 16, 2023. In his correspondence, Munengwa urged the minister to investigate Econet's false representations in response to his claims of idea theft during the partnership proposal.
The letter stated, "We reported irregularities that we believe prejudiced our chance to hold Econet accountable for honesty and fair representations made to Potraz. We have accepted that Potraz does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate our original complaint; however, during the initial complaint, Econet made what we believe we should be allowed to ventilate. This correspondence from Econet, once given to us as a response from the Director General's office, is now being ignored as part of the evidence submitted in the complaint process, and this has created, in our opinion, a biased adjudication process."
Munengwa appealed to Minister Mavetera to intervene in the pursuit of justice, emphasizing that the Potraz Act allows for matters to be escalated to the minister's office when there are concerns about compromised Potraz governance potentially affecting freedom of expression in the telecommunications sector.
The innovator's request was for the matter to be thoroughly examined, allowing for a fair conclusion through due process. Munengwa also expressed his willingness to meet the minister in person to provide further information and discuss the issue in detail.
In 2011, M-Comm Africa, under the directorship of Munengwa, approached Econet with a proposal to collaborate on panic button rapid response security services. The proposed service aimed to link mobile phone subscribers with a security firm of their choice, providing a direct link to assistance through a panic alert from their mobile numbers in dangerous situations.
Munengwa claimed to have engaged with Econet until June 2015, when Stanley Henning, the then Chief Commercial and Customer Services Officer of Econet, responded, stating that the company would not pursue the idea.
However, in November 2015, Econet launched "Connected Home," which included a panic button and rapid response service. Munengwa believes this service closely resembles his idea and accuses Econet of making false representations by denying the connection between the two.
Frustrated by Potraz's lack of action, Munengwa turned to the Minister of ICT for assistance. Econet's Chief Operating Officer, Kezito Makuni, defended the company in a letter to Potraz on 28th July 2020, denying any wrongdoing towards Munengwa.
Makuni acknowledged extensive communication with Munengwa regarding his innovation but argued that no binding legal relationship was established during the negotiations. He also mentioned that Econet had considered other ideas, including Chuango Security Technology Corporation's similar home security system.
According to Makuni, Econet obtained non-exclusive rights to use Chuango's system and launched their Connected Home service in 2014, based on Chuango's patented system. Makuni stated that Econet had no need for Munengwa's authority or consent to implement their system and that Munengwa's claims lacked a basis.
"Econet Wireless did not and could not have possibly benefited from Mr Munengwa's concept or idea," wrote Makuni. He emphasized that the panic button concept was not new or novel at the time, and the bundling of services with telecommunication offerings was a common industry practice.
The dispute between Munengwa and Econet continues, with the innovator seeking resolution and recognition for his alleged idea theft.