President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent approval of a partnership between SpaceX and IMC Communications, a company linked to controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo, for the introduction of Starlink services in Zimbabwe, has sparked significant debate and scrutiny.

Mnangagwa announced in a statement yesterday that SpaceX’s Starlink internet services will be launched in Zimbabwe through a collaboration with Chivayo’s IMC Communications. However, concerns have arisen regarding the transparency of the licensing process.

Research indicates that IMC Communications, which lacks a track record in telecommunications in Zimbabwe or elsewhere in Africa, shares office space with Chivayo’s company, Intratrek. Intratrek has been embroiled in controversy for failing to deliver the multi-million dollar Gwanda Solar Project, awarded by ZESA several years ago.

Sources reveal that IMC Communications was approved for the SpaceX partnership just last week by the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Courier Services, with claims that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) was not fully informed.

Starlink, developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, aims to provide low-cost internet to remote locations via satellite. The company applied for an operating license in April this year, following government threats to arrest individuals using unauthorized network service providers.

Mnangagwa stated that the licensing of Starlink aligns with the government’s commitment to achieving a fully digitalized, upper-middle-income economy by 2030. He emphasized the importance of government-led initiatives to promote technology investments.

“The entry of Starlink in Zimbabwe’s digital telecommunications space is expected to deploy high-speed, low-cost internet infrastructure throughout the country, particularly in rural areas,” Mnangagwa said.

While Zimbabweans have praised the potential improvement in internet services, many are questioning the opaque selection of Chivayo’s company without a tender process. Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme attributed Zimbabwe’s persistent poverty to such questionable deals, highlighting the nation’s endemic corruption.

Transparency International Zimbabwe’s executive director, Tafadzwa Chikumbu, stressed the need for procurement processes to be fair, transparent, and competitive, suggesting that the Starlink deal requires scrutiny. Similarly, Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance, criticized the selection process, describing it as “dodgy.”

James Mupfumi of the Centre for Research Development questioned Mnangagwa’s commitment to fighting corruption, noting Chivayo’s past conviction for failing to deliver on the Gwanda Solar Project. This project, worth $183 million, has been the subject of ongoing court battles since Intratrek failed to meet agreed timelines after signing the contract in 2015.