By Chikumbutso Mtumodzi
Low literacy and income levels, geographical restrictions, lack of motivation to use technology, lack of physical access to technology, and digital illiteracy have contributed largely to the digital divide in Malawi. To bridge this digital divide, President Lazarus Chakwera has committed to implement a number of initiatives to ensure that digital services closer to the people.
On Friday, October 8, 2021, the Malawi Government embarked on an ambitious digital initiative that would provide free internet connectivity to selected public places to facilitate easy communication among people of Malawi.
The Ministry of Information, in conjunction with the Public Private Partnership Commission (PPPC), is rolling out the Public Free WI-FI initiative that Malawi Government’s Digital Malawi Project is implementing through the Commission. TNM and Office Mart are the service providers under this initiative
Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, presided over the official public free Wi-Fi initiative launch at Blantyre Secondary School in Blantyre.
Recently, President Chakwera also launched the Malawi ICT EXPO organized by ICT Association of Malawi in the Capital City, Lilongwe where he highlighted ‘digitization’ as one the major tools for achieving wealth creation, food security and industrialization, the three focal areas of his administration.
President Chakwera further pointed out that one of the key tools in achieving the said focus areas is digitization. President Chakwera said the future of everything is digital and Malawi must not only be a part of it, but also be one of its creators. He said even those who are resistant to embracing new technology have been forced to see its uses during Covid-19 pandemic. A door of opportunity to normalize and democratize ICT usage has opened before us, and we must not waste it, the President had said.
When he officially launched the free public Wi-Fi in Blantyre, Minister Kazako said the Chakwera administration has always emphasized that there can never be a new Malawi without embracing new technologies and propagating delivery of e-services to the people.
The Chakwera administration is fully aware that delivery of e-services and adoption of new technologies is dependent on firstly and foremost addressing the key basic issues such as internet connectivity, proper ICT Infrastructure and digital skills.
Under the initiative, the Kamuzu and Chileka international airports will be provided the free Wi-Fi so that they are at par with other international airports around the world. Globalization demands the need to have an outward thinking on what others in various countries are doing as opposed to being limited to your own situation and conditions.
The Chakwera administration is also working overtime to ensure that hospitals and schools are also connected to Free Wi-Fi under this initiative, as a matter of urgency.
Through proper connectivity, health officials can interact with other professionals and experts in different countries and seek guidance and knowledge on critical medical areas without going there physically and even transfer of medical records from one hospital to another in times of referrals can be done online.
President Chakwera and his government are also keen to see that schools and libraries are connected to reliable internet and this has an obvious result of allowing learners to access vast information. The world is more open and connected now, and there must be no resistance to the adoption of ICT for whatever reason. ICT is now a necessity and not an option at every level, and today even businesses that fail to adapt to new technologies are dying natural deaths.
The growth of ICT has even changed how products are marketed and purchased. The provision of WI-FI in the marketplaces will enable traders to appreciate the trending market prices, place their orders online, explore potential export markets and even advertise their products.
What President Lazarus Chakwera and his MCP administration are implementing today with regard to ICT and digitalization is based on a well thought through strategy as contained in the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) 2019-2024 manifesto.
Under the manifesto, it was the vision of the MCP government is to develop a vibrant, competitive and efficient ICT industry.
More specifically, the MCP pledged to create an enabling environment for the growth of ICT and telecommunication as a key strategic sub-sector of the economy; reduce the cost of ICT services, through among other things, securing access to the new submarine infrastructure along the East African coast and review the taxation regime of the industry; promoting effective competition in the industry by allowing new entrants as a strategy to boost coverage and lower the cost of services.
The MCP also committed to extend broadband internet connection to all urban and rural centres through extension of fibre optic cable network to these areas to enhance access.
In June, President Chakwera officially launched the National Fibre Backbone Phase II.
The MCP had also pledged to remove all tariff and non-tariff barriers on internet facilities (including laptops and computers, cables, modems, routers etc.) in order to reduce the price of broadband internet; and connect all government offices and public facilities such as universities, colleges, secondary schools, hospitals, security installations to broadband internet.