19 February 2016

Malawi: Addressing ICT Gap Via Telecentres in Malawi

Its Monday and the time is 2 O'clock at Muraviwa Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkhulambe in Phalombe district and Grace Yakobe (not real name) a University graduate in Civil Engineering came across last week's newspapers where she saw a company advertising a vacant post of an engineer but unfortunately the deadline for receiving applications is the same day by 5 O'clock.

Goliati telecentre opened in 2009

Yakobe finished her Degree programme three years ago and went to stay in her village which is 50 kilometer from the Phalombe Boma as there was no relative in town where she could read newspapers and access internet easily as many job seekers always do.

"The only near place where I could find internet services is Chiringa Trading Centre but there is not any place at Chiringa where I can access internet so that I can send my application via email.

"By any means, I have missed this opportunity as the deadline is today. I cannot do anything but to let this opportunity go. This challenge is beyond my reach," she said.

The experience which Grace Yakobe is going through speaks volumes of how far more Malawi needs to do in order to bridge the digital divide in the country.

Also this means, Yakobe is just one example of many youths who are experiencing the same problem emanating from the gap that is there in the ICT industry.

Although Malawi has experienced growth in the ICT industry in the past 10 years, the level of access to information technology infrastructure is still low, according to the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA).

Recent household and individual Access to and Usage of ICT Services survey held in Malawi, revealed that there are still challenges in access to and usage of some ICT services.

The results of the survey said only 5.3 percent of Malawians have access to internet due to low penetration of service providers, especially in rural areas of the country and Grace Yakobe is not exceptional.

Godfrey Itaye, MACRA's Director General says it is the duty of all stakeholders in the sector to make a collective contribution in narrowing the access gap that exists in the ICT sector.

"Looking at the findings, you can see that Malawi has made some headway in the access to and usage of broadcasting and postal and courier services but the country has not done well in telecommunications sector.

"Let these findings therefore be a wakeup call and re-ignite us into action to make Malawi ICT success story. For this to happen it is not a one man show but it rests on all of us to make collective contributions in narrowing the access gap that is there to ICT services.

"MACRA as regulator of communication services, has lined up a number of projects aimed at bridging this access gap," said Itaye adding that the findings are true reflection of access to and usage of ICT services in the country.

Itaye says MACRA as a regulator of communication services, has a number of projects lined up to bridge the access gaps asking licensed operators to embrace and support these projects as they are the major stakeholders in the drive to promoting universal access to ICT.

Minister of Information tourism and culture, Jappie Mhango says access to Information communication technology (ICT) is a crucial factor of empowering rural communities in advancing social and economic developments.

Mhango who recently paid a special visit to Chiringa Telecentre which is due to open in March this year said technologies investing in rural areas can create new types of economic activities, employment opportunities and enhance social interaction and networking among people.

"The infrastructure of the Chiringa Telecenter has been completed and the project is coordinated by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA).

"Access to basic telecommunication services is a basic right of the population of Malawi and telecommunication is one of the most important tools in the reduction of poverty in rural areas.

"I know through a Telecentre people can access computers, the Internet and other digital technologies that enable them gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential digital skills.

"Government introduced Telecentres in rural areas with an aim of addressing the digital divide by providing universal access to basic ICT services in reasonable walking distances by establishing telecentres in strategically located positions," he said.

Mhango further said access to Telecentres in rural areas has the potential to bring necessary social and economic changes in society.

He added; "The world is fast moving with ICT and I am asking MACRA that this Telecentre should be ready by March, 2016.

"The Telecenter will be equipped with good computers and other ICT equipment that will make communication easier for the youths, farmers and everybody else in the area.

Member of Parliament for Phalombe East, Amosi Mailosi said the visit by the Minister to the site clearly indicates that government is geared to ensuring that information reaches out to all people including those in remote areas.

Mailosi said the Telecenter will be useful in job hunting, commodity market searching and general communication required in this age when ICT is a must have.

He urged youth in the area to make use of the centre once ready so that they can get what they need through services of ICT.

In January, 2016, the World Bank released a World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016), which further probes digital dividends -- the broader development benefits from using digital technologies.

The report collates evidence for the rapid spread of such technologies in most parts of the world, but notes how their adoption alone is not enough to transform societies and economies.

To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on what the report calls "analogue complements" -- such as strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, adapting workers' skills to the demands of the new economy and ensuring that institutions are accountable.

In other words, the digital revolution needs a strong analogue foundation to derive full digital dividends.

Despite the availability and capabilities of Information and Communication Technologies in low income countries like Malawi, the use of these constantly evolving tools remains limited for the majority of resource-poor citizens.

This is especially the case for internet-based tools. In order to overcome these low percentages, government intervention is frequently adopted, especially in rural areas, where it is not profitable for telecommunication operators to build infrastructure as a means to promoting the uptake of internet use in poorer communities.

The Information Communication Technology (ICT) survey conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) on behalf of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) despite revealing gaps in telecommunication sector also indicated that 45 percent of Malawians at household level use mobile phones while one percent use fixed lines.

It further showed that 10.9 percent of Malawians own televisions, 44.5 percent own radios and 2.9 percent afford pay television while 2.3 percent own post office boxes of which MACRA Director General Godfrey Itaye said the findings of the survey will act as a motivation and roadmap to make ICT a catalyst for economic growth in the country.

A vast number of ICT developments have emerged in recent years, however, very little is being done to save people like Grace Yakobe who could have tried her luck after she saw a vacancy that needed urgent application.

Currently, statistics show that there are 51 telecentres spread throughout remote areas countrywide.

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