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Computer Cross Talk: Chaos breeds opportunity

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I am not an economist and do not desire to be one; however, from my little knowledge of the subject, our current financial chaos stems from a trade imbalance. We are importing more than we are exporting. We are importing more smartphones, tablets, PCs, accounting packages and Martis software than all the tea we are exporting.

As a country, we are technology consumers and we do not produce any for export. Before we can even talk about producing for export, we need to start producing for the local market and arrest our gigantic appetite for imported technologies.

But do we have the capacity to develop technology? Oh yes! We have. This country has a crop of skilled and talented computer programmers. I have had a chance to interact with some of them. Most of these code writers spend their precious time understanding software created by other programmers outside this country and provide support for the same.

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The late Kalitera developed payroll and human resource software that is still being used by some organiSations some years after his demise. I know one programmer who has a working model of a full-fledged accounting package with built-in local tax codes. One whiz kid is currently developing an online shopping system.

All these are individual isolated cases. If these code writers were brought together and were to form Malawi Institute of Technology, combine effort, the government would not need to import software systems for government accounting, the immigration department and the road traffic department.

The Institute would provide mobile apps for banks and institutions. USSD apps like National Bank’s Mo626 ice and NBS Bank’s Easy Mobile are solutions that could have been done by local programming brains. The local environment would have provided testing ground before looking at the export market.

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When you have a problem with your new iPhone and make a call to Apple Inc. in USA, believe you me; that call will be picked by some lady with a melodious voice in India.

Those Indians have been trained to sound like somebody in Polo Alto, California. The internet and telephone infrastructure in India are so superb that routing calls is so easy. There are programmers that live in Delhi yet remotely work for American companies.

Malawi can do the same. We have donor fatigue today because possibly we have all along been asking for fish instead of fish nets. Instead of asking donors to fund salaries for the bloated public service wage bill, maybe we should have been asking for fast internet infrastructure so we could also establish call centres for western manufacturers.

It is encouraging to note that our universities are fast becoming breeding areas for innovation for young minds. I was thrilled to learn about a student who developed a bicycle mobile phone charger. Such innovations must be encouraged.

Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Apple, Google and Facebook are technology companies that were started by some daring students. Let us remember that opportunity usually knocks in chaos.

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